Kyoto Protocol Takes Effect

The Kyoto Protocol on global warming has come into effect after years of delays.  But the landmark agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions lacks the support of the United States and there is concern that the accord will not achieve its targets in Japan.

Ceremonies to mark the Kyoto Protocol were held in the former Japanese capital where the agreement was negotiated in 1997.  Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, speaking from Tokyo via a videophone, said the landmark pact will have a positive impact on future generations if it can achieve its goals.

Mr. Koizumi says Japan will lead the drive to halt global warming.

Despite hopes the protocol will help clean the air, there is concern that some signatories, including Japan, will not be able to cut gas emissions to pledged levels.

Japan has increased its greenhouse emissions by eight percent since 1990 and that means it now faces a cut of 14 percent against 1990 levels to achieve its targets under the agreement.  If Japan fails to meet its reduction goal by then it will be forced to cut emissions by an additional 30 percent under the Kyoto pact's second stage, starting in 2013.

Hiroki Kudo, who manages the Environment and Energy Conservation Group at Japan's Institute of Energy Economics, is pessimistic the country can hit its numbers.

"The Japanese government has the plan to achieve the Kyoto target towards the year 2012,”  said Mr. Kudo.  “But, probably, we will recognize if we [can] achieve the Kyoto target or not around the year 2010 or 2012.  It is too late to enforce the more strong policy measures and government will try to take the carbon credit through emission trading."

Under this trading program, countries unable to meet their Kyoto goals can buy or swap credits with countries that have exceeded their targets.

The protocol commits nations to cut their industrial emissions of six carbon gases.  These gases are thought to cause a number of environmental problems and significantly contribute to global warming.

Japan also is thinking about funding emission-reduction projects in developing countries.  This would also win Japan credits for its domestic quota.

But environmentalists, such as Aya Inoue of the Ecosystem Conservation Society of Japan, do not like that approach.

"It is a kind of makeshift for the time being by using taxpayers' money,” she noted.  “We do not think it is an appropriate measure as it has nothing to do with reduction in emission of greenhouse gases in our country."

But many experts, such as Mr. Kudo, believe the protocol will never get that far, so long as it is boycotted by the United States, the world's biggest polluter, and unless it specifies emission reduction targets for developing countries.

The United States was a signatory to the 1997 treaty, but the U.S. Senate unanimously urged then-President Clinton to reject it. The Bush administration abandoned the pact after coming to power in 2001, saying it would hurt the U.S. economy and that its failure to set the same emissions standards for rapidly industrializing developing countries as developed nations, was a major flaw.
U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker defended his country's stand as the Kyoto protocol became law.

"It is really a bum rap,” he said.  “It is America that spends five billion dollars a year on improvement of the air quality.  My guess would be that is an order of magnitude greater than any other nation on earth and perhaps more than the rest of the world combined."

The Japanese government calls the absence of the United States regrettable, and says it is still trying to convince Washington to join the treaty.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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