Kyoto Protocol Goes Into Effect Without United States

The Kyoto Protocol went into effect on February 16, without the world’s largest generator of greenhouse gases, the United States. In addition, the protocol exempts large greenhouse gas generating countries such as China and India from its requirements.

Under the terms of the treaty, it would be ratified once countries representing 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions had signed it. That point was reach when Russia ratified the treaty in November 2004.

The United States has rejected the treaty arguing that it would be too expensive too implement controls on greenhouse gases, and that it would put the U.S. at an unfair economic disadvantage to make such changes given that China, India and other countries will not be forced to make the same cuts.

President Bill Clinton signed the treaty in 1999, but the Senate has refused to ratify it ever since, and is unlikely to do so in the forseeable future.

Even among those countries which did ratify the treaty, reducing emissions is likely to turn into an accounting game with high-emissions countries trading emissions rights with low-emissions countries without making much of a dent in emissions. This is one of the reasons Russia changed course and finally ratified the treaty since it will likely benefit economically from such emissions trading. As the Washington Post summed it up,

Moreover, they [the United States and Australia] say, many countries, including Japan and several in the European Union, are unlikely to meet their emission-control targets and will have to buy “credits” — most likely from Russia, which will have plenty to sell because many of its industrial plants shut down during the economic meltdown in the 1990s.

“They are going to take credit for sagging economies and flat populations,” said James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Bush’s proposals for voluntary emission controls and incentives to develop clean technologies would have as much impact on American emissions as Europe would achieve under Kyoto, he said.

Critics counter that binding emissions quotas are needed to create the changes necessary to reduce the threat of global warming, but its difficult to see how a shell game in which major CO2 producers are exempt altogether will accomplish anything beyond symbolic.


Kyoto Treaty Takes Effect Today. Shankar Vedantam, The Washington Post, February 16, 2005.

Kyoto Protocol comes into force. The BBC, February 16, 2005.

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