Thursday, November 18, 2004

Kyoto or Bust!

The Kyoto Protocol, the UN's longtroubled pact for combating global warming, finally got the green light on Thursday, with February 16 announced as the date when it will become a binding treaty.

Russia ratified the Kyoto accord in a ceremony in Nairobi enabling the Protocol to enter into force 90 days from the 19th of November, 2004 - thus the Protocol will come into effect on February 16, 2005. This is nearly seven years after the framework was agreed upon by the UN Framework Convention On Climatic Change at the 1992 Rio Summit.

Soon after taking office, President George W Bush branded the Kyoto Protocol unfair and refused to ratify the accord, even though the United States had signed the agreement in 1997. The concerns expressed by the United States are because the primary onus to make cuts is on the largest developed nations, and not on growing nations like China and India.

Only four industrialised countries - Liechtenstein and Monaco, plus Australia and the United States - now remain outside the Kyoto Protocol.For the protocol to come into force it needed the support of countries that accounted for more than 55% of the industrialised nations' 1990 greenhouse gas emissions. When the US said it would not sign up, this crucial threshold looked out of reach but Russia's approval has finally swung it, taking the percentage of emissions covered from 44.2% to 61.6%.

Concerns about the Greenhouse Effect are not new, first voiced by Jean Baptiste Fourier in 1827. The post-World War II boom saw a rise in CO2 emissions worldwide. A red flag was raised in 1979 by the US National Academy Of Sciences, warning that a 'wait-and-see attitude may mean waiting until it is too late'. While that might seem like a line from The Day After Tomorrow, recent readings are troubling. The year 1998 was the warmest since formal readings began being collected, and nine of the ten warmest years in the record are all post-1990. Various scientists have termed the major storms experienced worldwide signs of growing Global Warming. Reinsurer Munich Re estimated the cost of climate-related disasters in 2003 at $60 billion.

The implications of the ratification of the Accord are yet to be determined. It is to be hoped that the retreat of the largest producer of greenhouses gases from the treaty will not have left this tiger without any teeth. At this point, despite ratification by the industrialized nations, most do not have controls and processes in place that can effectively track the usage of GHGs.

The market that will doubtless develop in 'emission credits' will bring interesting side effects. Countries could form new trading blocs that carry significant economic clout as well. By not being a part of the Accord, the United States could be excluded from these trading blocs.
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