Skip to comments.Kyoto protocol doing little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Posted on 02/15/2005 2:10:29 AM PST by ATOMIC_PUNK
Kyoto protocol doing little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
By Justin McCurry THE GUARDIAN , KYOTO Tuesday, Feb 15, 2005,Page 9 The Kyoto international conference hall is deserted now, with the events of December 1997 a surreal memory. For several days that month this architectural nightmare from the 1970s was the setting for the most concerted attempt yet to save the planet from self-asphyxiation.
In the critical final 48 hours of the UN summit on climate change, exhausted government delegates fought off journalists; UN officials worked into the night negotiating every comma and full stop of the final document, the oil lobby twisted arms (very effectively, it turned out) and John Prescott sat on the floor of a replica Japanese teahouse for a live interview with David Frost.
And so the Kyoto protocol was born. Just over seven years on, is the city aware of the mixed health of the treaty that bears its name? Does it even realize what all the fuss was about?
Not really, is the unscientific conclusion of a straw poll conducted at Kyoto's main railway station. Schoolchildren, salarymen and pensioners were united in their ignorance of the significance of Feb. 16.
Fumiaki Utaka of the Kyoto City Government's environment bureau cites the failure of poster campaigns urging people to leave their cars at home one day a month as proof of a lack of urgency in the city.
"It's a lifestyle thing," he said. "It's very hard to persuade people to change their habits."
Still, Kyoto is trying to do its bit. Dozens of Kyoto's buses run on bio-diesel fuel derived from tempura cooking oil, and some offer travel around the city center for just ?100 (just under US$1) at weekends and on public holidays. Two years ago, Kyoto's shops became the first in Japan to affix certificates showing the energy-saving capability of items such as fridges and air conditioners.
The city has also committed itself to reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions, by 10 percent from 1990 levels by 2010. It is faring marginally better than many signatories to the protocol: by 2001 it had achieved a modest reduction of 0.9 percent.
Japan is way behind schedule. It is required to cut emissions to 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012, but by 2003, total emissions had reached 1.33 billion tonnes, 7.6 percent higher than 15 years ago.
The main offenders are private homes, offices and vehicles. The popularity of eco-unfriendly items such as air conditioners, kettles and hobs has been matched by a rise in the number of households, as more people live alone. Now, the average household owns two air conditioners compared with one 15 years ago.
The story is the same on the roads. Japan is at the forefront of hybrid engine technology, but in 2002 greenhouse gas emissions by the transport sector rose by 20 percent from 1990 levels. More miles are being clocked as car ownership continues to soar.
Petrol-electric hybrids are still expensive to make and have yet to make their presence felt. According to the Japan Automobile Research Institute, there were just 130,000 clean-energy vehicles on Japan's roads in 2002. But carmakers clearly believe they have a future. Among them is Toyota, whose hybrids, such as the Prius, contain an electric-battery pack recharged when the car's brakes are applied.
Car manufacturers say they are improving fuel efficiency ahead of the introduction of a tax on petrol, coal and oil next year. The tax horrifies many Japanese exporters, who say it will blunt their competitive edge. Even supporters of the tax say it is unlikely that the proposed levy of ?2,400 per tonne of carbon will discourage car use. They want a tax of at least ?6,000 per tonne.
Industry, which is responsible for more than a third of Japan's greenhouse gas emissions, has largely escaped the blame for the country's poor record on CO2 emissions. In 2002 it reduced emissions by 1.7 percent from 1990 levels thanks to energy-saving technology.
Ways have been found to store cheaper energy obtained at night, allowing the utilities to spread power consumption more evenly at peak times during the day. Doing so reduces the number of generators needed, which in turn brings down greenhouse gas emissions. Thermal storage systems use soil to store the heat and can be installed cheaply directly beneath buildings.
Japan is also putting its volcanos to good use as a source of renewable energy. Steam from magma can be harnessed to generate geothermal power that emits a twentieth of the CO2 of an ordinary thermal power station. There are now more than a dozen geothermal power plants in Japan.
But Hirohisa Aki, a scientist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, said green technology alone will not be enough.
Aki believes that Japan should exploit what some describe as loopholes in the agreement -- trading emissions with other countries and acquiring emissions credits through forestation.
"The government requires industry to take energy-saving measures, but I don't think it has a clear strategy," Aki said.
His strategy includes the expansion of hydrogen fuel cells in offices, hotels and houses, and more vehicles powered by biodiesel fuel.
Some homeowners are listening. Solar panels are being taken up in bigger numbers by younger urbanites, attracted by lower prices, government subsidies, and the prospect of being able to recoup their outlay by selling leftover electricity to the power companies.
If the government reaches its target of having enough solar panels to generate 4.82m kW of electricity by 2010, it stands to save more than 1.1m kiloliters of crude oil. A more recent option is a domestic gas turbine of one or two kW that generates free electricity and enough heat for the bathroom.
Progress on alternatives to fossil fuel was long hampered by a fixation on nuclear power, but Japan's grand vision of a nuclear future is in doubt. Two fatal accidents in six years, cover-ups of faulty equipment and public opposition to new plants have forced the government to reconsider adding to the 52 plants already in operation.
"The electric power companies don't want more nuclear plants," Aki said. "Although the running costs are cheaper than those of conventional plants, there are additional costs, particularly for the treatment of nuclear waste."
An alternative is solid oxide fuel cells.
"You will need to produce big quantities of hydrogen, and they won't bring down CO2 levels by themselves," Aki said, "but they will provide better efficiency."
The immediate future will be about regaining the momentum that brought the industrialized nations together in 1997. "Kyoto is seen as a ceiling, and not as a floor," said Steve Shallhorn, executive director of Greenpeace Japan.
"The future is a Kyoto II, which plugs some of the holes and brings those countries exempted the first time around into the process," he said.
The exempted, and those who excused themselves. Shallhorn is confident that the latter can be persuaded to show up to the party fashionably late.
"The rest of the world is getting on with the job, and sooner or later the Americans will have to follow," he said.
Why? If we see the success of a new technology in waste reduction then I'm sure we would use it. But signing onto an agreement which everyone knows is a farce? Why?
Ah...here's the piece to go with that map.
World's pollution hotspots revealed from space
I consider Kyoto a criminal conspiracy to commit fraud. Not only are greenhouse gases marginally responsible for global warming, we have repeated been much warmer than this down thru history.
It also seems that when we are warmer, the temps moderate globally and we have eras of unprecedented prosperity due to longer growing seasons and abundant supply of food in temperate regions.
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