More greenhouse-gas cuts on the cards

CO2 emissions will have to drop significantly to stabilise levels measured in the atmosphere Keystone Archive

The Kyoto Protocol has only just come into effect, but governments and climate-change experts are already considering a successor to take over in 2012.

This content was published on February 16, 2005 minutes

Talks have yet to get off the ground, and officially, Kyoto’s heir is not even on the agenda at the next round of climate discussions.

Finding a successor promises to be a drawn-out process as the Kyoto Protocol itself was the result of a compromise.

The agreement put the onus of greenhouse-gas reduction on industrialised nations prompting the United States and Australia to withdraw.

Despite this outcome, Kyoto is still seen as an important step forward by Beat Nobs, head of international affairs at the Swiss environment agency.

“Beyond the numbers set out in the protocol, if we had not agreed on Kyoto, we would be looking at an unabated increase of emissions,” he said.

“The discussions surrounding the protocol have put climate change high up on the agenda alongside the most important political issues for every country.”


Climate change specialists agree that Kyoto can make a difference if its targets are met.

“It will then be the first time in many years that greenhouse-gas emissions will have not grown, and in fact, slowed in industrialised countries that signed the protocol,” said Fortunat Joos, a researcher at Bern University.

Joos added that Kyoto is just an intermediate step and that more stringent policies must be negotiated to reach the target set by the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The convention calls for a stabilisation of greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere to avoid effects on the environment.

“To attain this goal, our data-evaluated models of CO2 concentrations clearly show that carbon emissions have to decrease by about two-thirds below current levels by the end of the next century,” Joos told swissinfo.

Researchers say this is because carbon dioxide tends to accumulate in the climate system. CO2 levels in the atmosphere are strongly dependent on total emissions over the years.

“If one wants to achieve stabilisation of carbon dioxide levels, you have to reduce emissions more than what is suggested in the Kyoto Protocol and this would have to involve developing countries,” added Joos.

Beyond Kyoto

Governments and climate specialists tend to agree on these last two points, and are looking beyond Kyoto now.

“The protocol only covers 25 per cent of emissions,” Nobs told swissinfo. “The next step has to deal with the other 75.”

According to the Swiss official, the biggest challenge will be convincing the Americans, who produce nearly a quarter of all greenhouse-gas emissions, to get back on board. The situation of developing nations will also have to be taken into consideration.

“We need to find ways of integrating the emissions of the larger developing countries, which will account for half of all emissions by 2015,” he said.

“The trick will be to strike a balance between the right to development and their acceptance of some responsibility for the world’s climate in the long term.”

No breakthrough

In the coming months, officials from around the world are expected to sit down in Bonn, Germany, and start discussing the Kyoto successor. But no immediate breakthroughs are to be expected.

“It will be a very tedious, cumbersome and lengthy affair because some countries would like to wish climate change away,” Nobs told swissinfo.

“It’s not realistic, so it will be our task to make them understand that we have to address these issues.”

The World Climate Conference drew to a close in Buenos Aires last December without any agreement on how to replace Kyoto.

swissinfo, Scott Capper

Key facts

To fulfil its Kyoto requirements, Switzerland adopted its CO2 law in 1999.
It calls for an overall reduction of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels to ten per cent below 1990 levels.
Carbon dioxide accounts for nearly 80 per cent of Swiss emissions.
Switzerland produced 7.3 tons of CO2 per capita in 2002, versus 19.8 in the United States and 9.6 in Britain.

End of insertion

In brief

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol is an addition to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change treaty.

Switzerland ratified the protocol, which calls for reductions in greenhouse emissions, in 2003.

It goes into effect 90 days after Russia signed on.

Besides carbon dioxide (CO2), it calls for reductions of methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbon, perfluorocarbon and sulphur hexafluoride emissions.

End of insertion
In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

Contributions under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Share this story

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?