The Downfall of the Kyoto Accord


A greater emphasis on public transportation in America can help to reduce carbon emissions.

Futa Shinkawa, Guest Writer

CLINTON, S.C. —  Since 2007, Japan’s population has been steadily shrinking. Motoko Rich, writing for The New York Times, discovered that the fertility and economy of the country are steadily declining due to higher rates of elderly versus working-class citizens. Ironically, although the population is decreasing, the country’s CO2 emissions have inversely risen. 

This seems strange in the country where the Kyoto Protocol for controlling fossil fuel emissions was negotiated and adopted by most of the countries of the world. Japan implemented Kyoto all the way back in 1997, but it seems to have had no effect. I decided to investigate what happened, because there is a dire need for an effective solution to the greenhouse gas emissions problem. 

Perhaps you have not heard of the Kyoto Protocol: This was a plan that marked a change in how countries looked at lowering their carbon emissions, a pollutant released by the burning of fossil fuels, mainly for energy and in transportation. Kyoto set limits on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions for wealthy countries, and each country set a goal to reduce carbon emissions by a certain percentage. 

Countries were tasked to lower their carbon emissions by roughly 5% by the first period, lowering the total amount of emissions to levels seen in the 1990s. While many countries signed the protocol, some opted out. 

For example, the United States, one of the largest carbon-emitting countries, did not take part. The U.S. president at the time, George W. Bush, stated that “he would not accept any plan that harms the U.S. economy, as he believes the Kyoto treaty does.” 

While the richest nation was opting out, Japan stepped forward to set an example for those that refused to sign the treaty. Japan was given until the end of 2012 to restrict its energy production and reduce their carbon emissions. 

Although Japan realized that the Kyoto Protocol was not meant to eradicate carbon emissions but rather decrease the percentage of carbon emissions to similar levels seen in the 1990s, the country struggled to keep up with this goal. Indeed, even with a decreasing population, Japan is consuming more energy than before. How can this be?

Well, it turns out that because of strict Japanese work cultures, many in the workforce are choosing to live alone, delaying marriage, or not marrying at all, Heather Clydesdale reported in Asia Society. So even though the population is increasing, the number of energy-consuming households in Japan is also increasing. 

A similar problem can be seen in the streets of Japan. Although Japan has enforced stricter driving laws and has some of the best trains in the world, more people are choosing to drive their own cars instead of taking public transportation. 

I think the Kyoto Protocol failed because the ideas it introduced were too direct and countries feared the potential impact on their economies would be too big of a risk to take. Following the lead of President Bush, I think that countries prioritized their economies over lowering their carbon emissions and risking an economic slump. 

With the global population constantly increasing, a solution that will lower carbon emissions while keeping economies secure is needed. 

An important first step, however, might be the use of public transportation. Especially in America, the use of public transportation has been limited. With almost every household owning a car, the convenience far surpasses that of a bus or a train. 

When I lived in Japan, for example, I would almost always travel via public transportation. I would walk down the street and wait for a bus to arrive. The bus would take me to the train station, and I would buy a ticket and get on the train to my destination. The difference in public transportation use in Japan and America is like day and night, but there are many factors that impact public transportation. 

Public transportation has its pros and cons, especially in a large country like America. Compared to America, Japan is much smaller and more condensed, making public transportation more convenient and easier to use. America was designed for cars, with its many highways. The distance between cities also makes it difficult for public transportation to be useful. For example, because the cities are so far apart it might not make sense for someone to take a bus from Clinton to Greenville. 

While public transportation is an issue that may not be fixable from city to city, I still think there should be an emphasis on public transportation within major cities. With a large population density in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Boston, I think an emphasis on public transportation can help reduce carbon emissions. 

The collective effort of many cities finding a way to implement public transportation can make a great difference in carbon emissions. With more people using public transportation, it would effectively reduce the amount of people using their personal vehicles.