Q & A: Russia and the Kyoto Protocol

What did Russia’s ratification mean for the Kyoto Protocol?

The Protocol enters into force only when ratified by at least 55 countries accounting for at least 55 percent of developed country emissions in 1990. The first threshold was met in 2001 (128 countries have now ratified the Protocol as of Feb 2005). With Russian ratification, the second threshold had now been meet. The Protocol entered into force, or took effect, 90 days after the Russian government deposited its instrument of ratification with the United Nations. With entry into force, Kyoto’s emission targets become binding legal commitments for those industrialized countries that have ratified it (the United States and Australia have not). Also, the market-based mechanisms established under Kyoto, including international emissions trading and the Clean Development Mechanism, will become fully operational.

Without the United States on board, how much impact will Kyoto have?

Kyoto sets emission targets for industrialized countries for the years 2008-2012, with the expectation of more stringent targets in the future. Kyoto’s initial targets aim to reduce industrialized country emissions about 5 percent below 1990 levels. Industrialized countries account for roughly half of global greenhouse gas emissions. Without the United States (the world’s largest emitter) and Australia, Kyoto’s limits apply to countries accounting for 32 percent of global emissions. Most experts and governments believe that much steeper emission reductions, 60 percent or greater, will ultimately be needed to avert serious climate change impacts.

Do countries plan to negotiate further emission reductions?

Kyoto requires that parties to the Protocol begin negotiating in 2005 toward a second round of commitments. It is unlikely that the industrialized countries that have ratified Kyoto will agree to more stringent targets post-2012 unless there is also stronger action by the United States and by major developing countries. One possibility is that the new round of talks will focus more broadly on ways to modify Kyoto or structure a successor agreement acceptable to all the major emitting countries.

What were the implications for the Conference of the Parties (COP 10) in December 2004?

Countries that are parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Kyoto’s parent agreement, meet annually as the Conference of the Parties (COP). (The United States is a party to the UNFCCC.) The next conference after Russia's ratification, known as COP 10, took place in Buenos Aires. Kyoto was not yet be in force, so the formal proceedings were not be affected. However, Russia’s ratification made it more likely that countries would use COP 10 as an opportunity to begin exploring options beyond 2012. Once Kyoto entered into force, its parties will convene Meetings of the Parties (MOPs) in parallel with the COPs. COP 11 is scheduled to take place in November 2005.

What does this mean for U.S. business, particularly those corporations that have operations in Kyoto countries?

It is not clear what the effects of Kyoto ratification will be on U.S. businesses. International businesses operating in Europe, Canada, and Japan are already beginning to grapple with Kyoto policy environments. Many U.S. companies already believe that the United States will eventually regulate greenhouse gas emissions, and are taking actions to reduce their own emissions, to develop technologies that would help others reduce their emissions, and to help shape future U.S. climate policy. These activities are likely to continue, and perhaps accelerate, in light of Kyoto ratification.

What is the current Administration's climate change strategy and will it reduce the nation's greenhouse gas emissions?

On February 14, 2002, President Bush announced a new climate change strategy for the United States that sets a voluntary "greenhouse gas intensity" target for the nation, expands existing programs encouraging companies to voluntarily report and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and proposes increased federal funding for climate change science and technology development. Some elements of the Administration's strategy may provide additional incentive to companies to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the Administration's target - an 18 percent reduction in emissions intensity between now and 2012 - will allow actual emissions to increase 12 percent over the same period. Emissions will continue to grow at nearly the same rate as at present. What are the key elements of a prospective U.S. climate change program?

A number of policy options are available to secure emissions reductions, but to be effective and affordable, a long-term emissions reduction program must couple mandatory GHG reductions with technology development and market mechanisms. A comprehensive domestic strategy would couple short- and long-term measures that aim to (1) improve the tracking and reporting of GHG emissions; (2) promote new technologies and practices; and (3) provide a foundation upon which to secure both short-term and long-term emissions reductions. While each of these objectives can be pursued in a number of different ways, an effective strategy must address all three.

What actions has Congress taken to address climate change in the United States?

As the scientific evidence of climate change has mounted, so has congressional activity. The number of climate change-related legislative proposals increased from seven introduced in the 105th Congress (1997-1998) to 25 in the 106th Congress (1999-2000) to over 80 in the 107th Congress (2001-2002) to nearly 100 in the 108th Congress (2003-2004). Legislation to have the largest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs) disclose their emissions has passed the Senate twice. And in October 2003, the bipartisan team of Senators Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ) won the support of 44 Senators in the first vote on their bill to cap U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

The growing activity suggests that a bipartisan consensus is developing around certain legislative proposals, including measures to require the disclosure of GHG emissions, protect companies reducing GHG emissions from being penalized under a future GHG reduction program, and promote carbon sequestration. Addressing the challenge of climate change will ultimately require a more comprehensive set of approaches, however, including a mandatory program to reduce GHG emissions (such as the Lieberman-McCain bill), and efficiency standards to promote the use of efficient products and technologies. Enactment of such policy will no doubt be a longer-term proposition.

Are voluntary GHG reduction programs sufficient to control U.S. GHG emissions, or is a mandatory program necessary?

In response to the goal of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change to stabilize GHG concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system, the United States has instituted a number of programs since 1992. These include voluntary GHG mitigation programs, research and development, and a subset of energy policies that focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy. More than a decade of experience with these programs shows that while they have at times inspired significant action on the part of individual companies, these measures have not succeeded in reducing, or even stabilizing, total U.S. emissions. U.S. greenhouse gas emissions increased roughly 12 percent between 1990 and 2001, and are projected to increase another 12 percent by 2012. Voluntary programs can provide important experience for designing future efforts, but they cannot stimulate the broad engagement that will be necessary to achieve the level of emissions reductions that ultimately will be required. In order for the United States to achieve the significant GHG reductions necessary to address climate change, it must implement a mandatory GHG reduction program.

Why is it important for businesses to have a global climate change regime in place sooner than later?

In the absence of a global climate change regime, most companies will forge ahead with existing programs to reduce their emissions, encourage greater energy efficiency, begin a switch to less carbon intensive fuels, and continue to develop alternative energy technologies.