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What is Kyoto Protocol?


The Kyoto Protocol, adopted on 11 December 1997 and enforced on16 February 2005, is an international agreement that aimed to manage and reduce carbon dioxide emissions and greenhouse gases. 192 nations committed to reducing their emissions by an average of 5.2% by 2012, which would represent about 29% of the world’s total emissions. It operationalizes the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change by only asking those countries to adopt policies and measures on mitigation and to report periodically. It’s based on the principles and provisions of the Convention and follows its annex-based structure.

Countries that ratified the Kyoto Protocol were assigned maximum carbon emission levels for specific periods and participated in carbon credit trading and if a country emitted more than its assigned limit, then it would receive a lower emissions limit in the following period.

It only binds developed countries because it recognised that they are principally responsible for the current levels of green house gases and places a heavier burden on them. The EU plus 37 industrialised nations were mandated to cut their GHG emissions, while developing countries were asked to voluntarily comply; more than 100 developing countries, including China and India, were exempted from the treaty. Overall, these targets add up to an average 5% emission reduction compared to 1990 levels over the five year period 2008–2012 (the first commitment period). Non-Annex I countries, or the non-developed countries could invest in projects to lower emissions in their countries for which they earned carbon credits that they could trade or sell to developed countries, allowing the developing nations a higher level of maximum carbon emissions for that period which effectively allowed developed countries to continue emitting GHGs. The Protocol established a monitoring, review and verification system, as well as a compliance system to ensure transparency and hold parties accountable.

Doha Amendment

After the first commitment period ended in December 2012, the participating countries met in Doha to discuss an amendment to the original Kyoto agreement wherein they added new targets for the second commitment period, 2012-2020, during which time parties committed to reduce GHG emissions by at least 18% below 1990 levels. However, in 2015, all UNFCCC participants signed another pact, the Paris Climate Agreement, which effectively replaced the Kyoto Protocol.

The Paris Climate Agreement

It was adopted by nearly every nation in 2015 to address the negative effects of the climate crisis. Commitments were made from all major GHG-emitting countries to cut their emissions and strengthen these commitments over time. A major directive of the agreement is to cut GHG emissions so as to limit global temperature rise in this century to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, while taking steps to limit this to 1.5 degrees and also provides a way for developed nations to help developing nations and creates a framework for monitoring and reporting countries’ climate goals transparently.

The Kyoto mechanisms

Kyoto Protocol established 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, Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation.

The mechanisms encouraged GHG mitigation in the most cost-effective ways, that is in the developing world. The idea was that as long as pollution is removed from the atmosphere, it does not matter where it is reduced, which stimulated green investment in developing countries and encouraged the private sector to develop cleaner infrastructure. An Adaptation Fund was established to finance adaptation projects and programmes in developing countries.

Monitoring emission targets

The Kyoto Protocol also established a rigorous monitoring, review and verification system, as well as a compliance system. Registry systems track and record transactions by Parties. The UN Climate Change Secretariat, based in Bonn, Germany, keeps an international transaction log to verify that transactions are consistent with the rules of the Protocol. Reporting is done by Parties by submitting annual emission inventories. A compliance system ensures that Parties are meeting their commitments and helps them to meet their commitments.

How Successful Has It Been?

In 2005, many countries, planned to meet or exceed their targets under the agreement by 2011. Others, such as the US and China produced enough GHGs to mitigate any of the progress. In fact, there was an increase of about 40% in emissions globally between 1990 and 2009.

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