Geothermal Energy and the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change  
   D. Chandrasekharam  

Governments of various countries adopted the UN FCCC in 1992. Accordingly about 10,000 delegates, observers and journalists participated in an event hosted by Kyoto in 1997 and adopted a protocol under which industrialized countries will reduce emission of GHGs (Green House Gases) by at least 5% compared to 1990 levels by the period extending from 2008 to 2012. The Protocol was opened for signature by various countries  both developed and developing countries. 165 States in a little over two years signed this protocol and over 100 have already ratified and so are legally bound by it. The treaty took effect on 21 March 1994. India and China were excluded from signing the protocol but as Dr Kofi Anan, UN secretary General says, to day these countries are excluded but have to sign the protocol in future. What does FCCC convey to a common man? Greenhouse gases are vital because they act like a blanket around the earth. Without this natural blanket the earth's surface would be some 30ºC colder than it is today. Human activity is making the blanket "thicker". For example, when we burn coal, oil, and natural gas we spew huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. If emissions continue to grow at current rates, it is almost certain that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide will double from pre-industrial levels during the 21st century. If no steps are taken to slow greenhouse gas emissions, it is quite possible that levels will triple by the year 2100. The most direct result is likely to be a "global warming" of 1.5 to 4.5ºC over the next 100 years. The most important key factor, the global climate, if altered, will affect the entire world. The wind and rainfall patterns that have prevailed for hundreds or thousands of years, and on which millions of people depend, may change. In a world that is increasingly crowded and under stress -- a world that has enough problems already -- these extra pressures could lead directly to more famines and other catastrophes. FCCC sets an "ultimate objective" of stabilizing "greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system." The FCCC directs that "such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner." This highlights the main concerns about food production -- probably the most climate-sensitive human activity -- and economic development.

Some of the outfall of climate changes is Change of regional rain-fall patterns

This my lead to severe droughts, especially in developing countries like India, and reduce supplies of clean, fresh water to the point where there are major threats to public health. With global water resources already under severe strain from rapid population growth and expanding economic activity, the danger is clear. Climate and agricultural zones may shift towards the poles. In the mid-latitude regions the shift is expected to be 200 to 300 kilometers for every degree Celsius of warming. Increased summer dryness may reduce mid- latitude crop yields by 10 to 30 per cent, and it is possible that today's leading grain-producing areas would experience more frequent droughts and heat waves. This effect is already been felt in India in terms of changes in monsoon and summer patterns.

Countries ratifying the Convention -- called "Parties to the Convention" in diplomatic jargon -- agree to take climate change into account in such matters as agriculture, energy, natural resources, and activities involving seacoasts. They agree to develop national programmes to slow climate change by promoting non-conventional energy like geothermal energy. The Convention encourages them to share technology and to cooperate in other ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially from energy, transport, industry, agriculture, forestry, and waste management, which together produce nearly all greenhouse gas emissions attributable to human activity. FCCC puts the lion's share of the responsibility for battling climate change -- and the lion's share of the bill -- on the rich countries. The Convention notes that the largest share of historical and current emissions originates in developed countries. Its first basic principle is that these countries should take the lead in combating climate change and its adverse impacts and agree to support climate change activities in developing countries by providing financial support above and beyond any financial assistance they already provide to these countries in promoting non-renewable energy like geothermal. Industrial countries should start shifting to new technologies supported by renewable energy sources. Wherever possible they should switch to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar and geothermal power and transfer such technologies available to developing countries where such resources exist. Many industrialized countries have already utilizing geothermal energy to a large extent and transferring this technology to developing countries.

It is interesting to recall, in this context, the speech delivered by Dr.Kofi Anan, UN Secretary General, at MIT, USA on Kyoto Protocol and FCCC.

"The United States, as you probably know, is the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gases, largely because it is the world's largest and most successful economy. That makes it especially important for it to join in reducing emissions and in the broader quest for energy efficiency and conservation. Indeed, there is concern throughout the world about the decision of the new Administration to oppose the Kyoto Protocol (recall President Bush’s remark on Kyoto). Today we face the very real danger that the hard-won global gains in combating climate change will experience a grievous setback. Developing countries would be left most vulnerable, even though they are the least responsible for global warming. But make no mistake: all countries will suffer. Climate change cares little for the borders drawn by man. Developing countries exclusion from emissions commitments, it should be stressed, is only for the first phase. Already, China and other developing countries are limiting the growth in their emissions through market reforms and by closing down inefficient coal-burning operations’’.

Eight years after the treaty took effect, The South Asia Environment Unit of the World Bank (The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) initiated a programme to study CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) in India. This obviously means that the time has come for the country to be a party to FCCC and reduce GHGs and promote non-conventional energy to achieve CDM (see the advertisement, in the BOX 1, by IBRD in Times of India dated 4 July 2002).

This is the time for India to launch its geothermal energy resources programme in a big way to implement CDM. The country has enormous resources, which is lying untapped (see web site: The country has the know-how and technology sources to generate power and support various industries using geothermal is available from developed countries. Future for development of geothermal energy fits in very well under the above described Kyoto-FCCC. World funding organizations and developed countries, which are using extensively geothermal energy, are keen to promote this energy sources to reduce GHG’s by India.