As US reports emissions rise, how close are Kyoto countries to hitting targets?

By Tierney Smith

The United States became the latest country to submit their emissions data to the UNFCCC, showing a rise of 3.2% in 2010 compared with the previous year.

The latest data from the States follows two consecutive years of falling emissions, blamed on the recession. As economic output increased again, so did energy consumption across many sectors, resulting in the rise, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

It shows that the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases – behind China – would have to move much more aggressively if it seeks to reach the targets set by President Barack Obama for tackling climate change.

As countries like the US and Japan try to grow out of recessions, many area also experiencing rises in greenhouse gas emissions(© UN Photo)

In the run up to the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, Obama pledged that the US could cut emissions by 17% by 2020 compared to 2005 levels.

With emissions falling 5.3% from 2005 to 2010, the goal looked possible, but last year saw them hit 6.82 billion metric tonnes – up from 6.61 billion in 2009.

Levels are still below the 7.25 billion level recorded in 2007, before the onset of the recession.

At the Durban climate conference last December, parties agreed on a new pathway which would lead to a legally binding emissions reduction commitment to come into force by 2020.

As the countries begin discussion on what this should look like, and how deep cuts should be the latest trends shown by the US are in no way limited to their country alone and raise questions about how much these pledges mean without actions to back them up.

Mixed results under Kyoto?

Not being signed up to the Kyoto Protocol, the US is not bound by targets that some other parties are bound by – and emission reductions they are aimed for are voluntary under the Copenhagen Accord.

They have also come under fire from environmentalists, as emissions reductions reported by the country are compared to 2005, rather than the 1990 levels used by countries under the protocol.

If compared to 1990 levels, the UNFCCC official figures show the US has increased its emissions by around 7%.

The Kyoto Protocol also came under criticism this year, when Canada withdrew from the process, to avoid facing the penalty of not meeting its targets. Many questioned the force of the commitment if countries were able to remove themselves so easily.

With targets of 6% reductions based on 1990, in 2009, the country had seen its emissions rise by around 17%.

However, for many countries, the structure of the Kyoto Protocol has appeared to be a positive. With targets of 8% reductions, the EU has far surpassed their expectations, with around 17% reductions in 2009 on 1990 levels, according to UNFCCC figures.

Figures from 2009 also show Japan to be on its way to its 6% reduction target, although the country’s emissions submission to the UNFCCC for 2010 shows a 4.2% rise on the previous year – once again attributed to economic recovery following the recession.

With the first period of Kyoto coming to a close at the end of this year – and with countries continuing to grow out of recession – it appears that the final results could be somewhat mixed.

Moving forward towards a new legally binding commitment – a complex agreement which will include all countries worldwide – lessons must be learnt from Kyoto to both incentivise and enforce the commitments which are set ahead.

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