The Kyoto Protocol

WHEN the world leaders met in Japanese city of Kyoto in 1997 they shared a grim conclusion. All agreed that greenhouse-gas emissions are rising and that it poses a serious threat to climate. They also agreed to reduce greenhouse emissions that cause climate change. But disagreement was over how much each country should commit to reduce their emissions. Out of 191 countries which signed the Kyoto Protocol only 37 industrialized countries and the European Community, known as “Annex I Parties” committed to reduce emissions. Under the Protocol, the developing countries don’t have binding emissions targets but are encouraged to take voluntary steps to curb Carbon Dioxide (CO2) pollution. Today the Kyoto Protocol is the world's only binding climate agreement and to strengthen initiatives to limit the greenhouse-gas emissions the world leaders met in Durban in 2011 and then again in Doha in 2012 where they agreed to extend the life of the Kyoto Protocol till 2020. A new climate deal was also proposed which would require both developed and developing countries to cut their carbon emissions. The terms of the deal need to be agreed by 2015 and come into effect from 2020.

Overall the good news is global CO2 emissions are decreasing. The bad news is Asia’s emissions are still increasing. China and India, as shown in this interactive map, are two main emitters of CO2. According to the International Energy Statistics China with 7,710.50 million tons emissions is the world’s biggest emitter of CO2. India at 1,602.12 million tons is now the world's third biggest emitter of CO2, pushing Russia into fourth place. Japan at 1,097.96 million tons remains one of the biggest sources of emissions but it has been able to roughly achieve its goal under the Kyoto Protocol. Notably while emissions are growing in China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and South Korea the other Asian countries like Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Australia have managed to reduce their emissions. Laos is one of the lowest emitters of greenhouse-gas emissions in the world.

Fig: 1 The Kyoto Protocol

Proposed Coal-Fired Plants

COAL-fired power plants are the largest contributor to the greenhouse-gas emissions. Yet the demand for coal is rising mostly because it is a cheap source of energy. According to International Energy Agency (IEA) global coal consumption reached 7.24 billion tons in 2010. China accounted for 46 percent of consumption, followed by the United States (13 percent), and India (9 percent). A number of new coal-fired plants are proposed in the region. Out of 1,199 new plants 363 are proposed in China and 455 in India. New coal-fired plants are also proposed in Indonesia (17 plants), Philippines (15 plants), Japan (4 plants), Malaysia (3 plants), South Korea (2 plants), Laos (2 plants) and one each coal-fired power plant in Sri Lanka and Thailand. New coal plants with a huge installed capacity depict a dirty coal future in Asia.

India, China and Coal consumption

CHINA burns almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Driven by rapid economic growth and high reliance on coal for electricity generation, domestic coal production in China and as well in India no longer satisfies their local demand. Both countries are increasingly looking out to import coal. According to World Resources Institute data, top 10 countries from which China imports coal are Indonesia, Australia, Vietnam, Mongolia, North Korea, Russia, South Africa, the United States, Canada, and Colombia. So while coal is fuelling China’s economic boom it is also main source of country’s pollution. India’s story is no different. Coal accounts for 55% of the country's energy need and it remains a major source of greenhouse-gas emissions. In the next five years India is likely to be the second largest consumer of coal, surpassing the U.S., according to a report by International Energy Agency.

Despite massive investments by China and India in renewable energy, coal consumption will rise in both the countries. Consumption data as shown in the graph paints a grim picture. According to the US Energy Information Administration's China’s use of coal will increase from 60.4 quadrillions Btu in 2008 to 106.5 quadrillion Btu by 2030. The EIA's projection for India, meanwhile, is that coal consumption will increase from 10.9 quadrillion Btu in 2008 to 17.3 quadrillions Btu by 2030. Overall both countries will consume more coal in the next two decades and will be ahead of the average world coal consumption.