Saturday, February 15, 2014

Kyoto Protocol fiasco

The treaty on limiting greenhouse-gas emissions signed in Kyoto, Japan, on December 11, 1997, proved a classic fisaco--feeble from the start and stumbling toward failure. Of about 200 countries worldwide, only 32 agreed in 1997 to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases: [1]

Goals (1990 Countries
to 2008-2012) Committing
  -8% E.U.-15,* Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Liechtenstein,
  Lithuania, Monaco, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland
  -7% U.S.**
  -6% Canada,** Hungary, Japan,** Poland
  -5% Croatia
    0% New Zealand, Russian Federation,** Ukraine
  +1% Norway
  +8% Australia
+10% Iceland
* The fifteen countries who were European Union members in 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted--Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and United Kingdom--agreed to an 8% total reduction goal to be distributed by and among themselves.
** The U.S. never ratified the treaty, and by the end of 2013 Canada, Japan and Russia had withdrawn.

Initial commitments for emission reductions were to be over a period from 1990 to 2010, where the latter year was to be measured by average emissions for years 2008 through 2012. Russia and the E.U.-15 countries had already reduced emissions during 1990 through 1997, whereas the U.S. had increased emissions by more than 10 percent during that time. In effect, E.U.-15 countries were agreeing to reduction of less than 7 percent over the next 11 to 15 years, while the U.S. was agreeing to nearly 20 percent reduction over that period. China, India, South Korea and Indonesia did not agree to any limits at all on their emissions, however large.

By late 2013, it became possible to review results from years considered under the Kyoto treaty, as data for 2012 were reported. A useful contribution has come from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, where analysts compiled fuel-related emissions of carbon dioxide worldwide. Government reporting tends to make data for those emissions easier to obtain and more accurate than data for emissions from other activities and for other greenhouse gases. They represent over three-fourths of all estimated greenhouse-gas effects. [2]

Fuel-related CO2 1990 to 1997 to 1990 to Treaty
emission changes 1997 2012 2008-12 goal
E.U.-15 countries -1.5% -8.5% -6.2% -8.0%
United States +11.8% -7.0% +8.8% -7.0%
Canada +13.3% +9.8% +23.6% -6.0%
Japan +8.6% +4.8% +7.4% -6.0%
Russia -34.8% +11.3% -28.2% 0.0%
Australia +22.2% +30.3% +60.7% +8.0%
China +43.0% +174.7% +252.2% none
India +45.5% +105.2% +167.9% none
South Korea +80.0% +42.2% +136.0% none
Indonesia +62.5% +88.5% +182.5% none
Worldwide +7.5% +41.4% +45.5% none

Of participants listed in Annex B of the 1997 treaty, only Russia achieved its goal--considering fuel-related carbon dioxide emissions and following treaty rules. The 15-country European Union came close at -6.2 percent change versus -8.0 percent goal. The United States missed badly, with +8.8 percent change versus -7.0 percent goal. Japan also missed badly, with +7.4 percent change versus -6.0 percent goal. As the data show, Russia and the 15-country E.U. began with advantages from reductions already in place when the treaty was signed in late 1997. For the period from 1997 through 2012, the last year considered in the treaty, the U.S. came close to reductions achieved by the 15-country E.U. and matched its treaty goal of 7 percent reduction. However, the comparison years designated in the treaty smeared the U.S. record of achievement.

The 1997 treaty never considered international trade. By 1990, North American industries had already closed large segments of emissions-intensive steelmaking, metal extraction and cement manufacturing. The U.S. and Canada continued to use large amounts of materials from those industries but imported much of that from overseas. They had little remaining potential for further large reductions in industrial emissions. In the early 1990s--following the 1989 collapse of Communist regimes--Russia, the former East Germany and other countries of eastern Europe closed many old and inefficient plants with high emissions. [3] [4] Ignoring international trade and specifying 1990 as a comparison year meant that scaledowns in heavy industry from 1991 through 1997 would be counted as progress toward emissions reductions for Europe and Russia but that earlier scaledowns would not be recognized for North America.

China, India, South Korea and Indonesia did not make commitments in the Kyoto treaty, From 1990 through 2012, their large increases in emissions eclipsed reductions achieved by the E.U. and Russia. China, India, South Korea and Indonesia have expanded heavy industries, exporting materials that North America, Europe and Russia continue to use but no longer produce in such large amounts. [3] A chart based on data from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency shows trends for some countries during 1990 through 2012. [5]

The 32 participants in the Kyoto treaty that agreed to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions represented about 48 percent of worldwide fuel-related carbon dioxide emissions in 1990, but by 2012 their worldwide share fell to only about 31 percent, mainly because of other, rapidly growing emitters. In 1995, China became the world's second-largest emitter of fuel-related carbon dioxide, passing the 15-country European Union. After 2005, China's emissions exceeded those of the United States. After 2009, China's emissions exceeded those of the 15-country E.U. and the U.S. combined. Data from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency show shares of worldwide fuel-related carbon dioxide emissions. [5]

Fuel-related Share Share
CO2 emissions 1990 2012
E.U.-15 countries 19.0% 10.8%
United States 22.0% 15.0%
Canada 2.0% 1.6%
Japan 5.1% 3.8%
Russia 10.7% 5.1%
Australia 1.2% 1.2%
China 11.1% 28.6%
India 2.9% 5.7%
South Korea 1.1% 1.9%
Indonesia 0.7% 1.4%

Former Vice President Gore, who led the U.S. delegation at the December, 1997, Kyoto conference, was played for a fool by other participants. In July, 1997, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution by unanimous vote--Gore not voting--rejecting anticipated terms of the treaty that Gore signed later that year. [6] Former Presidents Clinton and Walker Bush and President Obama have all refused to submit the treaty Gore signed to the Senate for ratification. As of the start of 2014, four countries participating in the 1997 Kyoto treaty and its successors have dropped out. Since 1997, aside from E.U. expansion, no more countries have joined.

As of the start of 2014, countries participating in an extension of the Kyoto treaty to 2020 accounted for less than 15 percent of worldwide greenhouse-gas emissions. [2] Even if they and the United States were somehow to eliminate their entire combined emissions by 2020, growth in emissions from China alone, at its rate over the past ten years, would more than offset that achievement. No reduction of emissions can occur without participation by rapidly growing emitters: China, India, South Korea and Indonesia.

[1] Kyoto protocol targets, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2014, at

[2] Jos G.J. Olivier, Greet Janssens-Maenhout, Marilena Muntean and Jeroen A.H.W. Peters, Trends in global CO2 emissions, 2013 report, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, December, 2013, at

[3] Quirin Schiermeier, The Kyoto protocol: Hot air, Nature 491(7426):656–658, 2012, at

[4] Maria Csutora and Zsofia Mozner, Rethinking Kyoto compliance from a consumption-based perspective, Corvinus University of Budapest, 2012, at

[5] Olivier et al., Table 2.2 and Figure 2.2

[6] Senate Resolution 98 of the 105th Congress, available at