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The Kyoto Protocol

When governments adopted the Convention, they knew that its commitments would not be sufficient to achieve its ultimate objective. They therefore included a series of review mechanisms in the Convention to ensure that its commitments could be tightened in the future. The first review mechanism kicked in at the first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 1), held in Berlin in March/April 1995, where, in a decision known as the "(PDF) Berlin Mandate", Parties agreed that the specific commitments in the Convention for Annex I Parties were not adequate. They therefore launched a new round of talks to decide on stronger and more detailed commitments for these countries. After two and a half years of intense negotiations, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted at COP 3 in Kyoto on 11 December 1997.

The Kyoto Protocol commits Annex I Parties to individual, legally-binding targets to limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, adding up to a total cut of at least 5% from 1990 levels in the "commitment period" 2008-2012. The individual targets for Annex I Parties are listed in the ProtocolÌs Annex B (see table below), and range from a -8% cut for the EUÌs 15 member states and several other countries, to a +10% increase for Iceland. (Under the terms of the Protocol, the EU may redistribute its target among its 15 member states. It has already reached agreement on such a scheme, known as a "bubble".) Although they are listed in the ConventionÌs Annex I, Belarus and Turkey are not included in the ProtocolÌs Annex B as they were not Parties to the Convention when the Protocol was adopted.

Countries included in Annex B to the Kyoto Protocol and their emission targets



EU-15, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Monaco, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland




Canada, Hungary, Japan, Poland




New Zealand, Russian Federation, Ukraine








The targets cover emissions of the six main greenhouse gases, namely:

  • carbon dioxide (CO2);
  • methane (CH4);
  • nitrous oxide (N2O);
  • hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs);
  • perfluorocarbons (PFCs); and
  • sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).

Some specified activities in the land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector, namely, afforestation, deforestation and reforestation, which emit or remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, are also covered. All changes in emissions, and in removals by so-called "sinks", go into the same basket for accounting purposes.

The Protocol establishes three innovative "mechanisms", known as joint implementation, emissions trading and the clean development mechanism, which are designed to help Annex I Parties reduce the costs of meeting their emission targets by achieving or acquiring reductions more cheaply in other countries than at home. The clean development mechanism also aims to assist developing countries in achieving sustainable development by promoting environmentally-friendly investment in their economies from industrialized country governments and businesses.

In addition, the Protocol outlines stronger reporting obligations and a system to address cases of non-compliance with its commitments. Like the Convention, the Protocol also includes provisions for the review of its commitments, so that these can be strengthened as scientific information about climate change increases and political will hardens. Negotiations on targets for the second commitment period are due to start in 2005, by which time Annex I Parties must have made "demonstrable progress" in meeting their commitments under the Protocol. The whole Protocol will be reviewed at the second session of the COP serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Protocol (COP/MOP 2) after the Protocol has entered into force.

The Kyoto Protocol negotiations, however, left a considerable amount of "unfinished business" to be completed as part of a post-Kyoto negotiation process. While the ProtocolÌs mechanisms and compliance system were agreed in principle, their operational details were not defined, and further work was required on the LULUCF sector, including on whether new categories should be added to the specified "sink" activities covered by the Protocol. Guidelines for reporting and review also had to be developed. How to address the vulnerability of developing countries was another important issue placed on the post-Kyoto agenda. Some developing countries, such as low-lying island nations, are highly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, while others feel more threatened by the potential economic repercussions of response measures. The Kyoto Protocol follows the Convention in recognizing both these dimensions of vulnerability, and also emphasizing the special situation of least developed countries.

The Kyoto Protocol was open for signature between 16 March 1998 and 15 March 1999. 84 countries signed the Protocol during that period, including all but two Annex I Parties, indicating their acceptance of the text and intent to become Parties to it (states that did not sign may also become Parties). In order to enter into force, the Protocol must now be (PDF) ratified (or adopted, approved, or acceded to (168 kB) ) by 55 Parties to the Convention, including Annex I Parties accounting for 55% of carbon dioxide emissions from this group in 1990 (a list of the 1990 emissions of Annex I Parties can be found in the annex to the (PDF) COP 3 report). Although nearly (PDF) 40 countries (168 kB) have already ratified or acceded to the Protocol, only one Annex I Party (Romania) has yet done so. Most Annex I Parties have been reluctant to ratify the Protocol before having a clearer idea of the outcome of the post-Kyoto negotiations on the "unfinished business" of the Protocol. Many Parties, however, have indicated a wish to bring the Protocol into force by 2002, in time for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, September 2002) and the tenth anniversary of the adoption and signing of the Convention.