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Debate: Kyoto Protocol

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Is the Kyoto Protocol a good international environmental agreement and worth signing?

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Background and Context of Debate:

The Kyoto Protocol is a protocol to the international Framework Convention on Climate Change with the objective of reducing Greenhouse gases that cause climate change. It was agreed on 11 December 1997 at the 3rd Conference of the Parties to the treaty when they met in Kyoto, and entered into force on 16 February 2005.

As stated in the treaty itself, The objective of the Kyoto Protocol is to achieve "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."[1]

As of November 2007, 174 parties have ratified the protocol. Of these, 36 countries (plus the EU as a party in its own right) are required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the levels specified for each of them in the treaty (representing over 61.6% of emissions from Annex I countries)[2], with three more countries intending to participate. A notable exception is the United States. One hundred and thirty-seven (137) countries have ratified the protocol, but have no obligation beyond monitoring and reporting emissions.

Among various experts, scientists and critics there is debate about the usefulness of the protocol, and there have been cost-benefit studies performed on its usefulness.

The relevance of the Kyoto Protocol in the 2008 US presidential elections: Americans are scrutinizing whether the 2008 US Presidential candidates would sign the Kyoto Protocol if elected in 2008. "Kyoto Protocol Question". Posted on YouTube in June 2008 for the YouTube CNN presidential debates.

Relevance of this debate in the post Kyoto period (after 2012) Kyoto provides a case study in how the world should proceed after Kyoto in 2012. If it is a success and the pro rationales are strong, than a continuation of the Kyoto model would make sense. But, if the con rationales are strong through 2012, than a very strong case for discontinuing the Kyoto model can be made. Therefore, the debate on Kyoto's pros and cons matters significantly to the post Kyoto approach to global warming.

See Wikipedia: Kyoto Protocol for further background]]

Greenhouse emissions: Does the Kyoto protocol help cut greenhouse emissions signficantly?


  • China is actually taking good measures to fight global warming. Ma Kai. "China is shouldering its climate change burden". Financial Times. June 3, 2007 - "Climate change is, first and foremost, an environmental issue, with an impact on the entire global community. But it is also a development issue. Climate change was caused by human development and must be resolved by development...China has worked hard to adjust its economic structure to improve energy saving and cut emissions. From 1991 to 2005, with national energy consumption rising each year by 5.6 per cent, China sustained an annual economic growth rate of 10 per cent and lowered its energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product by 47 per cent, saving 800m tons of coal and cutting 1.8bn tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions."
This makes is less plausible for countries such as the United States and Australia to justify their rejection of the Kyoto treaty on the basis that poor countries are not willing to adequately address the global warming crisis; they are doing so.


  • The Kyoto protocol cannot significantly cut emissions without the US - The US emits over 20% of the world's emissions. As such, it's non-participation nearly eliminates the possibility of success for the treaty in meeting its emissions targets. (Note: this is also an argument for the United States to sign Kyoto, and make it a more effective treaty - see below)

Global warming: Is global warming chiefly man-made, making Kyoto important?


  • Global warming is chiefly human-caused, making Kyoto important. Global warming has spiked significantly since the industrial revolution, indicating that, despite some possible natural causes of global warming, it is chiefly caused by human green-house gas emissions. As such, the Kyoto Protocol is a very relevant today in fighting global warming.
  • Even humans play a smaller role in climate change, Kyoto is still good. Even if humans are not actually the "chief" cause of global warming, there is little dispute that we play some role, due to our emissions of greenhouse gases, which contribute to the warming of the globe. As such, the Kyoto Protocol is an important tool in the fight against human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.


  • Natural causes are principally responsible for global warming today, making Kyoto irrelevant. Every 100,000 years, a cycle of glacial and inter-glacial periods occur. We are at the peak of the 10,000 year interglacial warming period before the next 100,000 year ice age. Our warming now is part of this cycle. Only planetary interactions between the sun and earth can cause such regular, but lengthy cycle's. This leads to the conclusion that the sun is most responsible. Yet, the Kyoto Protocol bases its carbon-cutting objectives on the assumption that humans are chiefly responsible for global warming; a false assumption.

Economics: Would Kyoto have a positive economic impact?


  • The Kyoto Protocol stimulates new industries "Rudd a green light for eco-businesses". December 1, 2007 - "ECO-lobbyists emitted tonnes of greenhouse gases this week as carbonated wine corks popped following the victory of the "lower-emission" Labor Party. "We're still drinking bubbly," said one pro-renewable energy advocate midweek. The more than 400 businesses operating in the energy efficiency and zero emission industries had despaired for their bottom lines after the Coalition's Kyoto stand-off had stalled economic incentives to cut greenhouse emissions for 11 years."


  • Kyoto Protocol conflicts with some international trade agreements. Jinnah, Sikina. "Emissions trading under the Kyoto Protocol: NAFTA and WTO concerns." Georgetown International Environmental Law Review. Summer 2003 - "Conflicts may arise between MEAs, such as the Kyoto Protocol, and international trade agreements, such as the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT)/WTO and the NAFTA.4 Member trade obligations under the GATT/ WTO and NAFTA may restrict freedom to participate in the emissions trading system established under the Kyoto Protocol.5 Members to the GATT/WTO and NAFTA are restricted in their ability to place quantitative barriers to trade (such as quotas, sanctions, and taxes) affecting products or services from other member nations. Conflict may emerge because Kyoto Protocol member nations may only account for emission reduction units (ERUs) created in other Kyoto Protocol member nations. Concern arises about the ability of a country that is member both to the GATT/WTO or the NAFTA as well as to the Kyoto Protocol to place trade restrictions on ERUs created in countries that are member to the GATT/ WTO or the NAFTA but not party to the Kyoto Protocol. Neither the GATT/WTO nor the NAFTA have rules governing the mode of dispute resolution under such circumstances, presumably because they have not been pressured to create them."

United States: Should the United States sign the treaty?


  • Kyoto is international law; the US is obligated to follow. Because over 60% of the world's population has signed Kyoto, it can be considered legitimate international law.


  • The Kyoto protocol would harm the American economy "The Impact of the Kyoto Protocol on U.S. Economic Growth and Projected Budget Surpluses". American Council for Economic Formation. 25 Mar. 1999. - "Macroeconomic Effects of CO2 Emissions Limits Are Significant. A wide range of economic models predict that reducing U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to either 1990 levels or to the Kyoto target (7 percent below 1990 emission levels) would reduce U.S. GDP and slow wage growth significantly, worsen the distribution of income, and reduce growth in living standards. If the United States is not able to take advantage of "where" flexibility (reducing emissions wherever it is cheapest globally) through international emissions trading to meet the Kyoto target, the cost in terms of lost output will range from about 1 percent to over 4 percent of GDP."
  • US population growth increased energy demand; Kyoto is impractical. The United States is different than most European countries in the way that it has substantial population growth relatively. Because growing populations require more energy, the United States has been in a different situation relative to Europe vis-a-vis its ability to constrain carbon emissions in the Kyoto Protocol.

Pro/con resources






  • US opposition to the Kyoto Protocol
  • President Vladimir Putin's top economic advisor, Andre Illarionov opposes Kyoto and the basis of the scientific arguments that global warming is occuring.[4]

Key players pro and con


  • Paul R. Epstein, M.D.
  • Stephen Leahy, environmental journalist.[5]


Videos pro and con


"David Suzuki - Kyoto Protocol". Posted March 17th, 2007 on YouTube


"Glenn Beck: The Truth of the Kyoto Protocol". Posted on YouTube. September 21, 2007 - Makes the case for the US rejection of the treaty, largely on the point that it does not adequately hold industrializing nations to account.

"Camino Media on Kyoto Protocol report for Fox News" Posted on YouTube April 3rd, 2007 - An account of the economic costs to Spain of the Kyoto Protocol.


Related pages on Debatepedia:

External links and resources:


"Listen to the Scientists: Kyoto Protocol & the U.S." Posted January 13, 2007[11]

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