How can the international community strike the necessary balance between expanding the pace of economic development – and resultant higher energy use – and responding adequately to concerns about climate change? How can nations gradually but substantially reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases without stalling their economies? And how can we ensure that the burden of protecting the climate is shared most equitably among nations? These are the questions the 167 nations that ratified the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change have been grappling with since before they first initialed the treaty at the Rio Earth Summit.
|Share of Greenhouse warming Due to Different Greenhouse Gases
Source: J.T. Houghton et al., eds., Climate Change 1995: The Science of Climte Change, published for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in collaboration with the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations environment Programme (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., 1996).
In December 1997, these nations began to address these questions by forging the Kyoto Protocol, which was a follow-on to the original climate treaty, and marks the first international attempt to place legally binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions from developed countries. In addition to CO2, the primary greenhouse gas, the Protocol focuses on five other greenhouse gases: methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6>). (See Greenhouse Gases.) Specifically, the Protocol claims to cut the combined emissions of greenhouse gases from developed countries by roughly 5 percent from their 1990 levels by the 2008-2012 time frame, and it specifies the amount each industrialized nation must contribute toward meeting that reduction goal. Nations with the highest CO2 emissions – the United States, Japan, and most European nations – reexpected to reduce emissions by a range of 6 to 8 percent. (See Kyoto Goal: Cut Emissions by 5 Percent and Emissions Reflect Economic Size.) By 2005, all industrialized nations that ratify the accord must show â€œdemonstrable progress – toward fulfilling their respective commitments under the Protocol. To enter into force, at least 55 nations must ratify the treaty, including enough developed countries to account for 55 percent of the global CO2 emissions in 1990  .
The new treaty represents real progress in bringing to fruition the good intentions of the 1992 agreement. For the most part, developed nations have failed to attain the nonbinding emission reductions they committed to in the original climate treaty (i.e., they had agreed to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2000), and have thus acknowledged the need for the binding emission targets represented in the Kyoto Protocol. Despite this progress, the new agreement contains complex issues to be resolved in future negotiations. One issue is that the Kyoto Protocol officially sanctions the concept of â€œemissions tradingâ€