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Kyoto Protocol

What is the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that aims to reduce emissions of the six main greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), perfluorocarbons (PFC), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)) generated by the signatory members of the agreement. It also seeks to promote sustainable growth in developing countries. 

Although the Kyoto Protocol was approved on December 11, 1997, it did not go into effect until February 16, 2005, after a long ratification process by the parties that comprise it. 

The first period of the Kyoto Protocol ran from 2008 to 2012, and the commitment that the 180 countries adhering to it took on was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5% compared to 1990.

The second period began in 2013 with the Doha Amendment extending the Kyoto Protocol, lasting until December 31, 2020. In this second phase, the countries committed to reducing at least 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, still using 1990 as a reference point.

In 2015, the Climate Summit was held in Paris, France, where the  Paris Agreement was forged to replace the Kyoto Protocol. It also upholds the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to reduce the rate of climate change, projecting that they will be limited to zero by 2050. It also proposes containing the level of global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

How many countries ratified and signed the Kyoto Protocol?

By 1997, 84 countries had signed the agreement, and 46 had ratified it. Of the major emitters, only the European Union and Japan joined, while China, Australia, and the United States decided not to. By the year 2001, there were already more than 180 signers. Russia’s ratification allowed the Kyoto Protocol to go into effect in 2005.

For the Kyoto Protocol to go into effect, at least 55 countries had to accept, approve, and ratify it, and they had to include 55% of the carbon emissions produced by developed countries among themselves.

What mechanisms are planned to be implemented to meet the goals?

In the Kyoto Protocol, three implementation mechanisms were established to achieve the objectives of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These complemented each country’s internal policies and decisions to achieve what was set forth. They are:

1.    International emissions trading: this mechanism enables developed countries and countries with transition economies to trade credits to achieve the targets agreed on. This way, countries that stay below the emission limits agreed on can sell their emission credits to other countries. In simpler terms, if a country has emission rights because it emits less than the approved limit, it could sell them to other countries that may need to emit to improve their economy.

2.   Clean development mechanism: this proposes implementing a project for reducing emissions in a developing country by a developed country or one with a transition economy. The latter can obtain salable credits through this action, and those credits count towards achieving its objectives, while the country that receives the project achieves sustainable development.

3.  Joint implementation: this consists of industrialized countries investing in projects by destination countries, and those projects translate into credits. They are computed against the emission reduction quotas attributed to each country. The investing country gains by acquiring the credits at a lower price, and they are used to meet its Kyoto objectives. Recipient countries, on the other hand, are nations with transition economies or developing countries that benefit from investments in sustainable technologies.

What is the Kyoto Protocol’s overall outcome?

  • Data for the Doha Amendment period (1990-2018) shows that total emissions in 2018 were 25% lower than in 1990, exceeding expectations. 
  • The drop in emissions in many countries resulted from the end of the Soviet Union. This meant the fall of a highly polluting economic and industrial system rather than a true adoption of environmental and sustainable measures. 

The Paris Agreement brings hope based on new policies, technologies, and advances in sustainability, the result of a learning process from previous years and increased concern about climate change.

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