What Is The Kyoto Protocol?

The United Nations Convention On Climate Change & the Kyoto Protocol

The United Nations Framework Convention On Climate Change (UNFCCC) was opened for signature by individual nations in 1992, following the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

The Convention arose out of concern about the damage being done to the earth by climate change. These concerns centred on:

  • shifts in agricultural zones
  • melting of polar ice caps
  • rising sea levels

The text of the Convention was adopted at the United Nations Headquarters, New York on the 9 May 1992. It was opened for signature at the Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 4 to 14 June 1992, and thereafter, at the United Nations Headquarters, New York, from 20 June 1992 to 19 June 1993. By that date the Convention had received 166 signatures. The Convention entered into force on 21 March 1994.

The objective of the Convention is set out in Article 2:

The ultimate objective of this Convention and any related legal instruments that the Conference of the Parties may adopt is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.

In practice, this means reducing emissions of greenhouse gases world wide. The industrial nations agreed, in the Climate Change Convention, to reduce their emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000.

Since Rio, countries have begun carrying out their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This has not been an easy task, since each country has its own interests, concerns and objectives.

Accordingly, since 1995 the Conference of the Parties meets annually to discuss these interests and objectives to ensure that the Convention is implemented effectively.

In 1997, during the 3rd COP in Kyoto, Japan, significant progress was made in agreeing to the text of a Protocol to the Climate Change Convention: the Kyoto Protocol.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, industrial nations agreed to cut their collective greenhouse gas emissions to 5 per cent below 1990 levels, in the period 2008-2012, with each one committing to a certain percentage reduction of its emissions. The US agreed to a 7% cut, Japan to 6% and the EU to 8%. The Kyoto Protocol calls for emission reduction of all major greenhouse gases (CO2, nitrous oxide, methane and three fluorides).

Since the total result is more important than the results in individual countries, the Kyoto participants decided that industrial nations did not have to meet their reduction commitments using domestic measures only. They can also make use of initiatives in other countries. This is the underlying rationale for the Kyoto mechanisms: joint implementation (JI), the clean development mechanism (CDM) and international emissions trading.

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