The Kyoto Protocol

Posted: 30 March 2009

The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The major feature of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These amount to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.

The major distinction between the Protocol and the Convention is that while the Convention encouraged industrialised countries to stabilize GHG emissions, the Protocol commits them to do so.

Oil refinery
Oil refinery
Oil refinery in Teesport, England, emits greenhouse gases during the refining process and more emissions enter the atmosphere when the petroleum products are burned for power.Ian Britton/FreeFoto
Recognizing that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, the Protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities."

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. 184 Parties of the Convention have ratified its Protocol to date. The detailed rules for the implementation of the Protocol were adopted at COP 7 in Marrakesh in 2001, and are called the "Marrakesh Accords."

The Kyoto mechanisms

Under the Treaty, countries must meet their targets primarily through national measures. However, the Kyoto Protocol offers them an additional means of meeting their targets by way of three market-based mechanisms.

The Kyoto mechanisms are:

  • Emissions trading - known as "the carbon market"
  • Clean development mechanism (CDM)
  • Joint implementation (JI).
The mechanisms help stimulate green investment and help Parties meet their emission targets in a cost-effective way.

Monitoring emission targets

Under the Protocol, countries' actual emissions have to be monitored and precise records have to be kept of the trades carried out. Registry systems track and record transactions by Parties under the mechanisms. The UN Climate Change Secretariat, based in Bonn, Germany, keeps an international transaction log to verify that transactions are consistent with the rules of the Protocol.

Reporting is done by Parties by way of submitting annual emission inventories and national reports under the Protocol at regular intervals. A compliance system ensures that Parties are meeting their commitments and helps them to meet their commitments if they have problems doing so.

Adaptation

The Kyoto Protocol, like the Convention, is also designed to assist countries in adapting to the adverse effects of climate change. It facilitates the development and deployment of techniques that can help increase resilience to the impacts of climate change.

The Adaptation Fund was established to finance adaptation projects and programmes in developing countries that are Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. The Fund is financed mainly with a share of proceeds from CDM project activities.

Results

Since 1990, greenhouse gas emissions from Annex I countries have decreased by about 5 per cent, but most of this reduction took place in the economic downturn following the Cold War before 2005 when the Kyoto Protocol entered into force.

CO2 emissions from fossil fuel 2006
CO2 emissions from fossil fuel 2006
CO2 emissions from fossil fuel - top 10 emitters 2006.
In fact emissions from Annex I countries with economies in transition (EIT) dropped by one-third, while emissions from other Annex I countries have risen by almost 10 per cent compared to 1990 levels. EIT countries experienced a dramatic drop in emissions in the 1990s; since then, emissions have been on a slow but steady rise. Emissions in non-EIT Annex I countries have also been on the rise.

The first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012, and the next commitment period will be defined at the Copenhagen conference in December 2009. One component of this Copenhagen agreement is a more inclusive approach in which both Annex I and non-Annex I countries commit to "measurable, reportable, and verifiable" and nationally appropriate mitigation efforts, as highlighted in the Bali Roadmap.

The road ahead

The Kyoto Protocol is generally seen as an important first step towards a truly global emission reduction regime that will stabilize GHG emissions, and provides the essential architecture for any future international agreement on climate change.

By the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012, a new international framework needs to have been negotiated and ratified that can deliver the stringent emission reductions the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has clearly indicated are needed.

Source: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

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