What is Kyoto Protocol?Over a decade ago, most countries joined an international treaty - the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - to consider what could be done to reduce global warming and to cope with whatever temperature increases are inevitable. In 1997, the governments agreed to an addition to the treaty, called the Kyoto Protocol, which legally bound industrialised nations to reduce worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2% below their 1990 levels by 2012. The cuts aren't uniform - while most of Western Europe is committed to cuts in the vicinity of 8%, the rates vary across countries. Some countries, such as Iceland, can actually increase emissions by upto 10% under the treaty, which came into effect on February 16, 2005.
How many countries have signed the treaty?The treaty was signed by 141 nations, which together account for 55% of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Significantly, the US and Australia haven't signed the treaty. In 2001, one of the first acts of newly elected President George Bush was to formally withdraw the US from Kyoto. Bush said the US would not ratify the treaty because it would damage the American economy and major developing nations like China and India were not covered by its provisions. Although India and China have signed the treaty, they aren't required to make any cuts in emission till 2012, the logic being that developing nations shouldn't pay a price for late industrialisation.
How are emission targets met?Emission targets can be met in several ways. The most obvious way is to actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions — more fuel-efficient cars, fewer coal-fired power plants. But Kyoto also allows for three other mechanisms. Countries can buy "emissions credits" — earned by reducing emissions below mandated levels — from countries that don't need them to stay below their emissions quotas. A country can also earn emission credits through something called joint implementation, which allows a country to benefit by carrying out something like a reforestation project in another industrialised country or "economy in transition". There's also what's called a clean development mechanism that encourages investment in developing countries by promoting the transfer of environment-friendly technologies.
What happens if a country fails to reach its Kyoto emission target?The Kyoto Protocol contains measures to assess performance and progress. It also contains some penalties. Countries that fail to meet their emission target by the end of the first commitment period (2012) must make up the difference plus a penalty of 30% in the second commitment period. Their ability to sell credits under emissions trading will also be suspended.
Is the world's climate really changing?Many scientists believe so. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) summarises the work of 2,000 of the world's top climate experts. Its reports say the world is definitely getting warmer. The IPCC says the average global surface temperature has risen by about 0.6 degrees Celsius since 1900, with much of that rise coming in the 1990s — probably the warmest decade in 1,000 years. The IPCC also found that snow cover since the late 1960s has decreased by about 10% and lakes and rivers in the Northern Hemisphere are frozen over about two weeks less each year than they were then. Mountain glaciers in non-polar regions have also been in "noticeable retreat" in the 20th century, and the average global sea level has risen between 0.1 and 0.2 metres since 1900.
This article was adapted from TIMES NEWS NETWORK,MONDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 2005