Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change

    The Kyoto Protocol 1997 involved a process of inter-governmental negotiations over a 13-year period. The following provides an historical overview of these negotiations, from the original meeting of nations in 1992, to the Protocol’s coming into force in 2005.
    The Kyoto Protocol is an international system of governance, implemented under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change for the purpose of regulating levels of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. The Protocol was first principally adopted in United Nations-sponsored meeting held in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan (hence, the name “Kyoto Protocol”); by January 2004, several countries had ratified the Kyoto Protocol, including Japan, Canada, New Zealand, and most European signatories. In November 2004, Russian had also ratified the Protocol and officially came into force in 2005, after being formally ratified by the required number of nations. As a system of governance, the Protocol is underwritten by national governments and is operated under the aegis of the United Nations. Participating nations have agreed to meet certain greenhouse gas emissions targets, as well as agreed to submit reports for external review by United Nations-based bodies regarding enforcement of these commitments.
    The Kyoto Protocol was adopted by a number of countries, at present, 194 countries, including the United States, Germany and China, make up the member states.
    It is important to note that nations do not have the same emission reduction targets under the Protocol. Instead, different groups of nations have different targets. Canada’s target, for example, is to bring greenhouse gas emissions to six percent lower than what its emissions were in the year 1990. Most European countries, by contrast, are obliged to reduce their emissions to eight percent below their 1990 levels. The Protocol requires each participating nation to achieve its particular emissions targets by the period 2008-2012.The understanding was that nations should not sacrifice necessary economic development in order to meet their Kyoto obligations.
    Under the Protocol, “ratifying nations” are divided into basic two categories: developed nations and developing nations and this distinction is based on economics. Developed Nations are referred to under the Protocol as “Annex 1” countries, such as Canada, Japan, Russia, and most European nations. Developing Nations are referred to as “Non-Annex 1” countries to represent economies considered to be underdeveloped or in the process of developing, such as China, India, and the nations of Africa and South America.
    Only Annex 1 nations have binding greenhouse gas emission targets, while Non-Annex 1 countries are currently exempt. This means that greenhouse gas emitters, such as China and India, are not obliged to limit their emissions and may, in fact, increase their production of greenhouse gases without penalty. Non-Annex 1 countries, however, do have an important role to play in the Protocol’s flexibility mechanisms (see below); developed nations (Annex 1 countries) receive emission credits for funding greenhouse gas reduction projects in developing nations (Non-annex 1 countries). Moreover, special funds, such as the Least Developed Countries Fund, have been committed under the Protocol to aid developing countries in dealing with greenhouse gas emissions and the potential impact of global warming.
    The Protocol’s distinction between developed and developing nations is based on recognition that developed nations had been the leading contributors to increasing greenhouse gas levels over the last century and, as such, should take the lead in stabilizing the process of global warming. As such, negotiating parties further agreed that developing nations should not be required to sacrifice economic development in order to reduce or stabilize their greenhouse gas emissions – accounting for their exemption from emission targets.
    Note:Ratification means that these nations have formally adopted the Protocol in their domestic political institutions and are formally committed to meeting their specific greenhouse gas emission targets and are open to external review and enforcement by United Nations-based bodies.