Kyoto implementation still not certain

The European Union says it will in June. Japan hopes to in August. Romania already has. The UK claims it will "as soon as possible" and the USA is refusing to altogether. Just what is happening with ratification of the Kyoto Protocol?

For the Protocol to become international law 55 countries must ratify it, and these countries must be responsible for 55% of the 1990 level of international emissions of CO2. Out of the 84 countries involved in the Kyoto process only two industrialised countries, Romania and the Czech Republic, have ratified the 1997 Protocol, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Combined, these two countries produce 2.4% of the total emissions from the 84 countries.

Despite the Protocol receiving ratification from 50 countries, Romania and the Czech Republic are the only signatories that have been given reduction emissions targets by the Protocol. Before it becomes legally binding the Protocol must receive ratification from countries that make up 52.6% of 1990 CO2 emissions.

The main signatories of the Protocol are so far those that have most to gain from CO2 emissions reduction such as Mexico and the Maldives. The majority of ratifying states have not been assigned emissions reduction targets under Kyoto, as they are not seen to emit enough of a percentage of the world’s greenhouse gases. Those high polluting countries, which have more to lose economically, are proving reluctant to ratify.

In March last year President Bush pulled the US out of the Protocol process, claiming it was opposed to Kyoto because it “exempts many countries from compliance and would cause serious harm to the American economy”. This decision was not unanimous across the US however, with Seattle and some New England state leaders vowing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, despite their premier’s ruling .

The US fears of economic damage by ratification have been subsequently echoed by industrial nations around the globe. Australia, New Zealand and Canada are all stalling on the issue of ratification, with business interests in these countries trying to dissuade any national entry into the Protocol. There is a resounding fear that obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will impede business.

Canada, who had hoped to ratify the treaty in June, is now saying no decision can be made until September, with the government receiving huge pressure from the oil producing province Alberta not to sign. Alberta business interests fear investment in Canada will decrease if they ratify the Protocol and claim the problem of CO2 emissions will not be solved just relocated. Similar fears have also been voiced in New Zealand.

Australia, determined that the US should have a leading role in any global climate change process, have recently signed up to Bush’s alternative to Kyoto, which is expected to increase emissions by 30 to 40% above the 1990 levels. The Protocol originally had set the US target at a 7% reduction of the 1990 CO2 level by 2010. However earlier this week the EU set a ban on Australian carbon trading with countries who had ratified the Protocol, alarming Australian company’s who have already invested in clean air projects. They now fear they may be economically damaged if they do not ratify, claiming they may have to move business overseas to take advantage of carbon credits, driving jobs and investment out of the country.

So far Europe is proving to have the most positive attitude towards the Kyoto Protocol with a unanimous vote in early March, by EU environment ministers formally agreeing to ratification.

The UK House of Commons announced on March 7 that the UK will ratify “as soon as possible” , with 6000 companies eventually expected to sign up to emissions trading due to begin 2 April.

The lower houses of the Netherlands and German parliaments have already ratified the Protocol, with Portugal, France and Denmark also confident that they will meet the EU target of ratification by June. The European ratifications are in preparation for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August.

Presently the future of the Kyoto Protocol hangs on the decision of high global emitting countries such as Japan and Russia to make up the deficit percentage left to make up by the US decision to opt out.

Despite the Russian Energy Minister announcing that the government will begin discussions on ratification in March, Vladimir Grachev, leader of the Duma ecology committee threatened that Russia will not ratify unless the European Union enters into negotiations with them about terms and conditions of the protocol with particular regard to international trade.

Japan however appears more compliant aiming to ratify the protocol by late August and is reported to have already adopted an enhanced framework to cut greenhouse gas emissions, including a 7% reduction in CO2 emissions from the industrial sector.

Under the Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas emissions are to be 5.2% less of the 1990 levels between the periods of 2008 – 2012. Whilst the concerted efforts of European countries are a positive boost to reaching the Protocol’s targets, it is still very much dependent on the big players, like Russia, before it can become international law and therefore effective.

Story by Sorcha Clifford.

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