Global Climate Change and the Expiration of the Kyoto Protocols
Global Climate Change and the Expiration of the Kyoto Protocols

The Kyoto Protocols expired at the end of 2012, potentially leaving global climate change efforts at a standstill. Fortunately, at the recent Doha Conference, participating countries voted to extend the Kyoto Protocols until 2020. While clearly a step in the right direction, much more progress will need to be made to stem the tide of global warming.

A recent National Academy of Sciences reports stated, “Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise” (Oreskes, 2012). As the world’s population continues to grow, drastic changes are necessary to reverse the effects of carbon dioxide emissions.

Industrialized countries, such as the U.S., have recently slowed, and in some cases reversed, their emissions growth, due to the economic downturn and the increased use of natural gas for generating electricity. The slow down of emissions is not universal. In China, emissions grew by 9.9 percent in 2011, and, in India, emissions rose by 7.5 percent. China’s emissions growth (and India’s as well) is due in part to the lack of domestic legislation mandating reductions of carbon dioxide emissions (Freedman, 2012).

This news analysis examines global climate change and outlines policy options to address this ever-growing challenge.

The Scientific Consensus

Since 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has evaluated global climate science and has provided informative data for policy makers. The IPCC was created by the World Meteorological Association and the United Nations Environmental Programme to address the issue of climate change. In a recent report, Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions scientists concluded, “…that most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations accurately reflects the current thinking of the scientific community on this issue” (Oreskes, 2012).


Since the Industrial Revolution in the 1800’s, human activity has contributed to the increased amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gasses are released into the air by the use of fossil fuels in factories and power-plants worldwide. The increasing number of transportation vehicles as well as the widespread use of heating and cooling systems in building around the world further contributes to this problem.

The release of greenhouse gases affects climate change by altering incoming solar radiation and outgoing infrared radiation in the Earth’s atmosphere. Figure 1 charts the significant increase in greenhouse gases since the 1800’s.
The extraction and release of fossil fuels is detrimental to the Earth’s atmosphere.  If human activity continues to contribute to the rise of greenhouse gases, new fossil fuel policy initiatives are required to reverse the effects of carbon emissions.

Policy Responses to Climate Change

World leaders agreed upon a policy response to combat carbon dioxide emissions: the Kyoto Protocols which were signed in 1997 and are set to expire at the end of 2012. The Kyoto Protocols aim to curtail global emissions in all regions of the world through the use of carbon taxes, tradeable permits, subsidies, and efficiency standards (Feldmann, 2012). These multiple ways to curtail emission provides countries the opportunity to seek the most cost-effective measure. But with the extension of the Kyoto Protocols until 2020, these policy tools can help countries achieve the mission of Protocols and reduce global emissions.

Many countries use carbon taxes on coal, oil, and natural gas products to prevent elevated levels of carbon in the atmosphere. Carbon taxes provide incentives to consumers to reduce dependency on carbon-based fuel sources and to seek alternative sources of energy. “Contrary to other taxed items and activities, this avoidance has social benefits – reduced energy use and reduced CO2 emissions” (Tietenberg, 2012). Thus, declining tax revenues over time indicate policy success for consumers and producers who choose this initiative.

Other countries use tradeable permits, “Each nation would be allocated a certain permissible level of carbon emissions. The total number of carbon permits issued would be equal to the desired goal. For example, if global emissions of carbon are 6 billion tons and the goal is to reduce this by 1 billion, permits for 5 billion tons of emissions would be issued” (Tietenberg, 2012).  The United States has advocated this approach.

Lastly, subsidies and efficiency standards are another tool. Subsidizing non-carbon based technology sources could make them competitive against fossil fuels, which are often subsidized as well. The Kyoto Protocols provide a pathway for countries to eliminate fossil fuel subsidizes.

The use of efficiency standards is less prevalent in the United States than it is in most industrialized countries. Efficiency standards need to be raised in utility companies and major manufacturers need to improve the output of carbon-based and renewable sources. “A normal coal-fired generating plant achieves about 35% efficiency, while a high-efficiency gas-fired co-generation facility achieves from 75% to 90% efficiency” (Tietenberg, 2012).

Conclusion

The Kyoto Protocols are the global framework to address climate change in an effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. It is also mutually beneficial to support new policy measures to protect the environment as well as provide new energy alternatives. Reductions in carbon emissions are achievable with ambitious action by countries and their leaders. Achieving this goal could have numerous benefits, including increased energy security, competitive advantages for international businesses, and environmental longevity.

Works Cited

Policy responses to climate change. (2012, December 11). Retrieved from World Nuclear Association: http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf105.html

Association, N. O. (2012, December 10). How do human activities contribute to climate change and how do they compare with natural influences? Retrieved from noaa.gov: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/pd/climate/factsheets/howhuman.pdf

Feldmann, J. (2012, December 11). Global policy responses to climate change. Retrieved from Global Economic Symposium : http://www.global-economic-symposium.org/knowledgebase/the-global-environment/global-policy-responses-to-climate-change/proposals/global-policy-responses-to-climate-changes

Freedman, A. (2012, December 7). Global carbon emissions hit record high, report finds. Retrieved from Climate Central: http://www.climatecentral.org/news/global-carbon-emissions-hit-record-high-15318

Oreskes, N. (2012, December 5). The scientific consensus on climate change. Retrieved from ScienceMag.org: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/306/5702/1686.full

Tietenberg, T. (2012, December 11). Policy responses to climate change. Retrieved from The Encyclopedia of Earth: http://www.eoearth.org/article/Policy_responses_to_climate_change

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