Delegates celebrate the adoption of the Protocol in 1997
The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997. Due to a complex ratification
process, it entered into force on 16 February 2005.
In short, the Kyoto Protocol is what “operationalizes” the Convention. It commits
industrialized countries to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions based on the principles of the Convention. The
Convention itself only encourages countries to do so.
KP, as it is referred to in short, sets binding emission reduction targets for 37 industrialized countries
and the European community in its first commitment period. Overall, these targets add up to an average five
per cent emissions reduction compared to 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008 to 2012 (the first
KP was structured on the principles of the Convention. It only binds developed countries because it
recognizes that they are largely responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere,
which are the result of more than 150 years of industrial activity. KP places a heavier burden on developed
nations under its central principle: that of “common but differentiated responsibility”.
In Doha, Qatar, on 8 December 2012, the Doha
Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. This launched a second commitment period, starting on 1
January 2013 until 2020.
The Kyoto Protocol is made up of essential architecture that has been built and shaped over almost two
decades of experience, hard work and political will. The beating heart of KP is made up of:
Reporting and verification procedures;
Flexible market-based mechanisms, which in turn have their
own governance procedures; and
A compliance system.
So, two things make KP tick.
The first was binding emissions reduction commitments for developed
country parties. This meant the space to pollute was limited, and what is scarce and essential commands a
price. Greenhouse gas emissions— most prevalently carbon dioxide— became a new commodity. KP now
began to internalise what was now recognised as an unpriced externality.
This leads us to the second, the flexible market mechanisms of the KP,
based on the trade of emissions permits. KP countries bound to targets have to meet them largely through
domestic action— that is, to reduce their emissions onshore. But they can meet part of their targets
through three "market-based mechanisms" that ideally encourage GHG abatement to start where it is
most cost-effective-- for example, in the developing world. Quite simply, it does not matter where emissions
are reduced, as long as they are removed from the planet's atmosphere. This has the parallel benefits of
stimulating green investment in developing countries and of including the private sector in this endeavour to
cut and hold steady GHG emissions at a safe level. It also makes "leap-frogging" more economical--
that is, the possibility to skip older, dirtier technology for newer, cleaner infrastructure and systems,
with obvious longer-term benefits.
KP has prompted governments to put in place legislation and policies to meet their commitments, businesses to
make climate-friendly investment decisions, and the formation of a carbon market.
The Kyoto Protocol compliance mechanism is designed to strengthen the Protocol's environmental integrity,
support the carbon market's credibility and ensure transparency of accounting by Parties. Its objective
is to facilitate, promote and enforce compliance with the commitments under the Protocol. It is among the
most comprehensive and rigorous systems of compliance for a multilateral environmental agreement. A strong
and effective compliance mechanism is key to the success of the implementation of the Protocol.
For more details on the Kyoto Protocol, its architecture and how it operates, click here.
For an overview of the relationship between the political, advisory and subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC,
please click here.