The Kyoto Protocol, the first international treaty to set legally binding targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, was adopted 25 years ago, on 11 December 1997, in Kyoto, Japan. The agreement, which entered into force in 2005 and was ratified by 192 Parties, has since been superseded by the Paris Agreement but remains a historic landmark in the international fight against climate change. Read here to learn more about the agreement.
The Kyoto Protocol is an addendum to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a global environmental agreement whose objective is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”
Kyoto Protocol, 1997
The Kyoto Protocol was an agreement among developed nations to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and greenhouse gases (GHG) to minimize the impacts of climate change.
The Protocol applied to 6 greenhouse gases:
- carbon dioxide
- nitrous oxide
- sulfur hexafluoride.
The Kyoto Protocol was adopted on 11 December 1997.
Due to a complex ratification process, it entered into force on 16 February 2005. Currently, there are 192 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.
In short, the Kyoto Protocol operationalizes the UNFCCC by committing industrialized countries and economies in transition to limit and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by agreed individual targets.
The Convention itself only asks those countries to adopt policies and measures on mitigation and to report periodically.
The Kyoto Protocol is based on the principles and provisions of the Convention and follows its annex-based structure.
- It only binds developed countries and places a heavier burden on them under the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities”, because it recognizes that they are largely responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere.
- In its Annex B, the Kyoto Protocol sets binding emission reduction targets for 37 industrialized countries and economies in transition and the European Union.
- Overall, these targets add up to an average 5 percent emission reduction compared to 1990 levels over the five years 2008-2012 (the first commitment period).
One important element of the Kyoto Protocol was the establishment of flexible market mechanisms, which are based on the trade of emissions permits.
Under the Protocol, countries must meet their targets primarily through national measures.
However, the Protocol also offers them an additional means to meet their targets by way of three market-based mechanisms:
- International Emissions Trading: countries that emit less than they are allowed to can sell this amount to industrialized countries that produce more than they should. In this way, it becomes economically beneficial to reduce emissions.
- Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)
- Joint implementation (JI): With both CDM and JI countries can invest in an emission-reducing project and gain credit points.
After becoming a signatory in 2013, Afghanistan became the 192nd and last signatory of the Kyoto Protocol. As of 2022, there remain 192 signatories.
The Doha Amendment
In Doha, Qatar, on 8 December 2012, the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol was adopted for a second commitment period, starting in 2013 and lasting until 2020.
The amendment includes:
- New commitments for Annex I Parties to the Kyoto Protocol who agreed to take on commitments in a second commitment period from 1 January 2013 to 31 December 2020;
- A revised list of GHG to be reported on by Parties in the second commitment period; and
- Amendments to several articles of the Kyoto Protocol specifically referenced issues about the first commitment period and which needed to be updated for the second commitment period.
During the second commitment period, Parties committed to reduce GHG emissions by at least 18 percent below 1990 levels in the eight years from 2013 to 2020.
Significance of the Kyoto Protocol
The Kyoto Protocol committed industrialized countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by agreed individual targets.
The Kyoto Protocol also established a rigorous monitoring, review, and verification system, as well as a compliance system to ensure transparency and hold Parties to account. Under the Protocol, countries’ actual emissions have to be monitored and precise records have to be kept of the trades carried out.
Developing nations were asked to comply voluntarily, and more than 100 developing countries (non-annex countries), including China and India, were exempted from the Kyoto agreement altogether.
- Non-Annex I nations participated by investing in projects designed to lower emissions in their countries.
- For these projects, developing countries earned carbon credits, which they could trade or sell to developed countries, allowing the developed nations a higher level of maximum carbon emissions for that period.
- In effect, this function helped the developed countries to continue emitting GHG vigorously.
Some facts about Kyoto Protocol
- 192 countries are parties to the Kyoto Protocol.
- 84 countries are signatories of the Kyoto Protocol.
- Canada, Andorra, The United States of America, and South Sudan are not parties to the protocol.
- It is legally binding and only members of the UNFCCC can become parties to the Kyoto Protocol.
- It was adopted at the 3rd session of UNFCCC
- To meet the targets of the Kyoto Protocol, member countries cannot include international shipping and international aviation
- Countries can use Land Use (LU), land-use change (LUC), and Forestry to meet their Kyoto targets.
- China signed the protocol in 1998.
- The protocol did not include ozone-depleting substances which were later covered by the Montreal protocol.
Difference between the Paris Agreement and Kyoto Protocol
Both treaties were concluded under the UNFCCC with the objective of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and preventing dangerous human interference with the climate system.
- The Kyoto Protocol required only developed countries to reduce emissions, while the Paris Agreement recognized that climate change is a shared problem and called on all countries to set emissions targets.
- The Kyoto Protocol did not compel developing countries, including major carbon emitters China and India, to take action. The United States signed the agreement in 1998 but never ratified it and later withdrew its signature.
- The Paris Agreement, which now has 194 Parties, requires all countries to reduce their emissions. Governments set targets, known as nationally determined contributions, with the goals of preventing the global average temperature from rising more than 2°C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to keep temperature rise below 1.5°C.
India and Kyoto Protocol
- India was exempted from obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the law.
- India placed special emphasis on the differences in the burden of duty for climate action between industrialized and developing countries.
- India was able to uphold its responsibility for socioeconomic growth while simultaneously pressuring other industrialized nations in the Annex I category to shoulder greater responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- India has ratified the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol or the Doha Amendment to meet the emission targets for the period 2012-2020.
- India was the 80th country to accept the amendment.
Concerns about climate change led to the creation of the Kyoto Protocol. The treaty was a pact between developed countries to cut greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions.
The framework carried out the UN’s goal of limiting the effects of global warming, such as an overall increase in seal populations, the extinction of some island governments, the melting of glaciers, and an increase in extreme weather events.
As one of the more important international climate change treaties, the Kyoto Protocol is generally regarded as a historic legislative accomplishment. The Paris Agreement replaced the Kyoto Protocol, yet it still holds a significant place in the history of environmental protection.
-Article was written by Swathi Satish