The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) recently released its "GHG Data 2006" report on emissions in industrialized countries. The Ecosystem Marketplace breaks down the numbers to find out what the Kyoto Protocol has accomplished so far. According to "GHG Data 2006," published on October 30 by the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), German Greens will be among those with finger-wagging rights at the United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Nairobi from November 6th through the 17th. Unlike most other industrialized signatories of the Kyoto Protocol, Germany managed both to grow its economy and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2004. The UNFCCC report, for the first time, includes actual data from all 41 industrialized countries—the so-called "Annex I" countries—that have agreed to the 1992 framework upon which the Kyoto Protocol was forged in 1997. The most promising finding: GHG emissions per dollar of economic output in industrialized UNFCCC signatories fell 28% from 1990 thorough 2004. "This shows that the decoupling of emissions from economic growth in industrialized countries continues," said Sergey Kononov, who headed the secretariat team that published the findings. "This decoupling is even evident in the United States, which increased emissions 15.8% from 1990 through 2004," he said. "This came with more than a 50% increase in gross domestic product, and emissions growth has slowed since 2000—their emissions grew just 1.3% after that." Despite the good news, the key finding of the report is that industrialized countries have a long way to go if they are to meet the UNFCCC's goal of truly combating climate change, although France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Monaco, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have a good chance of meeting their Kyoto Protocol targets.
As expected, the report reveals differences between the emission reductions of those UNFCCC signatories who signed the Kyoto protocol and those who did not, but it reveals even more clearly several different trends within other subsets of this diverse group of nations—most disturbingly between industrialized nations whose economies grew throughout the 1990s, and former Soviet states (Economies in Transition, or "EITs") whose GHG emissions dropped 39.3% from 1990 through 2000. That's discouraging because those countries didn't achieve reductions through green growth, but rather through the economic implosion that devastated the former Soviet Union after the fall of Communism. A case in point: EIT Lithuania's emissions dropped 60.4% from 1990 through 2004, while rapidly industrializing Turkey's emissions surged 72.6%. Not only that, but EITs have been rebounding since 2000, and their emissions have followed suit. By the end of 2004, the 39.3% reduction achieved in 2000 had been whittled down to 36.8%. And they're not the only ones whose emissions have risen since 2000, when the total reduction for all 41 industrialized signatories stood at 5.6%—meaning today's figure of 3.3% also represents a global backslide. Take out the EIT countries, and what you have is an emissions increase of 11%, from 13.0 billion tons to 14.4 billion tons, from 1990 through 2004.
Kyoto: Not So Bad
The numbers are better among industrialized countries that also joined the Kyoto Protocol, but also represent a backslide from 2000 – by which time industrialized Kyoto countries had achieved a collective reduction in GHG emissions of 17.7%. By the end of 2004, that decrease had been whittled back to 15.3%. Here, too, the economic implosion among EIT countries generated the bulk of the reduction: EIT Kyoto countries had whittled their emissions by 39.5% through 2000, sliding back to 37% by the end of 2004. Still, remove these countries from the equation, and you get a smaller increase in emissions among non-EIT industrialized Kyoto signatories than among those who only joined the larger framework: the emissions of non-EIT Kyoto signatories rose by 1.3% from 1990 through 2000, and continued rising through 2004—where they ended 3.7% above 1990. Within the block, however, you have wide variance. Spain's emissions rose 49% from 1990 through 2004—and 11% from 2000 through 2004. "It's important to remember that the Kyoto protocol takes into account that different countries face different challenges," says secretariat head Yvo de Boer. For this reason, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland were allowed to let their emissions rise under the burden-sharing arrangement." All-in-all, however, emissions among European Community countries—all of whom are signatories to the Kyoto protocol—increased more in percentage terms from 2000 through 2004 (2.4%) than did emissions in the United States (1.3%), but in absolute terms, the US remains the world's largest emitter of GHG, generating a whopping 7,067,570 gigagrams (1,000 tons) of CO2 equivalent GHG in 2004, compared to the European Community's 4,228,006 Gg. So, despite its slowing growth, the US still accounted for 39% of all emissions in 2004.
Impact Of Carbon Trading
The report leaves several factors unanswered, chief among them the impact of Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) programs on emissions. In other words—have tree-planting efforts resulted in a net reduction? It also strikes an optimistic chord regarding mechanisms in place to drive down emissions. "The use of the clean development mechanism is becoming a promising option for meeting the Kyoto Protocol targets in many Annex I Parties," the report concludes. "In the countries that are members of the European Union, the use of the EU emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) is growing in importance." But quantifying that importance is proving a difficult task. Most estimates say that emissions covered under EU ETS have dropped between three and four percent since carbon trading was launched in April, 2005—but even if those figures are accurate, only 45% of European emissions fall under the scheme, and the biggest emitter, transportation, is not part of it. You can bet this little tidbit will be the focus of intense debate in Nairobi. Steve Zwick is a regular contributor to the Ecosystem Marketplace. First published: November 6, 2006 Please see our Reprint Guidelines for details on republishing our articles.