Kyoto Protocol: An Intriguing Multilateral Environmental Pact

Avilash Roul

Climate change is not a prognosis for the future, as some irresponsible governments believe. All countries are affected by and contribute to the cause of climate change. Some 150,000 human lives are lost each year as a result of climate change. One heat wave killed 20,000 people in Europe alone in 2003. More often invincible (!) the US is more vulnerable to natural disasters than terrorists attack. The successive floods in Bangladesh present the single most threat to the national security of such type of low-lying countries. Now, glacierologists have revealed that Himalayan glaciers, which feed major Asian rivers, are likely to vanish within 100 years leaving half of the world’s population in real trouble.

After nearly two years of dilly-dallying, the Russian Federation is set to ratify the most contested but only existing option — Kyoto Protocol — to combat climate change. The go-ahead of Moscow’s decision marks the end of an agonizing wait for environmentalists and the most vulnerable low-lying countries around the world. Still, the multilaterally agreed Protocol is yet to become a legal document, even, after seven years of its inception. In all probability the fate of the pact won’t be clear not before early next year.

The Kyoto Protocol was signed at third Conference of Parties (COP-3) to the UN sponsored Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Japan in 1997. The Protocol demands that 34 industrialized (Annex-I) countries including the US, Japan, European Union (EU), Russian Federation and other OECD countries should cut down 5.2 per cent (on average) of their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions below the 1990 levels in the period 2008-2012. Most significantly, the Protocol stipulates that 55 countries representing at least 55 per cent of all emissions must ratify the deal to make it legally binding. So far, 44.2 per cent of the emissions have been accounted for although 124 countries have ratified the proposal. Russia accounts for 17.4 per cent of the total GHG emissions.

That is because the US as the largest GHG emitter, with 35 percent emissions, opted out from the Protocol in 2001. Questioning the fairness of the Protocol that excludes ‘major population center’ and ‘fast growing economies’ like China and India from this commitment, the US categorized the Protocol as ‘costly, ineffective, impractical and unrealistic’. In what could be termed as the solidarity with the Bush administration, in October 30, 2003, the American Senate has rejected Congress’ first attempt (this was also the first time climate change was debated in the Senate) to impose mandatory caps on GHG emissions in the US.

The “Delhi Declaration on Climate Change and Sustainable Development” adopted in COP-8 in Delhi 2002 mildly says “the parties that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol should strongly urge parties that have not already done so to ratify it in a timely manner”. But, during COP-9 at Milan 2003, its relevance was questioned. Russia’s ‘now-yes and now-no’ hide and seek game has (also) jeopardized the fate of Protocol. President Putin’s cabinet decision is nothing but the repetition of the EU-Russia summit ‘compromise’ in May this year for Russia to enter into World Trade Organization (WTO). As Duma, the Lower House of Russian Parliament, is largely controlled by Putin’s United Russia Party it should not be very difficult to ratify the Protocol.

During the Delhi negotiations, a common theme appeared to be some of the rich nations trying to push the idea of developing countries committing to reduction targets. Throughout COP-8, developed countries kept up intense pressure on developing countries' commitments through repeated insinuations in speeches and statements.

The head of the Australian delegation said in COP-8, "What was needed was a 50-60 per cent reduction by the end of the century, and for this all countries need to take action, including developing countries." A delegate from Denmark said, “Discussions on what will happen after 2012 has to start, and some developing countries need to start thinking of engaging in measures to mitigate GHG”. Developed countries could show leadership by meeting their commitments first. To begin with, they could ratify the protocol. Wasn't it ironic that countries such as Australia, which hadn't even ratified the protocol, were demanding developing countries to take on initial commitments?

Although there is a need to review for future commitment periods, the process should start with developed countries. The Year 2005 will be the launch of fresh talks for the next round of commitments of (the period) post-2012. The year will also review the ‘demonstrative progress’ in achieving the commitments under the Protocol by the Annex-I countries. In the coming 10th COP, which going to be held in Argentina in the first week of December, will decide the future action on combating climate change. Due to its indispensability for the Kyoto Protocol, Russia should act now or the Protocol will become a dead letter regime.

Author Note
Avilash Roul is a doctoral fellow in the Diplomatic Studies division, School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi