Kyoto Protocol


The Kyoto Protocol is an amendment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international treaty on global warming. It also reaffirms sections of the UNFCCC. Countries which ratify this protocol commit to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases, or engage in emissions trading if they maintain or increase emissions of these gases. A total of 141 countries have ratified the agreement. Notable exceptions include the United States and Australia.

The formal name of the agreement, which reaffirms sections of the UNFCCC, is the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [1] ( It was negotiated in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997, opened for signature on March 16, 1998, and closed on March 15, 1999. The agreement came into force on February 16, 2005 following ratification by Russia on November 18, 2004.

Some current estimates indicate that even if successfully and completely implemented, the Kyoto Protocol is predicted to reduce the average global rise in temperature by somewhere between 0.02C and 0.28C by the year 2050 (source: Nature, October 2003), compared to the increase of 1.4C to 5.8C between 1990 and 2100 predicted by the IPCC [2] ( Because of this many critics and environmentalists question the value of the Kyoto Protocol should required modifications fail to produce deeper cuts in the future.

Missing image
Kyoto is intended to cut global emissions of greenhouse gases.

Proponents also note that Kyoto is an first step [3] (, as requirements to meet the UNFCCC will be modified until the objective is met, as required by UNFCCC Article 4.2(d).[4] (


Details of the agreement

According to a press release from the United Nations Environment Programme:

"The Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding agreement under which industrialized countries will reduce their collective emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2% compared to the year 1990 (but note that, compared to the emissions levels that would be expected by 2010 without the Protocol, this target represents a 29% cut). The goal is to lower overall emissions from six greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs - calculated as an average over the five-year period of 2008-12. National targets range from 8% reductions for the European Union and some others to 7% for the US, 6% for Japan, 0% for Russia, and permitted increases of 8% for Australia and 10% for Iceland."

It is an agreement negotiated as an amendment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, which was adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992). All parties to the UNFCCC can sign or ratify the Kyoto Protocol, while non-parties to the UNFCCC cannot. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted at the third session of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan.

Most provisions of the Kyoto Protocol apply to developed countries, listed in Annex I to the UNFCCC.

Financial commitments

The Protocol also reaffirms the principle that developed countries have to pay, and supply technology to, other countries for climate-related studies and projects. This was originally agreed in the UNFCCC.

Emissions trading

General article: emissions trading

Each Annex I country has agreed to limit emissions to the levels described in the protocol, but many countries have limits that are set above their current production. These "extra amounts" can be purchased by other countries on the open market. So, for instance, Russia currently easily meets its targets, and can sell off its credits for millions of dollars to countries that don't yet meet their targets, to Canada for instance. This rewards countries that meet their targets, and provides financial incentives to others to do so as soon as possible:

Countries also receive credits through various shared "clean energy" programs and "carbon dioxide sinks" in the form of forests and other systems that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Washington D.C.-based NGO, in the report "Getting It Right: Emerging Markets for Storing Carbon in Forests", assumes values of $30-40/ton in the US and $70-80/ton in Europe. On April 18, 2001, The Netherlands purchased credits for 4 megatons of carbon dioxide emissions from Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic; this was part of the ERUPT procurement procedure. These purchase agreements however contained conditions precedent, e.g. referring to the financing of the underlying projects. Since several of these conditions have not been met, the amount of purchased credits has since then decreased.

Status of the agreement

At the treaty's implementation in February 2005, the agreement had been ratified by 141 countries representing over 61% of global emissions [5] ( Countries do not need to sign the protocol in order to ratify it; signing is a symbolic act only. An up-to-date list of those who have ratified is available [6] (

According to the terms of the protocol, it enters into force "on the ninetieth day after the date on which not less than 55 Parties to the Convention, incorporating Parties included in Annex I which accounted in total for at least 55 per cent of the total carbon dioxide emissions for 1990 of the Parties included in Annex I, have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.". Of the two conditions, the "55 parties" clause was reached on May 23 2002 when Iceland ratified. The ratification by Russia on November 18, 2004 satisfied the "55 percent" clause and brought the treaty into force, effective February 16, 2005.


The protocol left several issues open to be decided later by the Conference of Parties (COP). COP6 attempted to resolve these issues at its meeting in the Hague in late 2000, but was unable to reach an agreement due to disputes between the European Union on the one hand (which favoured a tougher agreement) and the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia on the other (which wanted the agreement to be less demanding and more flexible).

In 2001, a continuation of the previous meeting (COP6bis) was held in Bonn where the required decisions were adopted. After some concessions, the supporters of the protocol (led by the European Union) managed to get Japan and Russia in as well by allowing more use of carbon dioxide sinks.

COP7 was held from 29 October 20019 November 2001 in Marrakech to establish the final details of the protocol.

Current positions of governments

See also: List of Kyoto Protocol signatories

Missing image
Carbon emissions from various global regions during the period 1800-2000 AD

As of February 2005, 141 countries (plus the self-governing entities of New Zealand: Niue and Cook Islands) have ratified the protocol, including Canada, People's Republic of China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia and the twenty-five countries of the European Union, as well as Romania and Bulgaria. (From Template:Web reference)

There are six countries that have signed but not yet ratified the protocol. Of those, three are Annex I countries:

The remaining countries that have signed but not yet ratified are: Croatia, Kazakhstan, and Zambia.

Position of Russia

Vladimir Putin approved the treaty on November 4, 2004 and Russia officially notified the United Nations of its ratification on November 18, 2004. With that, the Russian ratification is complete. The issue of Russian ratification was particularly closely watched in the international community, as the accord was brought into force 90 days after Russian ratification (February 16, 2005).

President Putin had earlier decided in favour of the protocol in September 2004, along with the Russian cabinet [7] ( As anticipated after this, ratification by the lower (22 October 2004) and upper house of parliament did not encounter any obstacles.

The Kyoto Protocol limits emissions to a percentage increase or decrease from their 1990 levels. Since 1990 the economies of most countries in the former Soviet Union have collapsed, as have their greenhouse gas emissions. Because of this, Russia should have no problem meeting its commitments under Kyoto, as its current emission levels are substantially below its targets. Indeed, it may be able to benefit from selling emissions credits to other countries in the Kyoto Protocol, which are currently using more than their target levels of emissions.

Position of the European Union

On May 31, 2002, all fifteen then-members of the European Union deposited the relevant ratification paperwork at the UN. The EU produces around 21% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and has agreed to a cut, on average, by 8% from 1990 emission levels. The EU has consistently been one of the major supporters of the Kyoto Protocol, negotiating hard to get wavering countries on board.

In December, 2002, the EU created a system of emissions trading in an effort to meet these tough targets. Quotas were introduced in six key industries: energy, steel, cement, glass, brick making, and paper/cardboard. There are also fines for member nations that fail to meet their obligations, starting at €40/ton of carbon dioxide in 2005, and rising to €100/ton in 2008. Current EU projections suggest that by 2008 the EU will be at 4.7% below 1990 levels.

Position of the United States

Missing image
U.S. Vice President Al Gore spoke at the UNFCCC COP-3 meeting and urged the passing of the Kyoto Protocol.

The United States, although a signatory to the protocol, has neither ratified nor withdrawn from the protocol. The protocol is non-binding over the United States unless ratified.

On June 25, 1997, before the Kyoto Protocol was to be negotiated, the U.S. Senate passed by a 95-0 vote the Byrd-Hagel Resolution (S. Res. 98), which stated the sense of the Senate was that the United States should not be a signatory to any protocol that did not include binding targets and timetables for developing as well as industrialized nations or "would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States". On November 12, 1998, Vice President Al Gore symbolically signed the protocol. Aware of the Senate's view of the protocol, the Clinton Administration never submitted the protocol for ratification.

The Clinton Administration released an economic analysis in July 1998, prepared by the Council of Economic Advisors, which concluded that with emissions trading among the Annex B/Annex I countries, and participation of key developing countries in the "Clean Development Mechanism" — which grants the latter business-as-usual emissions rates through 2012 — the costs of implementing the Kyoto Protocol could be reduced as much as 60% from many estimates. Other economic analyses, however, prepared by the Congressional Budget Office and the Department of Energy Energy Information Administration (EIA), and others, demonstrated a potentially large decline in GDP from implementing the Protocol.

The current President, George W. Bush, has indicated that he does not intend to submit the treaty for ratification, not because he does not support the general idea, but because of the strain he believes the treaty would put on the economy; he emphasises the uncertainties he asserts are present in the climate change issue [8] ( Furthermore, he is not happy with the details of the treaty. For example, he does not support the split between Annex I countries and others. Bush said of the treaty:

The world's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases is China. Yet, China was entirely exempted from the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol. This is a challenge that requires a 100 percent effort; ours, and the rest of the world's. America's unwillingness to embrace a flawed treaty should not be read by our friends and allies as any abdication of responsibility. To the contrary, my administration is committed to a leadership role on the issue of climate change. Our approach must be consistent with the long-term goal of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

China emits 2,893 million metric tons of CO2 per year (2.3 tons per capita). This compares to 5,410 million from the U.S. (20.1 tons per capita), and 3,171 million from the EU (8.5 tons per capita). Even though China is currently exempted, it has since ratified the Kyoto Protocol and is expected to declare itself an Annex I country within the next decade and make itself no longer be exempted. In fact, China's per capita emission is among the lowest ones in the world. The U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council stated in June 2001 that: "By switching from coal to cleaner energy sources, initiating energy efficiency programs, and restructuring its economy, China has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions 17 percent since 1997".

In June 2002, the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the "Climate Action Report 2002". Some observers have interpreted this report as being supportive of the protocol, although the report itself does not explicitly endorse the protocol.

The prospect of the U.S. staying outside the agreement influenced a number of other countries including Australia, Japan, and Canada to discuss whether they should ratify the agreement, putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage with the U.S. While Japan and Canada ultimately decided to ratify the protocol, Australia's current government has said it will not ratify. Although the major opposition parties have committed to ratification if in a position to do so, Prime Minister Howard was reelected in the 2004 election so it seems unlikely that Australia will support the treaty in the near future.

In June 2005, State Department papers showed the administration thanking Exxon executives for the company's "active involvement" in helping to determine climate change policy, including the US stance on Kyoto. Input from the business lobby group Global Climate Coalition was also a factor. [9] (,12374,1501646,00.html)

Position of Canada

On December 17, 2002, Canada ratified the treaty. This was however opposed by groups of businesses, non-governmental climate scientists and energy concerns, using arguments similar to those being used in the US.

However an additional twist is involved. The US is Canada's major trading partner (and vice versa), so with Canadian companies having to pay for emissions, and US companies not, the fear is that Canadian companies will not be able to compete on a fair trading ground. In one example a company can sell natural gas to the US to be burned in an electrical plant to produce electricity. That gas, burned in the US, is not subject to "Kyoto tax". However if that same plant were operated in Canada, the gas would be taxed as it was burned. That would result in the same electricity costing more if produced locally.

The result is an ongoing "war of words", primarily between the government of Alberta (a major oil and gas producer) and the federal government.

It also appears that the federal government will ask for additional credits for "clean" fuels sold to the United States, most notably natural gas.

A September 2004 poll showed that support in Canada for the Kyoto protocol is around 70% and now includes a majority of Albertans as well, a province that was initially a hub for anti-Kyoto politics. In fact, it is now British Columbia where the support for the Kyoto protocol is the least in Canada but even there the majority is in favour.

Position of Australia

Australia has refused to sign the Agreement due to issues with the protocol. The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, has argued that the protocol would cost Australians jobs, and that Australia is already doing enough to cut emissions. The Federal Opposition, the Australian Labor Party is in full support of the protocol and it is currently a heavily debated issue within the political establishment. Australia is the world's second-largest emitter per capita of greenhouse gases.

Support for Kyoto

The governments of all of the countries whose parliaments have ratified the Protocol are supporting it.

Advocates of the Kyoto Protocol claim that reducing these emissions is crucially important; carbon dioxide, they believe, is causing the earth's atmosphere to heat up (see global warming). This is supported by attribution analysis.

Most prominent among advocates of Kyoto have been the European Union and many environmentalist organizations. The United Nations and some individual nations' scientific advisory bodies have also issued reports favoring the Kyoto Protocol.

Grassroots support in the US

In the US, there is at least one student group Kyoto Now! which aims to use student interest to support pressure towards Kyoto Protocol compliance.

As of November 15, 2004, nine Northeastern US states are involved in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) (, which is a state level emissions capping and trading program. It is believed that the state-level program will apply pressure on the federal government to support Kyoto Protocol.

As of June 22, 2005, 165 US cities representing 35 million Americans support Kyoto after Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle started a nationwide effort to get cities to agree to the protocol.

Cost-benefit analysis

To evaluate the effectiveness of the Kyoto protocol, it is necessary to compare global warming with and without the agreement. Several independent authors agree that the impact of the Kyoto protocol on global warming is likely to be very small. Even some defenders of the Kyoto Protocol agree that the impact of it is small, but they view it as a first step with more political than practical importance, for future reductions, perhaps of up to 70%. The UNEP says the effectiveness of Kyoto really depends on whether it lays a good foundation for the climate convention process, which might lead to greater reductions later. [10] (

It is possible to try to evaluate the Kyoto Protocol by comparing costs and gains. Though there are large uncertainties. Economic analyses disagree as to whether the Kyoto Protocol is more expensive than the global warming that it avoids; the recent Copenhagen consensus project, whilst not ranking it very highly, nonetheless found it to have an overall benefit. Defenders of the Kyoto Protocol argue however that while the initial greenhouse gas cuts may have little effect, they set the political precedent for bigger (and more effective) cuts in the future. Also, they demonstrate commitment to the precautionary principle. [11] (

Opposition to Kyoto

The two major countries opposed to the treaty are the USA and Australia, based on the public statements of their governments. Some public policy experts who are skeptical of the global warming hypothesis see Kyoto as a scheme to either retard the growth of the world's industrial democracies or to transfer wealth to the third world in what they claim is a global socialism initiative.

Some critics say there are problems with the underlying science (see global warming controversy). For example, Russia's influential Academy of Sciences (RAN) said the government's decision to approve the Kyoto Protocol was "purely political," and that it had "no scientific justification." [12] ( The Russian experts told president Putin that Kyoto was scientifically unfounded nonsense. [13] ( Andrei Illarionov, Putin's economic policy advisor, compared the Kyoto Protocol to fascism. [14] (

Some critics state that the protocol will prevent or damage economic growth.

  • American Council for Capital Formation [15] (
  • United States Department of Energy [16] (
  • National Bank of New Zealand [17] (
  • John Lawrence Daly (deceased), author of The Greenhouse Trap, August 2002 [18] (
  • U.S. President George W. Bush [19] (

The 1997 Leipzig Declaration called the Kyoto Protocol "dangerously simplistic, quite ineffective, and economically destructive to jobs and standards-of-living". However, most of the signers of the Leipzig Declaration were non-scientists or lacked credentials in the specific field of climate research.

In June 2003, an open letter[20] ( was written to Canada's then-future prime minister, Paul Martin, signed by 46 climate experts from six countries—Martin has yet to respond. A open letter previously ( was signed by 27 climate experts and sent to then-current Prime Minister, Jean Chrtien.

Some argue that the protocol does not go far enough to curb greenhouse emissions (Niue, The Cook Islands, and Nauru added notes to this effect when signing the protocol [21] (, and the standards it sets would be ineffective at curbing or slowing climate change. In addition, there have been recent scientific challenges to the idea of carbon credits, planting "Kyoto forests" or plantations to reduce total carbon dioxide output. Recent evidence shows that this may in fact increase carbon dioxide emissions for the first 10 years, due to the growth pattern of young forests and the effect it has on soil-trapped carbon dioxide. Several industrial countries have made carbon credits an important part of their strategies for reducing their net greenhouse gas outputs, further calling into question the effectiveness of the protocols.

Beyond other arguments some theorists [22] ( predict that even if the world's leading industrial nations agree to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as mandated by the Kyoto Protocol, it is likely that there would be no net change in emissions worldwide. If the industrialized countries cut their demand for fossil fuels to meet the emission reduction responsibilties, the law of supply and demand would tend to cause the world prices of coal, oil and gas go down, making fuel use more affordable for poorer nations. These theorists predict increased fuel use (primarily coal) in the "non-Annex I" countries, tending to offset the reductions of the "Annex I" countries.

It is argued by many that Kyoto fails to address larger issues of sustainability. While one may agree with establishing an international precedent for regulation of greenhouse gasses, failing to address other sustainability issues, such as typically rapid population growth [23] ( among "non-Annex I" countries, suggests to some that Kyoto represents an anti-industrial agenda rather than a fair attempt to mitigate climate change.

See also

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External links



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