The Kyoto Protocol

This lesson offers an introduction to global warming and provides information about the Kyoto Protocol. We will talk about government responsibilities and restrictions related to the environment.

Pre-Reading Questions

  1. Do you usually use public transit or drive a car?
  2. What is global warming? Do you know what causes global warming?
  3. Why is global warming a problem? Do you worry about global warming and other environmental problems?
  4. Do you think many governments are trying to deal with global warming?
  5. Have you heard of the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement that deals with global warming?

Vocabulary Preview

  • trap: catch
  • precipitation: rain or snow
  • drought: continuous period of no rain
  • devastating: terrible
  • reduce: lessen, decrease
  • legally binding: required according to the law
  • pledge: promise
  • crucial: necessary, critical, very important
  • target: goal, objective
  • consequences: results, effects

Practice these new vocabulary words here: The Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol

  1. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement that deals with global warming. Global warming is caused by an increase in greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere.
  2. Greenhouse gases are produced by the industrial activities of developed nations, mainly from burning oil, gas, and coal. When these gases collect in the atmosphere, they trap heat near the earth’s surface and cause the global temperature to rise. This increase in temperature can produce changes in wind patterns and precipitation. These changes can lead to severe weather such as droughts, floods, or powerful hurricanes that can have devastating social and economic consequences.
  3. The Kyoto Protocol was created to encourage countries to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they produce and to become more energy efficient and socially responsible. To be legally binding, the protocol had to be signed by 55 countries that produced 55% of the industrialized world’s greenhouse gases in 1990.
  4. Several countries including Canada, Japan, and the European Union signed the protocol, but there was concern that the required numbers to make it legally binding would not be reached. However, Russia’s decision to sign the protocol in September 2004 ensured it would take effect. In return, the European Union pledged to support Russia’s application to join the World Trade Organization. Russia’s signature was crucial because both the United States and Australia refused to ratify the protocol.
  5. In February 2005, 30 industrialized countries started to limit or reduce their greenhouse emissions to meet the scientific targets set out for them by the protocol. The goal was to reduce greenhouse gases by 5% by 2012. Countries that had not produced significant amounts of greenhouse gases in the past, including India and China, would be expected to participate in the protocol as they become more industrialized.
  6. While Canada was one of the first to sign the protocol, its greenhouse gas emissions rose significantly. In 2011, prior to the expiry of Kyoto, Canada pulled out of its commitment. In 2012, Australia, the European Union, and several developing nations agreed to work towards a replacement treaty. The proposed goal was to prevent global temperatures from ever rising more than 2 degrees Celsius. However, Canada, the US, Japan, and Russia refused to sign on to Kyoto’s extension.

Post Reading Questions

  1. Why do you think Russia finally agreed to sign the Kyoto Protocol?
  2. Do you think governments should do more to prevent industries from polluting the environment?
  3. If companies are not forced by law to reduce pollution and harmful emissions, do you think they will do so voluntarily?
  4. Why do you think the United States and Australia refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol?
  5. What new technological developments are helping to reduce pollution?

Additional Resources