What is the Kyoto Protocol?

   

The Kyoto Protocol is the first legally binding update to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The UNFCCC was developed at the 1992 Earth Day summit in Rio de Janeiro with the intention of balancing worldwide greenhouse gas emissions at a sustainable level. As a non-binding agreement, UNFCCC included provisions for mandatory updates that are legally binding in and of themselves. As the first UNFCCC update, the Kyoto Protocol has been hotly debated in all major UNFCCC signatory states. Some of the major UNFCCC signatories, notably Australia and the United States, have yet to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on economic or fundamental basis.

The Kyoto Protocol identifies six greenhouse gases, or gaseous emissions typical of technologically-advanced societies that are suspected of catalyzing global climate change. Each signatory country is allocated GHG emission allowances, which can be sold or traded in a barter market. Industrialized nations that sign the Kyoto Protocol pledge to either reduce their GHG emissions to certain acceptable levels, or to buy GHG emissions allowances from developing nations that emit less than their allowance. This approach has a twofold benefit. On one side, the industrialized nations are able to continue emitting GHGs while they develop less toxic technology, and are monetarily penalized until they find solutions. On the other side, developing nations are financially encouraged to keep their emissions low, and they are free to use that money to develop environmentally-friendly power infrastructures.

the Kyoto Protocol logo

The Kyoto Protocol has been met with much opposition by industrialists, economists, and other groups that tend to favor the rich. They argue that the Kyoto Protocol was devised to balance the spread of wealth among nations. This would have rich, industrialized nations paying developing nations for an artificial resource, GHG emissions allowances. Thus, they argue, the industrialized nations are essentially profiting from the Kyoto Protocol without contributing anything, while industrialized nations are essentially paying without receiving anything in return. On these grounds nations such as the United States and Australia have not signed the treaty, even though Australia is within 1% of meeting it's greenhouse gas emissions allowance even without allocating additional resources to the effort.



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