The Kyoto Protocol
The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will strengthen
the international response to climate change. Adopted by consensus at the third session of the
Conference of the Parties (COP-3) in December 1997, it contains legally binding emissions targets for
Annex I (industrialized) countries. By arresting and reversing the upward trend in greenhouse gas
emissions that started in these countries 150 years ago, the Protocol promises to move the
international community one step closer to achieving the Convention’s ultimate objective of
preventing "dangerous anthropogenic [man-made] interference with the climate system".
The developed countries are to reduce their collective emissions of six key greenhouse gases by at
least 5%. This group target will be achieved through cuts of 8% by Switzerland, most Central and
East European states, and the European Union (the EU will meet its group target by distributing
different rates among its member states); 7% by the US; and 6% by Canada, Hungary, Japan, and Poland.
Russia, New Zealand, and Ukraine are to stabilize their emissions, while Norway may increase
emissions by up to 1%, Australia by up to 8%, and Iceland 10%. The six gases are to be combined in a
"basket", with reductions in individual gases translated into "CO2
equivalents" that are then added up to produce a single figure.
Each country’s emissions target must be achieved by the period 2008 - 2012. It will be
calculated as an average over the five years. "Demonstrable progress" must be made by
2005. Cuts in the three most important gases – carbon dioxide (CO2), methane
(CH4), and nitrous oxide (N20) – will be measured against a base year of
1990 (with exceptions for some countries with economies in transition). Cuts in three long-lived
industrial gases – hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulphur hexafluoride
(SF6) – can be measured against either a 1990 or 1995 baseline. (A major group of
industrial gases, chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, are dealt with under the 1987 Montreal Protocol on
Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.)
Actual emission reductions will be much larger than 5%. Compared to emissions levels projected
for the year 2000, the richest industrialized countries (OECD members) will need to reduce their
collective output by about 10%. This is because many of these countries will not succeed in meeting
their earlier non-binding aim of returning emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000, and their
emissions have in fact risen since 1990. While the countries with economies in transition have
experienced falling emissions since 1990, this trend is now reversing. Therefore, for the developed
countries as a whole, the 5% Protocol target represents an actual cut of around 20% when compared to
the emissions levels that are projected for 2010 if no emissions-control measures are adopted.
Countries will have some flexibility in how they make and measure their emissions reductions.
In particular, an international "emissions trading" regime will be established allowing
industrialized countries to buy and sell emissions credits amongst themselves. They will also be able
to acquire "emission reduction units" by financing certain kinds of projects in other
developed countries. In addition, a "clean development mechanism" for promoting sustainable
development will enable industrialized countries to finance emissions-reduction projects in
developing countries and to receive credit for doing so. The use of these three mechanisms is to be
supplemental to domestic action.
They will pursue emissions cuts in a wide range of economic sectors. The Protocol encourages
governments to cooperate with one another, improve energy efficiency, reform the energy and
transportation sectors, promote renewable forms of energy, phase out inappropriate fiscal measures
and market imperfections, limit methane emissions from waste management and energy systems, and
manage carbon "sinks" such as forest, croplands and grazing lands. The methodologies for
measuring changes in net emissions (calculated as emissions minus removals of CO2) due to
the use of sinks are particularly complex.
The Protocol will advance the implementation of existing commitments by all countries. Under
the Convention, both developed and developing countries agree to take measures to limit emissions and
promote adaptation to future climate change impacts; submit information on their national climate
change programmes and inventories; promote technology transfer; cooperate on scientific and technical
research; and promote public awareness, education, and training. The Protocol also reiterates the
need to provide "new and additional" financial resources to meet the "agreed full
costs" incurred by developing countries in carrying out these commitments; a Kyoto Protocol
Adaptation Fund was established in 2001.
The Conference of the Parties (COP) of the Convention will also serve as the meeting of the
Parties (MOP) for the Protocol. This structure is expected to reduce costs and facilitate the
management of the intergovernmental process. Parties to the Convention that are not Parties to the
Protocol will be able to participate in Protocol-related meetings as observers.
The new agreement will be periodically reviewed. The Parties will take "appropriate
action" on the basis of the best available scientific, technical, and socio-economic
information. The first review will take place at the second COP session serving the Protocol. Talks
on commitments for the post-2012 period must start by 2005.
The Protocol was opened for signature for one year starting 16 March 1998. It will enter into
force 90 days after it has been ratified by at least 55 Parties to the Convention, including
developed countries representing at least 55% of the total 1990 carbon dioxide emissions from this
group. Political disagreements in late 2000 and 2001 over how to implement the Protocol have slowed
down the rate of ratification. In the meantime, governments will continue to carry out their
commitments under the Climate Change Convention. They will also work on many practical issues
relating to the Protocol and its future implementation at their regular COP and subsidiary body