Kyoto Protocol

The UNFCC encouraged industrialised countries to stabilise GHG emissions in the atmosphere, but little was actually being achieved. In order to commit those countries to actual reductions, a Protocol to the Convention was agreed in Kyoto, Japan. The Protocol was adopted on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16th February 2005. As of June 2015, 192 Parties had ratified the Protocol.

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The Kyoto Protocol is an agreement negotiated as an amendment to the UNFCCC. During the first commitment period, 37 industrialized countries and the European Community committed to reduce GHG emissions to an average of five percent against 1990 levels. During the second commitment period, Parties committed to reduce GHG emissions by at least 18 percent below 1990 levels in the eight-year period from 2013 to 2020; however, the composition of Parties in the second commitment period is different from the first.

The key aspect of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets binding targets for the 37 developed countries and the European Community. These industrialised countries are responsible for most of the GHG emissions that are causing increases in global temperatures. 

The protocol signatories are divided into three groups:
  1. Industrialised countries that agree to reduce their GHG emissions to targets that are mainly set below their 1990 levels;
  2. Developed countries that pay for cost of developing countries;
  3. Developing countries that are not expected to de-carbonize their economy unless developed countries supply financial and technological assistance.

The Kyoto Protocol offers a flexible approach for signatories to reduce their GHG emissions:

  • Emissions trading: the aim of the Protocol is for overall reductions in GHG emissions, regardless of where in the world the reductions take place. As costs of GHG reductions are higher in some countries than others, some countries can achieve large reductions at a cheaper cost. Surplus reductions can be sold to those countries that have not met their targets.
  • The Clean development mechanism: signatories are allowed to invest clean energy schemes in developing countries, and use the developing countries' GHG emission reductions to help meet their own targets.
  • Joint implementation: this permits developed countries to invest in GHG emission reduction programmes in other developed countries, and use those reductions towards their own national targets.

In addition, in Doha, Qatar, on 8 December 2012, the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. 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 greenhouse gases (GHG) to be reported on by Parties in the second commitment period;
  • Amendments to several articles of the Kyoto Protocol which specifically referenced issues pertaining to the first commitment period and which needed to be updated for the second commitment period.

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