Still another issue with the treaty relates to the practicability of achieving the specified level of emissions reductions (5 percent from 1990 levels). This task will present a formidable challenge to many industrialized countries, because greenhouse gas emissions have grown significantly since 1990 and are projected to continue growing at a brisk pace without substantial changes in energy consumption patterns and in the mix of fuels used for energy generation. For example, recent U.S. Department of Energy estimates show that by 2010 U.S. carbon emissions are likely to increase 34 percent from 1990 levels in the absence of any change in energy policies and consumer behavior. Stated another way, the United States, as the leading contributor to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, will need to reduce emissions more than one third from their anticipated level to meet its obligations under the treaty. Higher than expected economic growth, lower energy prices, and slower gains in energy efficiency and in the penetration of renewable energy sources have boosted U.S. emissions more quickly than anticipated even a few years ago .
The treaty negotiators in Kyoto acknowledged that the Kyoto Protocol represents only a first step toward achieving the goal set by the original climate treaty: to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere “at a level that would prevent dangerous interference with the climate system.” Even if the Kyoto Protocol is ratified and nations abide by its terms, neither of which can be taken for granted, its effect will only slow – not halt – the buildup of greenhouse gases. Unlike the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, which will eventually “solve” the problem of ozone depletion if adhered to, the Kyoto Protocol will not “solve” the problem of climate change, but only begin the long process of weaning the world away from heavy reliance on fossil fuels and other sources of greenhouse gases.
Indeed, although clear consensus has not been reached regarding the level at which greenhouse gas concentrations must be stabilized in order to prevent “dangerous climate interference,” calculations by the IPCC make it clear that emission reductions well beyond any contemplated in the Kyoto treaty will be needed to stabilize atmospheric CO2 concentrations (which are a good proxy for all greenhouse gases) at even two or three times their preindustrial level of 280 parts per million (ppm). For instance, stabilizing CO2concentrations at double their preindustrial level – a common benchmark used in discussions of global warming – would require eventually reducing global carbon emissions (from all nations) by 60 percent from 1990 levels. And there is no guarantee that this would be a safe concentration. As Stabilizing CO2 Means Steep Emission Cuts Eventuallyshows, higher emissions expected in the next few decades will require concomitantly deeper emissions cuts in the future to achieve the same stabilization .
Although such deep emissions cuts are beyond the limited scope of the Kyoto accord, climate negotiators hope the new treaty will provide a basis for continued progress beyond 2012 by stimulating energy policy reform and encouraging new R&D investments to bring low-emission technologies to market. It is also possible that the Kyoto Protocol itself could be toughened in the future to include more comprehensive emission cuts designed to eventually stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a safe level. If these steps occur, the evolution of the Kyoto Protocol might resemble the Montreal Protocol, which evolved from a weak agreement into a model environmental treaty as the threat to the stratospheric ozone layer became clear.
|Stabilizing CO2 Means Steep Emission Cuts Eventually|
|CO2 Emissions Leading to Stabilization at Various Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations|
|Source: T.M.L. Wigley, R.Richels, and J.A. Edmonds, “Economic and Environmental Choices in the Stabilization of Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations,” Natur, Vol. 379 (January 18, 1996), p. 240.|
7. Op. cit. 1.
8. Op. cit. 4, Table A.18, pp. 120-122.