American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Agreement Reached in Kyoto

The following report appears as a News Note in the March 1998 issue of Geotimes. It is reprinted here with permission.

In a frantic, last minute effort in December, delegates to the Kyoto conference finally reached agreement on targets and timetables for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to mitigate climate change. The agreement was a compromise be tween the United States' proposal, which would have reduced greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2008-2012, and the proposal of the European Union (E.U.), which called for a 15 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2010. The treaty is not likely to be ratified by the U.S. Senate in the near future, but the administration has initiated several programs to promote the agreement and ease the transition to the terms of the treaty.

Treaty Provisions
According to the treaty, the U.S. will reduce emissions of six greenhouse gases -- carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and three halocarbons -- to 7 percent below what they were in 1990 by 2008-2012. In that time frame, the E.U. will cut emissions to 8 percent below 1990 levels and Japan will reduce emissions to 6 percent below 1990 levels. The U.S. succeeded in including joint implementation schemes, which allow a firm to receive credit for emission reductions made abroad, and emissions trading provi sions in the agreement, but a major disappointment for the United States was a lack of provisions affecting developing countries. Those negotiations will be delayed until the next climate summit, to be held in November 1998 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Senate Opposition
President Clinton will most likely wait until after the Buenos Aires negotiations to present the treaty to the Senate for ratification. The Senate, through a resolution introduced by Sen. Robert Byrd (D- WVa.) and passed unanimously last July, has made it known that it will not ratify a treaty that does not include developing countries. Critics warn that exempting those nations, which include China, India, and Mexico, from limits could decrease both the effectiveness of the treaty as well as harm the Amer ican economy. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a cosponsor of the resolution and a member of the observing team at Kyoto, echoed those sentiments: "There's no way we'll even be close in the Senate to ratifying this agreement. We will kill this if the president signs it."

Administration Actions
Senate opposition to the treaty, however, does not mean action on climate change is stalled. Jim Steinberg, deputy assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, explained that the administration will take actions that "are in the interest of t he United States, whether or not we have a global climate change treaty. They are things such as investing in energy research, [and] tax credits for the adoption of more energy efficient structures." President Clinton has already earmarked $5 billion for tax cuts and research and development to encourage energy efficiency and use of cleaner energy sources. Clinton has also stated that we "must reinvent how the federal government, the nation's largest energy consumer, buys and uses energy."

Scientific Response
While members of Congress continue to debate the treaty, the scientific community is working to determine where the natural sinks for carbon dioxide are located. The results, which will be presented during the Buenos Aires meeting, will affect the amount of greenhouse gases that countries are allowed to emit. According to Science, accounting for these sinks is "like trying to track the flow of Mob money." Much research into ecosystem functions and services is necessary to better understand these sy stems.

Although the Kyoto negotiations represent an international agreement that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced, the debate will continue to rage as the U.S. determines the extent of its participation.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs Program
Last updated June 12, 1998
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