Will Kyoto Protocols Targets be Met without a Commitment for the United States

The simple answer is “Yes.” Here’s why:

The Kyoto Protocol is an agreement that is part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC. The purpose of the agreement is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, and eventually work towards reducing them.

Were the United States to become a signatory, it would be in the Annex 1 category of countires, along with 37 other industrialized nations. It would be required to cut back on four greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, sulphur hexafluoride, nitrous oxide) and two ozone-depleting gases (hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons) until emissions were 5.2% the United States’ 1990 levels.

As it stands right now, every country in the world excluding the United States and Somalia has signed and ratified the treaty (and the United States remains the only nation to actually oppose the agreement – Somalia has no functioning government), and if all of them achieve their goal, there is a very realistic chance that non-Kyoto measures that are currently being put in place will have the desired effect on total emissions. For example, higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards will dramatically cut back emissions over the next decade, and the gradual phasing out of all incandescent light bulbs and their replacement with fluorescent light bulbs will do the same.

Furthermore, the question of whether the Kyoto Protocol will achieve its goals can be answered only by looking at Kyoto Protocol signatories, not by looking at the world as a whole. If the signatories are successful in their efforts to roll back total emissions of the six gases at issue, then the Protocol as a whole has been succesful. If they fail, the Protocol as a whole has failed.

The likelihood of the long-term success of the Kyoto Protocol is very high, but its short term prospects are not so bright: the Protocol’s effectiveness has been severely hurt by a number of factors, among them:
a) growing economies in 3rd world nations who are not obligated, under the terms of the treaty, to make as severe cutbacks as the Annex 1 nations.
b) growing economies in Annex 1 nations that will force those nations to ease back on their efforts to cut emissions, due to the risk of impeding economic growth.
c) growing populations that increase total emissions, while keeping the per capita output constant.

The Kyoto Protocol is an admirable effort, and US non-participation will almost certainly not cause its failure.