Biodiesel and the kyoto protocol

Biodiesel and the Kyoto Protocol

Copyright (c) 2008 Mervyn Rees

I thought I would talk about some aspects affecting the production of biodiesel.

The Kyoto Protocol goes by a number of aliases: The Kyoto Treaty, The Kyoto Accord, or The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

It does not stand alone but is actually an amendment to a larger body of work by the United Nations on climate change. The larger body of work is a treaty on managing environmental change by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. It came into being in 1992 at a summit in Rio De Janeiro, but since it is a treaty and does not hold countries accountable to make any changes, an amendment was added to it, called a protocol, to help nations take action in response to the treaty. The goal is to stabilize the amount and concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Since then, the Kyoto Protocol has eclipsed the treaty itself in terms of assumed effectiveness and controversy. Countries who choose to ratify the Kyoto Protocol are committing to the reduction of six greenhouse gas emissions including carbon monoxide, or developing measures to deal with those commitments if they cannot fill them.

There were two conditions for the Kyoto Protocol to enter into force. The first condition was that no fewer than 55 participants in the convention needed to ratify the protocol. This was agreed on May 23, 2002 when Iceland ratified the protocol. The second condition was that countries who participated in producing a leased 55% of the total carbon dioxide emissions for 1990 needed to ratify the protocol as well. Russia’s ratification on November 18, 2004 met the second condition needed to put the Kyoto Protocol into force. Ninety days after the conditions were met, on February 16th 2005, the Kyoto Protocol entered into force.

The United States and Australia have not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. In spite of that, 157 nations have ratified the protocol, which represents 61% of global greenhouse gas production.

The legally binding protocol calls for countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.2%, compared to the emissions produced in 1990. While the average is 5.2%, different countries have different targets to aim for: Japan needs to reduce its emissions by 6%, Australia by 8%, the US by 7%, and Iceland by 10%. The reduction needs to affect the following greenhouse gases:

* Carbon dioxide * Methane * Nitrous oxide * Sulphur hexafluoride * HFCs * PFCs

Countries who exceed these targets earn “credits” that they can sell to other countries that are not yet able to meet those targets. Credits are also earned by countries with large forested regions that turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. So countries who can quickly exceed emissions standards or who can create Kyoto Protocol forest areas have financial incentive to do so.

Cleaner, breathable air, a clearer sky, and a reduction in global warming are noble pursuits. So why has the Kyoto Protocol received so much controversy and attention and not been ratified by everyone?

Objections and criticisms

There are a number of objections and criticisms to the Kyoto Protocol. Here are some of them:

* By 2050, if the Kyoto Protocol is successful, the global warming trend will be reduced by one third to one half of a degree annually. Unless other modifications are made, Kyoto Protocol will be ineffective at reducing global warming in a largely measurable way.

* Both the United States and Australia have not ratified the protocol because of concerns over the economic ramifications resulting from sweeping changes that need to be made by industries. Other countries, like Canada, have ratified the protocol but with a lot of national controversy for the same reason.

* Credits earned from planting a ‘Kyoto Protocol Forest’ sound like a great idea, except that the first 10 years of a new forest tend to produce more carbon dioxide than it reduces, because new forests help to release carbon dioxide that is locked in the ground.

* China, who is the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, is exempt from ratifying the Kyoto protocol or being bound to it because it does not belong to a specific class of countries: those who were producing excessive greenhouse gases during the growth in industry that the UN feels contributed to current concentrations. In fact, China’s usage is on the rise, increasing 40% between 1990 and 2003.

* Because of the variety of credit-selling opportunities as well as responsibilities to share knowledge with non-industrialized countries, some people see the Kyoto Protocol as a global social movement to spread wealth from the “have” countries to the “have-not” countries instead of effectively addressing climate change.

* As well, the law of supply and demand suggests that a reduction in fossil fuel usage by industrialized nations will lead to a reduction in overall prices for fossil fuels, allowing non-industrialized nations, who are not bound by the Kyoto Protocol, to burn more fossil fuels at a cheaper price without any restrictions.

* Lastly, critics say that the Kyoto Protocol only addresses the problem with an immediate, short-term solution. Critics suggest that the Kyoto Protocol, or something like it, needs to address greater issues such as population explosion, which has a huge effect on global warming.

Who wins?

If the Kyoto Protocol is successful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we will all win with a reduction in global warming. But there are others who will win in a different way:

* Kyoto Protocol measurements are based on emissions produced in 1990 and ratifying countries are measured against that number as a benchmark. Russia, however, because of its collapse, will easily meet its 1990 number, and its benchmark is set at 0%. This means that it should continuously generate credits which can be purchased by other countries. This means that reactionary spending by other countries will push millions of dollars to Russia.

* The Kyoto Protocol also requires industrialized nations to provide information and support to non-industrialized nations attempting to make leaps and bounds in technology and power generation. So countries like the United States will be expected to provide assistance and support to countries like India and China who both have a lot of people and are struggling to become industrialized nations. In both situations, by supporting the Kyoto Protocol, they receive financial assistance but have no parameters in which to operate once they do achieve industrialization.

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