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Kyoto protocol’s impact on the world energy scene

Ratified in 1997, the Kyoto protocol is an international environmental treaty conducted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It applied a principle of “common differentiated responsibilities” and recognized the responsibility of industrialized countries in current levels of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions. It aimed at reducing six of the main greenhouse gases (Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride), to stabilize« greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system » . But, what were the impacts of the Kyoto protocol on the world energy scene have been, more than a decade after its ratification ?

2007, Shawinigan, Québec, Canada @Flickr

Changing the way we see energy

First of all, it established a mechanism of trading emission reduction credits, creating an international quota market,(the international market of emission rights), on which signatory countries can exchange their quotas. Countries received quotas of GHG emissions, according to their target to reduce. This carbon trading and other Kyoto mechanisms influenced the energy market because it changed the way we perceive energy (in its form, its use and the way we use it).

« Governance by carbon »

Second of all, the first ten years of the Kyoto Protocol have seen many countries introduce environmental policies to fight against climate change and which form a new form of “governance by carbon” . As a consequence, the energy scene saw the emergence of cleaner energies. For instance, natural gas and LNG had and still have a growing importance, favored by environmental considerations, and also thanks to the liberalisation of electricity markets (which drove to regulation, restructuring, privatization and competition to organize the gas market ). Moreover, renewables increased and represent 16% of global final energy consumption comes from renewable energies.

Jonah Natural Gas Field, upper Green River valley, Wyoming, 2003. Source : Flickr/SkyTruth

Nuclear power

In addition, nuclear energy plays an important part. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), concluded that, based on a number of country case studies, nuclear power plants would lead to “long-term certifiable GHG reductions relative to fossil fuel projects”. In its latest publication “Energy Policy for Europe” published in January 2007, the European Commission stressed that nuclear power production must be considered as an option to reduce CO2 emissions and to meet the targets of the Kyoto protocol. The IEA’s figures show that nuclear grew a lot over the past 40 years, from 0,9% of total primary energy in 1973, to 5,8% in 2009.

nuclear plant, Source : Flickr / Arno Volkers

Global dependence on oil

But we can also mention that there is still a global dependence on fossil energies, which are great emitters of GHG. For instance, the use of coal (the most polluting source of energy) increased from 24,6% of total primary energy supply in 1973, to 27,6% in 2009 . It is due to its cheap cost. In addition, oil still have the highest share in total primary energy supply : 32% in 2009. It shows the Kyoto protocol didn’t change he global energy mix in favour of clean or renewable energies, since fossil energies still are predominant. Moreover, the USA didn’t ratify Kyoto Protocol and was at the time the biggest polluter (now replaced by China).

Oil refinery in North Pole Alaska. Source : Flickr/Erica Joy

International discussions

On an international scale, it allowed a global discussion and agreement on reducing CO2 emissions and global warming. This was an historic agreement and it is now difficult to sign another (Cop15 in Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban failures). As the protocol was ratified, the IEA started discussing the issue of energetic security with other actors and countries, but on a technical scale, it didn’t compensate the obstacle to the global discussion which is countries don’t trust each other and still are in relations of confrontation .

COP15 UNFCCC Climate Change - Opening Ceremony. Source : Flickr/UN climate change

As a conclusion we can say that the Kyoto Protocol was the first binding international treaty and in this sense was a big step towards the fight against global warming. It allowed a global discussion and agreement on CO2 emissions cuts and permitted to implement environmental measures that changed a little bit the global energy mix. But as shown by the IAE’s figures, fossil energies still have a great importance in the global energy mix and dependence on fossil fuels is not likely to change on the mid-term view. Moreover, there is still no continuation after the end of the agreement in 2012. The Kyoto Protocol ratification had a limited impact on the global energy scene and energy markets as it changed a minima the global energy mix.

Camille Cordonnier

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