What is the Kyoto Protocol?

An international agreement initiated by the United Nations, the Kyoto Protocol is a document that aims to reduce global emissions worldwide in an effort to stem and eventually reverse global warming. Adopted on December 11, 1997, the agreement has been signed by representatives from 184 nations. A central aspect of the Kyoto Protocol is establishing scheduled reductions in emissions, reducing greenhouse gases relative to 1990 levels by five percent over the course of the years 2008 through 2012. Countries participating in the agreement can earn emissions-reducing credits by either reducing pollutants produced in their own countries, or through a "carbon market," which is a system of emissions trading. In other words, a country that wishes to allow more emissions within their borders can purchase emissions credits from countries with lower levels and still be in compliance with the treaty. Countries can also earn credits by sponsoring emissions-reducing programs in foreign nations or building clean factories and power plants in other countries.

Why did the United States refuse to sign the Kyoto Protocol?

The United States refused to sign the Kyoto agreement in 1997, and again in 2001, for a number of reasons. One major reason was that China and India were exempt from the stringent pollution controls that would have been imposed on the United States, so U.S. representatives said this would allow for an unfair trade advantage. Furthermore, the U.S. government was convinced that the protocol would severely damage the economy in general, costing many Americans their jobs and making the nation more dependent on foreign energy suppliers.

How does the United States compare with China and Russia on energy use and production?

As of 2007, the United States gets 50 percent of its energy from coal and, in 2006, was burning three times as much oil (21 million barrels) a day as China. America burns slightly less natural gas annually than Russia, which uses 604 billion cubic meters per year.

What could happen if permafrost melts permanently because of global warming?

The problem with global warming is that, as the process continues, it tends to (to use a rather ironic term) snowball and accelerate. A big reason for this was recently discovered as a result of permafrost and peat bog surveys being conducted in places like Scandinavia and Alaska. Here, land that was once covered in permafrost is thawing out and becoming wetlands. This might sound very nice, except that, stored beneath this layer of permafrost, is a buildup of centuries of methane gas created by decaying peat and other plant matter. Once this thaws, the methane will all be released into the atmosphere, increasing levels of methane by as much as 50 percent by some estimates.

What countries are threatened the most from rising sea levels, and may cease to exist in the twenty-first century?

Low-lying island nations of the Pacific and Indian Oceans are most at risk, most notably Tuvalu and the Maldives. Other candidates for severe flooding and reclamation of coastal land by the impending sea include Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and China, affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

Is global warming causing an increase in severe hurricanes?

A 2005 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study estimated that, because global warming is increasing ocean temperatures, hurricane frequency and intensity has increased by about 45 percent from just a few decades ago. In the 1970s, for example, the average hurricane season saw 10 hurricanes develop in the Caribbean area; by the 1990s, that number had increased to 18 annually. Hugh Willoughby, a researcher for Florida International University, has also asserted that hurricanes are getting stronger and more frequent; this has also become the position of scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Among the exceptions to

What unexpected cooling phenomena are happening because of global warming?

It might be counterintuitive, but as the globe seems to warm, temperature readings indicate summer maximum temperatures are on the decline. However, at the same time, winter minimum temperatures are on the rise, so that the overall average has been an increase in temperature. Meanwhile, up in the stratosphere, the temperature has been cooling even as surface temperatures warm up. The reason for this is the destruction of ozone gases, which absorb ultraviolet radiation, which generates heat. The less ozone, the more UV radiation gets through the stratosphere, so it does not have as much of a chance to warm up. Records taken since 1979 show that three of the coldest stratospheric readings have been in 1997, 2000, and 2006.

this viewpoint is Florida State University professor James O'Brien, who has asserted that data demonstrates no significant increase trend between 1850 and 2005.

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