...Kyoto: The Devil Was in the Details

steps to date may be fatally flawed, but that is not a basis for turning our backs on potential steps towards solution.

Creating the basis for international cooperation was achieved at the “Earth Summit” held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, with full participation by the U.S. government, then led by President George H.W. Bush. At the Rio summit, international agreement was reached on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which established the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” for action. Developed countries were expected to take early action in order to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions, while the developing countries would be given some latitude to increase their share of global emissions in conjunction with their economic development.

While the overall Framework Convention was accepted, as in any agreement, the devil is in the details, and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol was the document that attempted to pin down those details. In accord with the UNFCCC principles, its action steps were limited to the developed countries, although the developing nations were also signatories and potential participants in the emissions reductions programs. On the positive side, Kyoto did create a model for success, using a “cap and trade” system to balance out the emissions reductions, with the goal of reducing emissions by the developed countries by 5% below the 1990 baseline by a 2012 deadline. Individual countries and groups were assigned their own specific targets within this total. Control mechanisms included the potential for trading emissions among countries or sponsoring initiatives in developing countries where such actions could achieve comparable results at lower cost.

The Kyoto protocol was structured to come into effect when ratified by at least 55 countries whose aggregate emissions accounted for 55% of world CO˛ emissions as of 1990. When Russia ratified the treaty in 2004, it went into effect.

Progress under Kyoto has been mixed at best. The U.S declined to ratify. A non-binding Sense of the Senate resolution against U.S. participation, sponsored by Senators Byrd (D-WV) and Hagel (R-NE), passed by 95-0 and while the United States did sign the protocol, it was never submitted by the Clinton-Gore administration for Senate ratification. President Bush indicated his opposition to the protocol and made it clear that he would not move forward on an agreement that did not bind China and India to some actions and goals.

The Bush administration has since moved closer to a position that something needs to be done with respect to climate change and emission controls, but without any major initiatives or widespread international cooperation. The administration points to a