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Kyoto pact begins to take effect

By Joie Guner

February 17, 2005 9:00 pm

Greenhouse gases, on the rise since industrialization first
began, have impacted the earth’s climate to the point of
increasing the atmospheric temperature by one degree.

It appears that the temperature increase is only one in a
plethora of environmental damages caused by greenhouses gasses.

Greenhouse gases include, among other gasses, carbon dioxide
(released via burning of fossil fuels such as coal), methane and
chlorofluorocarbons .

To date, 140 countries have signed the Kyoto Protocol, which is
an international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by five
percent below 1990 levels. The protocol calls only for developed
nations to make such reductions by 2012, and 35 developed countries
have agreed to do so.

The treaty officially took effect last Wednesday, nearly eight
years after negotiations for the treaty first began.

The United States and Australia are the only developed nations
that have not implemented the protocol.

The United States alone is responsible for 25 percent of the
release of greenhouse gases into the environment.

“I think (the Kyoto Protocol) is a very important
international agreement, and it’s important that it
continues. It’s almost certain that it will evolve over the
coming years as we try to find solutions that will work,”
said Suzanne Paulson, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric
and Oceanic Sciences.

In terms of whether the Kyoto Protocol is the best solution for
decreasing greenhouse gasses, Paulson added, “The answer is
probably no, it’s not the most efficient way to reduce
climate altering gases.”

Paulson said developing nations such as China and India, which
are projected to contribute a large amount of greenhouse gases and
are not legally bound to the Kyoto Protocol, should also have their
emissions regulated by the treaty.

The melting of glaciers, the rising of sea levels, the bleaching
of corals, the greater intensity of storm activity, the increased
vegetation at the North and South Poles and the migration of birds
and plants outside of their natural habitats are all thought to be
a result of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.

Since the United States is a major contributor to the release of
greenhouse gases which may cause such environmental harm, some
believe that it too should join the other 140 countries in signing
the protocol.

“What would make (the protocol) more effective is to have
the U.S. be a signatory to the treaty,” said Arthur Winer,
professor of environmental health sciences at the School of Public
Health.

“We are a small part of the population but we are a big
part of the greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore our not signing the
Kyoto accord is a serious limitation for the treaty to be
effective,” he added.

President Clinton first signed the protocol in 1997, but
objection from the senate prevented the treaty’s
ratification. In 2001, President Bush halted further Kyoto Protocol
negotiations.

On Feb. 15, in a White House press conference, White House
spokesman Scott McClellan said everyone was still in the process of
learning about climate change.

“Under this administration we have made an unprecedented
commitment to reduce the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in a
way that continues to grow our economy,” McClellan said.

Yet environmental groups are protesting the United States’
decision to decline to join the treaty as other nations are legally
committing themselves to greenhouse gas reductions.

“If we can control these emissions, it seems reasonable
that we may be able to control global warming,” said Richard
Turco, director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment.

“I would like to see more effort sponsored by the protocol
… to find alternative energy sources … to seek new ways to
generate and use energy efficiently,” Turco said.

Turco mentioned clean and renewable energy such as hydrogen as
an alternative fuel source.

Nuclear energy is not as efficient an energy source because it
would yield radioactive waste, including plutonium, which can be
used in nuclear weapons, he added.

“One might say that we are now conducting one of the
largest experiments with the natural world … and we had better be
very careful in what we’re doing and we had better be very
conservative in our approach to modifying our environment on such a
scale because the consequences are likely to be with us for
hundreds of years,” Turco said.

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Joie Guner
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