As the only internationally binding treaty with respect to global climate change, the Kyoto Protocol has been the means of beginning the conversation about environmentalism on the international scale. Since the Protocol was activated in 2005, the majority of nation-states have both signed and ratified it, indicating an attempt to comply with the restrictions and guidelines set forth. This compliance, for industrialized countries, meant a general yearly reduction of both greenhouse gases and other gaseous emissions shown to negatively impact the ozone layer. However, the effect the Protocol has actually had on international emissions rates is decidedly mixed.
In terms of strict CO2 reduction, more countries were successful in meeting their target decline than not. France, seeing a 6% change in CO2 emissions, was the most successful nation-state in this venture. However, France’s success is evenly balanced by Finland’s failure: the small, Nordic country actually increased its relevant emissions by 6%. Overall, the most successful reductions were done by countries located in the center of Europe, whereas increases in emissions tended to happen in more coastal nations. However, despite an overall success rate in developed nations hitting CO2 emissions goals, countries with more transitory, developing economies have drastically increased their emissions. China, most significantly, has accounted for more than 60 percent of these increased CO2 emissions.
Due to the inefficiency inherent in the conversion of fossil fuels to energy, their usage is largely responsible for CO2 emissions, particularly in countries with nascent industrial development. Unsurprisingly, among countries increasing industrial development, China’s fossil fuel increase has been the largest, even compared to similarly populated countries, such as India. Industrialized countries have largely maintained the same levels of use of fossil fuels and, therefore, CO2 production. There was a slight, apparently universal dip in emissions due to fossil fuels between 2008 and 2010 in most surveyed areas, but only the United States seems to have maintained those slightly decreased levels.
However, context is important to understanding the impact of these trends. Although China’s increase in CO2 emissions and fossil fuel usage has been tremendous in comparison to other developing nations, the overall levels of emission created per citizen have barely reached those of countries included in the EU. China’s per-citizen emissions remain below those of the Russian Federation and are close to half the rate of emission per citizen in the United States. Additionally, these numbers do not factor in emissions created through imports to developed nations: when import emissions are reconsidered in calculating collective emissions, the net result is a 7 percent increase in CO2 discharge since 1990.
Needless to say, although the Kyoto Protocol has served as a successful first step to bring environmentalism to the table on an international scale, it will is not the final or definitive solution to climate change concerns, particularly considering current international dependence on fossil fuels. A number of sub-fields in science, engineering, and policy have begun to develop in the past several decades in a beginning attempt to rectify this portion of the climate change challenge.
Engineering in particular has undergone a re-definition in the face of these overwhelming challenges. Regardless of sub-discipline, engineering curriculums are constantly in revision in an attempt to incorporate more emphasis on sustainable development. Many ABET-certified programs in the United States offer focus classes in sustainable energy development; some even offer a complete minor program. Environmental engineering, formerly a subset of civil engineering, is now offered as a separate major in several major universities. Electrical engineers have also found their curriculum changing with the emphasis on alternative energy sources: a concentration on optimizing photovoltaic cells, storing wind energy, and making devices that are more energy-efficient has pervaded the core courses offered in many electrical engineering curriculums.
Government and public policy careers are also promising for those interested in solving problems related to climate change. Although the paradigm set up by the Kyoto Protocol is a good start, there are still improvements to be made within that system and jobs are opening up in environmental law and policy as people become more conscious of the need for a grassroots adjustment in mindset in order to effect large-scale change. Internationally, as the Kyoto Protocol is scrutinized and climate change presents increasingly pressing concerns, the need for green jobs and careers invested in turning the international approach to fossil fuel use and emissions production becomes absolutely vital.