(41) Global Warming

The Kyoto Protocol (Video)

The Kyoto Protocol

United Nations - Kyoto Protocol


Stepping Up to the Plate-Taking Action

The Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997. The 169 countries that ratified this protocol have committed to reducing their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases. The United States and Australia were the only industrialized countries at the time that did not ratify this treaty although Australia eventually signed the accord at a follow-up conference in Bali in 2007. China and India did ratify the Kyoto protocol but are not required to reduce carbon dioxide emissions under the present agreement.

The objective of the protocol is the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent disruption of the climate system.


European Union

The European Union has committed to reduce greenhouse emissions by 8 percent below 1990 levels by 2008–2012 as their Kyoto target. An emission trading scheme was put in place that applies mandatory carbon dioxide limits for 12,000 sites throughout Europe.

Incentives are being provided to increase the use of renewable sources of energy. Agreements have been established with automakers to reduce carbon dioxide emissions of new cars by 25 percent below 1995 levels. Encouraged by government incentives, people in Germany installed 100,000 solar systems in 2006, representing 750 MW of solar electric generation. Approximately 50 billion kWh of power, providing 10 percent of Germany’s needs, now comes from renewable sources. A total of 78 percent of France’s electricity now comes from nuclear power that does not produce greenhouse gases.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom established a national target that is 20 percent below 1990 levels, and this exceeds the requirements of the Kyoto agreement. The Government has placed a tax on fossil fuel–based electricity for large users, and most of the revenues to be collected will be used for energy research. A target of 10 percent of electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2010 was established.


Japan’s Kyoto agreement is to reduce emissions by 6 percent. Separate agreements target reductions to 1990 levels for a major industry association and 20 percent below 1990 levels for a power-generating group.


China has established fuel economy standards that require all new cars and light trucks to achieve 19-38 mpg (depending on the class of vehicle) by 2005 and 21-43 mpg by 2008. China is working to improve the amount of energy used in relation to its gross national product (measured as its energy intensity). China intends to raise its energy intensity by 20 percent from 2006-2010 and by a total of 50 percent from 2000-2020. China’s national targets for renewable energy are for 15 percent of overall energy and 20 percent of electricity by 2020. Specific goals have been established for wind power, biomass, and hydroelectric power.


Efforts are underway to improve the efficiency of the electrical power sector. There is an effort to move toward larger, more efficient power plants. A goal of 10 percent of new power generation by 2010 has been established as India moves ahead with electrifying 18,000 rural villages. Biomass, solar, wind, and hydroelectric power are being considered to meet the growing demand. India is also in the process of converting taxis, buses, and other vehicles from gasoline to natural gas.

The United States

As a contributor of 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, the United States has a large opportunity to help stabilize the world’s climate. The United States has contributed a great deal to the world’s understanding of climate through research and monitoring efforts. In the United States, state and local governments have taken the lead in establishing emissions reduction programs in the form of regional alliances. The states have a great deal of authority to regulate electrical power and can play a significant role in bringing about change.

In a landmark decision in 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that excessive carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere is a pollutant and can be subject to pollution control laws. This provides a legal foundation for governmental regulation of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

The governors of seven Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states established a cap and trade program intended to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in the region. Under this arrangement, credits can be used outside the electricity industry to provide greater flexibility in meeting targets. A regional database will be set up to monitor progress.

Western Governors’ Association

Eleven western states have committed to strategies to increase energy efficiency, expand the use of renewable energy sources, and provide incentives for carbon capture and storage.

Additional State Efforts

The Southwest Climate Change Initiative (organized by Arizona and New Mexico), the West Coast Governor’s Global Warming Initiative (organized by Washington, Oregon, and California), the New England governors and eastern Canadian premiers, and Powering the Plains (organized by the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and the Canadian Province of Manitoba) all have begun similar efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Like France, with almost 80 percent of its electricity requirements supplied by a non-greenhouse gas–producing source (i.e., nuclear), Iceland is rapidly approaching the goal of energy independence. Iceland is unique in that it sits on rock of volcanic origin and has access to virtually unlimited geothermal energy. Iceland has exploited this natural resource, as well as abundant hydroelectric sites, to provide about 70 percent of its energy needs-from home heating, to electricity generation, to industrial applications.

Neither geothermal energy nor hydroelectric power can power Iceland’s cars and trucks. Iceland has an official national goal of converting all cars, buses, trucks, and ships to hydrogen by 2050. The world’s first hydrogen filling station, run by Shell, opened in Reykjavik in April 2003. To offset the cost of hydrogen relative to gasoline, Iceland is hoping to be able to at least partially use geothermal energy to produce hydrogen fuel.

*Data derived from Climate Change 101: Understanding and Responding to Global Climate Change, published by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and the Pew Center on the States, www.pewclimate.org

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