In December 1997, a protocol was agreed to at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Kyoto, Japan to combat global warming. The Kyoto Protocol details steps that will be taken by each member country to reduce greenhouse gases. Although the United States is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, it has not yet taken steps to ratify the treaty. Provided here is a guide to the terms of Kyoto Protocol and information on the refusal of the United States to ratify it.

What Is the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol represents a global effort to fight global warming by choosing green technologies and reducing toxic emissions. As of November 2007, 175 countries have ratified the protocol.

The protocol divides countries into two categories. Annex I countries are fully developed nations, while Annex II designates developing countries. Annex II countries have no specific obligations under the terms of the protocol other than monitoring and reporting their own emissions. Annex I countries are required to reduce their emissions according to specified guidelines.

Countries may meet their emissions limitations in two ways: actually reducing emissions or purchasing carbon credits from other nations. Carbon credits are provided in exchange for emissions-reduction projects. If a country has extra carbon credits, it can sell them on the open market to other Protocol countries. This allows developed countries with existing green technology and low emissions to make money, while providing an option to developed countries that are unable to meet their emissions reduction requirements.

Annex II countries, which have no emissions limitation requirements, are also able to implement emissions-reduction strategies in exchange for carbon credits. They can then sell the carbon credits to Annex I countries.

Current Position of the United States

The United States, under then-President Bill Clinton, was an original signatory to the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, but this was merely symbolic, since the Protocal had to be ratified by the Senate to be binding, and the Clinton administration would not present it for ratification until certain key developing nations agreed to participate in it, such as China and India. Clinton never presented it to the U.S. Senate for ratification, and neither has his successor, President George W. Bush.

State and Local Reactions
Several states have passed legislation that will reduce emissions at a state level. Additionally, nine states in the Northeast recently passed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. This program is essentially a small-scale model of the emissions trading program that is at the heart of the Kyoto Protocol. A stated goal of the program is to put pressure on the federal government by demonstrating the program’s feasibility.

Inspired by Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle, a coalition of 740 cities across the United States and Puerto Rico has developed its own version of the Kyoto Protocol. The program went into effect in December 2007.

The Future

The Kyoto Protocol is set to expire in 2012. However, international discussions began in 2007 on a new protocol to replace it. Despite an unwillingness to ratify the current treaty, the United States was a signatory to the non-binding Washington Declaration. The declaration outlines a potential plan to replace the Kyoto Protocol.