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Kyoto Protocol- Word! Wednesday

In 1994, there wasn't much scientific data available on the effects of climate change. The UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) bound participating countries to act in the interest of human safety even without scientific backing. The main objective of the convention was to reduce and restrict green house gases that would prevent human interference with the climate system. It also further stated that "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."

The Kyoto protocol is a plan of action for the UNFCC goals. It was adopted in December 1997 but brought into fruition only in Feb 2005. There are a total of 197 parties participating in the protocol.

The protocol specifically targets six greenhouse gases:

  1. Carbon dioxide (CO2)

  2. Methane (CH4)

  3. Nitrous oxide (N2O)

  4. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)

  5. Perfluorocarbons (PFCs)

  6. Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).

The protocol puts an onus on developed countries to take action, as thy are the main cause for current levels of greenhouse gases. It sets binding rules for reducing emissions by 5 % on average against the 1990 levels. In phase 2, 37 countries committed to 18% reduction since 1990 in an 8-year period (2013-020) on 36 countries in the EU.

Countries must primarily meet their goal through national measures (a flexible mechanism based on trade of emission permits).

However, countries can also meet their targets through

  • International emission

  • Trading (allow countries to sell their excess capacity to those who fall short)

  • Clean development mechanism (allows countries under the Kyoto protocol to implement an emission-reduction project in developing countries)

  • Joint implementation (Similar to the clean development mechanism, but this is with another Kyoto protocol partner)

All countries that participated in the protocol in phase 1 complied with the protocol, out of which 9 countries availed the flexible mechanisms to reach their targets. Unfortunately, global emissions still increased by a whopping 32% from 1990 to 2010. The United States is the ONLY signatory that has not ratified the protocol, and it accounted for 36% greenhouse gases in 1990. In 2011, Canada, Japan and Russia also said they would not take any additional targets.

Canada has opted out of the protocol, the US has not set any targets.

Was it a success?

The Kyoto Protocol is instrumental in

  • Helping kickstart projects in developing countries

  • Aid in research and implementing new, cleaner technologies

  • Providing financial commitment to developing countries by developed countries

  • Encouraging developing countries to share and supply technology to developing countries

In 2005, negotiations were held on measures after the second commitment period (which ends in 2020) which led to the Paris climate agreement.

So far the protocol has very little effect on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It is mostly looked upon as an essential first step towards figuring out a stronger solution and holding countries more accountable.


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