UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol Explained


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC) is an international environmental treaty came into effect at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The convention is informally known as the Earth Summit and was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The aim of the treaty is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. The treaty itself set no mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries and contains no enforcement mechanisms. So the treaty is considered as legally non-binding. But the treaty provides for updates (called "protocols") that would set mandatory emission limits. The first and principal update is the Kyoto Protocol. The Protocol was initially adopted in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, and entered into force in 2005. As of September 2011, 191 states have signed and ratified the protocol. A notable exception is United States, which had signed, but not ready to ratify it.

Under the Protocol, 37 countries, labelled as "Annex I countries", commit themselves to a reduction of four greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride) and two groups of gases (hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons) produced by them, and all member countries give general commitments. Annex I countries agreed to reduce their collective greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% from the 1990 level. Emission limits mainly include industrial gases and chlorofluorocarbons,  which are dealt with under the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Emissions by international aviation and shipping are excluded. 
The Protocol allows for several "flexible mechanisms", such as emissions trading, the clean development mechanism (CDM) and joint implementation to allow Annex I countries to meet their GHG emission limitations by purchasing GHG emission reductions credits from elsewhere, through financial exchanges, projects that reduce emissions in non-Annex I countries, from other Annex I countries, or from annex I countries with excess allowances. Each Annex I country is required to submit an annual report of inventories of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions from sources and removals from sinks under UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. These countries nominate a person (called a "designated national authority") to create and manage its greenhouse gas inventory. Virtually all of the non-Annex I countries have also established a designated national authority to manage its Kyoto obligations.

Greenhouse Gas Inventory
Greenhouse gas inventories are used by scientists, policy makers, regulatory bodies, the public, and other interest groups for various reasons like developing atmospheric models, to develop strategies and policies for emissions reductions, to better understand the sources and trends in emissions etc.
These greenhouse gas inventories include both emissions from source categories and removals by carbon sinks. 

What is Carbon sink?
A carbon sink is a natural or artificial reservoir that accumulates and stores carbon-containing chemical compound for an indefinite period. The process by which carbon sinks remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere is known as carbon sequestration. 
The main natural sinks are:
  • Absorption of carbon dioxide by the oceans via physicochemical and biological processes
  • Photosynthesis by terrestrial plants

Natural sinks are typically much larger than artificial sinks. The main artificial sinks are:
  • Landfills - Oldest and most common method of waste disposal in which waste materials are buried.
  • Carbon capture and storage proposals

These removals are typically referred to as carbon sequestration.

What do you mean by Carbon capture and storage?
Carbon capture and storage (CCS), is regarded as a means of mitigating the contribution of fossil fuel emissions to global warming by preventing large quantities of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere from the use of fossil fuel in power generation and other industries. The process is based on capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from large point sources, such as fossil fuel power plants, and storing it in such a way that it does not enter the atmosphere. It can also be used to describe the scrubbing of CO2 from ambient air as a geoengineering technique. Although CO2 has been injected into geological formations for various purposes, the long term storage of CO2 is a relatively new concept. The first commercial example was Weyburn, Canada in 2000. 
Storage of the CO2 is envisaged either in deep geological formations, in deep ocean masses, or in the form of mineral carbonates. In this, Geological formations are currently considered the most promising sequestration process. In this process, CO2 is exothermically reacted with available metal oxides, which in turn produces stable carbonates. This process occurs naturally over many years and is responsible for a great amount of surface limestone. The reaction rate can be made faster, for example by reacting at higher temperatures and/or pressures, or by pre-treatment of the minerals, although this method can require additional energy.

What is Clean Development Mechanism?
The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is one of the flexibility mechanisms defined in the Kyoto Protocol which is intented to meet the ultimate objective of UNFCCC, to prevent the dangerous climate change due to anthropogenic interference. The CDM allows industrialized countries to invest in emission reductions wherever it is cheapest globally. Between 2001, which was the first year CDM projects and by 2012, the end of the Kyoto commitment period, the CDM is expected to produce some 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in emission reductions.But it seems like we have missed the target.

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