RL33826 - Climate Change: The Kyoto Protocol and International Actions
30-May-2008; Susan R. Fletcher and Larry Parker; 24 p.
Update: Previous releases:
August 22, 2007
June 8, 2007
Abstract: The concerns over climate change, often termed “global warming,” have emerged both in the United States and internationally as major policy issues. Reports in 2007 of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provided additional scientific underpinnings for these concerns, and the number of proposals and international meetings devoted to these issues has grown significantly during this year, as discussed in this report.
The first treaty to address climate change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), was completed and opened for signature in 1992. This treaty includes commitments to establish national action plans for voluntary measures that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000 in order to begin mitigating possible global warming. The United States was one of the first nations to sign and ratify this treaty, and it entered into force in 1994. However, it was soon concluded by parties to the treaty that mandatory reductions in emissions of the six major greenhouse gases (of which carbon dioxide, mainly from burning of fossil fuels, is the most prevalent) would be required. The resulting Kyoto Protocol, which was completed in 1997 and entered into force in February 2005, committed industrialized nations that ratify it to specified, legally binding reductions in emissions of the six major greenhouse gases. The United States has not ratified the Protocol, and thus is not bound by its provisions. In March 2001, the Bush Administration rejected the Kyoto Protocol, and subsequently announced a U.S. policy for climate change that relies on voluntary actions to reduce the “greenhouse gas intensity” (ratio of emissions to economic output) of the U.S. economy by 18% over the next 10 years.
Each of the industrialized nations listed in Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol has a specified emissions target. Overall, the collective commitments are to reduce the Parties’ emissions by at least 5% below their 1990 levels, averaged over the “commitment period” 2008 to 2012. The United States undertook an initiative in 2005, the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate, together with China, India, Japan, Australia, and South Korea, which is a voluntary effort (though without specific targets) to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of their economies through technology cooperation. President Bush announced on May 31, 2007, that the United States would convene a meeting of major economies to begin a series of meetings over 18 months — now scheduled to begin September 27-28, 2007, in Washington — to find a voluntary framework for dealing with energy security and climate change.
As of June 2007, UNFCCC Secretariat reported that 168 nations and the European Union have ratified or accepted the Kyoto Protocol. Annual meetings of the parties continue, and attention during the negotiations has turned in large part to “next steps” following the end of the commitment period in 2012, as well as a review of the effectiveness of the Protocol. Major challenges remain to find agreement on the nature of commitments, if any, that would prove acceptable to all major players: current parties, developing countries that are major emitters, and the United States.