The Guardian has posted a brief description of the transition of Kyoto to international law. Yet another example of America standing alone as it insists on opposing the common good.

On February 16, one of the most controversial treaties in decades becomes part of international law. It has been heralded as a breakthrough in the fight against dangerous climate change and a triumph for international diplomacy - despite the fact that the US, the world’s greatest emitter of greenhouse gases, refuses to take part.

The protocol, an addition to the Climate Change Convention negotiated at the Earth Summit in 1992, is the first legally binding international treaty on the environment. The convention placed an obligation on every country that signed it to reduce man-made greenhouse gas emissions but did not give any targets - so everyone agreed another agreement was needed.

Kyoto gives each of the industrialised countries of the world an individual limit to the greenhouse gas emissions they can make. The reductions overall are tiny compared with the cuts that scientists say are necessary to stabilise the climate. So will Kyoto really make a difference to whether global warming is contained; can it save the planet from the potential of runaway global warming that is being debated this week at the Hadley Centre for Climate Change in Exeter? Here we explain the nuts and bolts of Kyoto, how it works, and what it does.

What difference does the US make?

The treaty immediately hit a snag because politicians in the US, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, passed a vote in the Senate refusing to ratify the protocol. This was because they felt that China and other developing countries would gain a competitive advantage over them, because they would not have the costs of reducing emissions.

The snag could have been devastating because, under the rules negotiated in Kyoto, industrialised countries responsible for 55% of the emissions had to have their national parliaments ratify the convention before it could come into force. Since the US is responsible for 36% of the greenhouse gases from the industrialised world it meant that almost all the other countries which had agreed targets had to ratify the protocol before it could come into force.

Russia had doubts that the treaty was worthwhile without the United States, but without Moscow’s agreement the treaty could not reach the 55% of emissions threshold. After two years of delays Russia ratified last December, bringing the emission total to 61%. Ninety days later, on February 16, it comes into legal force. Only four of the original 34 nations have refused to take part: the US (36.1% of the greenhouse gas emissions of the industrialised world), Australia (2.1%), Liechtenstein (.001%) and Monaco (.001%).

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