United States and the Kyoto Protocol

By Ian Teñido

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Kyoto Protocol is a phrase that has in the last two decades become a cliché on the lips of many but for a good reason. To understand Kyoto Protocol, we need to briefly travel down the memory lane of the environmental movement. Before Kyoto Protocol there are other numerous environmental instruments that gradually culminated in the formation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In 1990, UNFCCC was brought into life in Rio to address the climate change. The World’s nations largely agreed that indeed the average temperatures were rising and needed to be addressed. UNFCCC committed its parties to emission reduction targets.

After an assessment of the emission levels, it was recognized that developed countries are the ones that have principally released the current emissions as a result of over 150 years of industrial development. Therefore, slapping an equal responsibility on each country including the developing and the least developed members of the agreement would be unfair. Kyoto Protocol was created to place a heavier responsibility on developed nations. The Kyoto Protocol is effected through the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” The protocol was adopted in Japan on December 11, 1997 and entered into force in 2005. The detailed implementation procedures were coined in Marrakesh Accords in 2001. The protocol renews commitment for both annex I and II countries as well as outlining the revised Greenhouse Gasses (GHG).

What makes the Kyoto Protocol even more pronounced and an important subject of debate in climate change negotiations and talks is the fact that the US is not a party to the protocol. This is controversial, bearing in mind that the US is the number two most polluting nation after China, and before China it was the US. According to Annex I of Kyoto Protocol, US emits 35% of the world’s GHGs that’s why it beats logic that they have not ratified the treaty to date. Interesting enough, President Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol but did not ratify it at all; President Bush on the other hand eliminated the signature all together.

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President Clinton believed that a nation-wise approach towards human-induced climate change was the best solution for climate change issues and thus the Clinton administration considered the protocol a “work in progress.” President Bush, however, considered the Kyoto Protocol as a serious harm to the US economy because going ahead and limiting the emissions would cripple the US industries.

In spite of US refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to date, all hope for tackling climate change is not lost for the US. Already, there are numerous measures put in place by the EPA to see to it, so that a livable atmosphere is attained across the US. In addition, US can invest in educating its future generations (children and the youth) in tackling climate change in their everyday life. This can extensively be done in schools and colleges.

The country should also, at large, get involved in climate change initiatives; these initiatives include creation of awareness and implementation of green projects. Tackling climate change requires individual efforts and change of habits should be encouraged at all levels of the society. The change of habits should target both consumption and disposal of materials. People should be re-oriented to prefer energy efficient appliances to energy inefficient ones. People should be mainstreamed in the waste disposal mechanisms such as reuse and recycle. These strategies, although basic and personal, could contribute to the national synergy of tackling climate change.



Barett, S. (1998). Politcal Economy of the Kyoto Protocol. Oxford Review of Economic Policy. 14(4), 20-39.

Buchner, B., Carraro, C., &Cersosimo, I. (2002). Economic Consequences of the U.S. Withdrawal from the Kyoto/Bonn Protocol. Climate Policy, 2(4), 273-292.

Google Image (2013). Kyoto Protocol [Image]. Retrieved from http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Kyoto_protocol.jpg.

Google Image (2014). What is the Kyoto Protocol [Image]. Retrieved from http://images.elections.in/political-corner/2014/08/political-corner-image.jpg.

Google Image (2015). Defying the Kyoto Protocol [Image]. Retrieved from https://nickdotchan.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/defying-the-kyoto-protocol.jpg.

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