Should the U.S. Have Signed the Kyoto Protocol?

Global warming and climate change are issues that span the entire planet which creates the need for cooperation across nations. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol agreement went into effect in 2005 with the inclusion of 192 countries, but the United States was not one of them (UNCC n.d.). While the United States had valid concerns to not enter the agreement due to perceived unfair advantages that China and India was afforded, the United States should have still signed onto the agreement to ensure a voice at the table in global cooperation in efforts towards the inevitable movement to decarbonize.

Unfair Advantage?

The United States did not sign onto the Kyoto Protocol because they saw the requirement for the first commitment period of having to reduce emissions by 7%, while China and India were allowed to be exempt from regulations, as being unfair (UNCC n.d.). While this seems like a valid concern from the surface, the protocol was focused on ensuring equitable distribution of the responsibilities since developed nations were primarily responsible for the emissions to the atmosphere from the past 150 years of industrial activity versus lesser developing nations (Tardi 2021). The United States government declined to sign due to the negative impacts this would have on the economy, however, emissions have greatly declined due to renewable penetration anyway without creating economic issues.

Figure 1. Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the United States

Source: (Tiseo 2021).

Voice at the Table

With President Biden recently pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emission by at least 50% in 2030 from 2005 levels, the lack of United States involvement in global protocols has only weakened the United States’ ability to be part of the solution (Tiseo 2021). If the United States would have signed on, they could have likely reduced the emissions peak that occurred prior to the declines over the past decade. Having a voice in the conversations would have also allowed the United States to add pressure for updated targets for nations like China which has since become one of the largest economies in the world (Nation Master 2021). The United States not joining also led to other countries like Canada, and later Australia and Brazil, to leave climate agreements as well. By signing on, the United States could have helped unify the global mission against emissions that have since been delayed due to politics, money, and the lack of consensus (UNCC n.d.).

Table 1. China versus USA Finances

Source: (Nation Master 2021).

Generation Mix Plans

As has been seen in past posts, the United States can become energy independent while reducing emissions without disrupting the economy. China, while still building out large amounts of coal generation, has also planned to reduce their reliance on oil products and utilize more hydro and nuclear generation as well (Farmer 2021). If the United States would have signed onto the Kyoto Protocol agreement, they could have spurred innovation sooner to the inevitable march towards decarbonization globally and secured a more energy independent system with focus on domestic natural gas, nuclear, and renewables. They could have also had a seat at the table to apply pressure to growing economies, like China and India, while enabling a more robust global community of action and partnership. Greenhouse gas emissions are a long-term problem that requires further out vision. In the case of the Kyoto Protocol, the United States chose to fall prey to the nirvana logical fallacy where continual improvement opportunities are missed because the current solution is not perceived as a perfect solution.


Farmer, Matthew. 2021. “Three Key Points for Power Generation from China’s Five-year Plan.” Power Technology. Accessed May 25, 2021.

Nation Master. 2021. “Economy Stats: Compare Key Data on China & United States .” Nation Master. Accessed May 25, 2021.

Tardi, Carla. 2021. “The Kyoto Protocol.” Investopedia. Accessed May 25, 2021.

Tiseo, Ian. 2021. “Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the U.S. 1990-2019.” Statista. Accessed May 25, 2021.

UNCC. n.d. “Kyoto Protocol – Targets for the First Commitment Period.” United Nations Climate Change. Accessed May 25, 2021.

—. n.d. “What is the Kyoto Protocol?” United Nations Climate Change. Accessed May 25, 2021.

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