Kyoto for Dummies

With Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto being hot news this week, here’s some of the basics.K

Q. What is the Kyoto protocol?

A. The protocol, finalized in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, requires industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about five per cent below 1990 levels between 2008 and ’12. As of this past Sept. 25, 84 countries had signed on and 95 had ratified the deal or indicated their intention to sign.

Q. What are greenhouse gases?

A. Greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, are created when fossil fuels are burned. The gases act like a blanket over Earth’s atmosphere, keeping it warmer than normal. The result is drought, floods, intense storms and heat waves. The six major greenhouse gases covered by the protocol are: Carbon dioxide: Manmade – combustion of natural gas and petroleum products – for energy. Natural – volcanoes, trees, forest fires, vegetation and oceans. Methane: Manmade – combustion of coal, natural gas; decomposition of waste in landfills. Natural sources – animal waste, wetlands, natural gas. Nitrous oxide: Man-made – fertilizers; industrial combustion of fossil fuels. Natural – Moist soils. Hydrofluorocarbons: Aerosol additives. Perfluorocarbons: Aluminum production. Sulphur hexafluoride: Semiconductor manufacturing processes. *** –

Gas reduction targets:

Canada, six per cent; European Union, eight per cent; Japan, six per cent. None of 134 developing countries, including China, India, Mexico, Brazil and South Korea, is required to set any limits. – Biggest obstacle: The United States, responsible for up to 30 per cent of global emissions, backed out of Kyoto last year. The U.S. has been assigned a seven per cent reduction but President George W. Bush refuses to ratify the protocol for economic reasons. Instead, he wants to reduce pollution and greenhouse emissions by connecting environmental protection directly to economic growth.

Action plan:

There is general agreement on the need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Alternatives include promoting renewable energy resources, developing new energy-efficient technologies and more sustainable agriculture, and protecting and enhancing forests. However, Kyoto negotiators have yet to agree on how the protocol will be implemented and how to deal with non-compliance. – Cost to Canada: Unknown. Supporters say Kyoto may actually improve the economy by creating jobs in new technology sectors. Critics predict implementing the accord would cost $30 billion by 2010, resulting in widespread job losses.