After years of planning and often tense negotiations between governments, the Kyoto Protocol on climate change finally came into effect on Wednesday, Feb. 16.
The goal of the protocol is for 140 participating nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a sustainable rate by 2012, reversing global warming trends that climate scientists have linked to growing concentrations of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.
According to scientists, current carbon dioxide concentrations, boosted by the burning of fossil fuels, are at about 370 parts per million the highest seen on the planet in about 420,000 years. Furthermore, most of the increase has taken place in the last 200 years, with concentrations accelerating in recent decades.
Average global temperatures are up about a degree Celsius, although some areas have seen more dramatic warming and cooling. As a result, global warming is being blamed for vanishing glaciers, rising sea levels, changing weather patterns, and extreme weather events like droughts, heat waves, storms, and floods.
Canada was one of 38 industrialized countries that agreed to cut emissions by 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels, which represents about a 240 megatonnes reduction of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases.
To reach that goal, Canadas plans include increasing the amount of ethanol is gasoline, promoting alternative fuels, increasing efficiency in homes, cars and buildings, and providing incentives to industry. Canada will also be using "clean air credits" for forest and agricultural development that function as carbon sinks storing and recycling airborne carbon through natural cycles.
Canada has also signed on to host the next international Kyoto Protocol summit in December.
The David Suzuki Foundation urged Canada to take a leadership role and to meet its Kyoto commitments. "Prime Minister Paul Martin has shown leadership by keeping Canadas Kyoto commitment," said Morag Carter of the Suzuki Foundations climate change program. "But the real test will be if this government has the courage to develop a strong action plan to help position Canada as a world leader in environmental sustainability."
The Kyoto Protocol has its critics in Canada and abroad. Some doubt the science, going as far as to suggest that global warming is a hoax. Others say more study is needed before countries can be asked to submit to a binding international agreement. Others acknowledge there is a problem, but have doubts the Protocol can be effective when the U.S., the worlds largest greenhouse gas producer, and the growing industrial powers of India and China have chosen not to ratify the agreement because of concerns over impacts to economic growth.
In Canada, the impact on industry and development continues to be a major concern, and governments in Alberta and B.C. have both objected to Canadas participation in Kyoto.