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International Actions

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INTERNATIONAL ACTIONS

In the late 1980’s increased public awareness of international environmental issues moved the climate change debate from the scientific to the political arena. Concerns about the possibility of global warming due to anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases prompted Governments to form the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. The key aims of the IPCC were;

  • To assess the available scientific information on climate change;
  • To examine the potential environmental and social impacts of climate change and to formulate national and international response options.

The IPCC’s third assessment report was published in 2001, in the report the scientific committee stated that there was “newer and stronger evidence” that “most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase of greenhouse gas concentrations”. Based on the findings of IPCC it is clear that there is evidence that global climate change is a real effect. Also, that the potential consequences of its impact are now well acknowledged by governments and the public alike.

International actions to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases are undertaken through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The UNFCC was signed by 155 countries at the so called ‘Earth Summit’ held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and came into force in 1994 after ratification by 50 countries. A national government becomes a party to the convention by ratifying it. The ultimate objective of the Framework Convention was;

“to achieve stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.

The implementation of the convention is shaped by the Conference of the Parties (COP) which convenes at regular intervals. The third Conference of the Parties (COP-3) was held in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997 and was where the parties debated and adopted the Kyoto Protocol. The main features of the Kyoto Protocol were that it called on the developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels by a five year commitment period, 2008 to 2012. In recognition of their different circumstances, countries agreed different reduction targets. For example, the European Union agreed an 8 per cent reduction, while Norway and Australia were actually allowed to increase their emissions by 1 and 8 per cent respectively, relative to their 1990 levels

As we are aware, the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol has been more protracted than was initially conceived. Several of the parties, led by the European Commission have now ratified the treaty but many such as the USA and Australia remain opposed to ratification.

GREENHOUSE GAS ABATEMENT UNDER THE KYOTO PROTOCOL

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the greenhouse gas reduction commitments apply to six gases or groups of gases namely; carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). Those substances that contribute to ozone depletion, namely chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and Halons are covered by the Montreal Protocol, a separate international agreement. The contributions of the different gases are weighted according to their Global Warming Potentials (GWP). GWP is defined by IPCC as the time-integrated commitment to climate forcing from the instantaneous release of 1kg of a trace gas expressed relative to that of a reference gas (CO2). The time horizon used for the GWP index is typically 100 years. It is important to note that the contribution of CO2 to climate change is the most significant of all the basket of gases covered by the Kyoto protocol. The contributions to global warming from anthropogenic sources from pre-industrial times to date are shown in the Figure below. Therefore, to make significant long term reductions in global warming it is clear that significant reductions in global anthropogenic CO2 emissions will be needed, as well as cuts in the other gases.

Contributions to Climate Change

Direct contributions due to anthropogenic emissions from pre-industrial times to date – Source: IPCC (1995)

The abatement measures proposed under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions were:

  • Improved energy efficiency both in end-use and in the supply and conversion sectors,
  • Fuel switching to reduce the carbon intensity of fossil fuel use, such as substituting natural gas for coal,
  • Use of renewable energy,
  • Use of nuclear power.

The nuclear power option has been promoted by a number of Parties at the outset of the process but technical doubts remain, primarily relating to safety which along with attendant political issues, mean that nuclear power is not universally accepted as a mitigation measure.

Many countries are focusing their greenhouse gas reduction targets on the first commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol (2008 to 2012) and will concentrate on the low cost, easily achieved options. These options can include: fuel switching (coal to natural gas), abatement of N2O emissions at adipic acid plants and methane emission reduction from natural gas pipelines and from coal mining. However, the low cost easy to achieve options will soon be used up and other more expensive abatement options will then be required, for later commitment periods.

THE USE OF FLEXIBLE MECHANISMS

The Kyoto Protocol was designed to set the international legal framework and regulatory convention to administer and manage greenhouse gas reduction efforts. Under the terms of the protocol, parties with legally binding obligations may meet their obligations through the application of three flexible mechanisms: Joint Implementation (JI), Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and International Emissions Trading (IET). These mechanisms wer created by the protocol to enable governments to meet part of their greenhouse gas reduction commitments by developing emissions reduction projects in other countries. JI projects are undertaken in industrialised countries that have quantitative emissions reductions targets, and CDM projects hosted by developing countries that have no quantitative targets. JI and CDM will transfer environmentally-sound technologies to the host countries, which will assist them in achieving their sustainable development objectives. The concept behind all three mechanisms is that a proportion of the required reductions in greenhouse gas emissions should be achieved at lowest possible costs. It is anticipated that application of the mechanisms will commence in 2008.

  • Joint Implementation (JI): The Protocol establishes a mechanism whereby an Annex I country (or an entity within an Annex I country) can receive emissions reductions units (ERUs) generated by emission reduction projects in another Annex I country. ERUs can be transferred as part of a direct sale of ERUs or as part of a return from investment in eligible projects.
  • Clean Development Mechanism (CDM): The Protocol establishes a mechanism whereby non-Annex I parties can create certified emissions reductions (CERs) by developing projects that reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases. Annex I parties (both governments and private entities) can assist in financing these projects and purchase the resulting credits as a means of achieving compliance with their own reduction commitments.
  • International Emissions Trading (IET): The Kyoto Protocol establishes a mechanism whereby Annex I parties may trade their emission allowances with other Annex I parties. The aim is to improve to overall flexibility and economic efficiency of making emissions cuts.

There are a growing number of projects underway based on the application of JI, CDM and IET. CDM projects can take many forms and include those based on achieving improvements in energy efficiency (both end use and supply side), increased use of renewable energy sources, methane reduction (eg, from gas capture from landfills), fuel switching, enhanced industrial processes, and the application of sequestration techniques and CO2 sinks (afforestation and reforestation).