Objectives of the Protocol
The objective of the Protocol is the stabilization of levels of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Global warming has become a global concern; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations agency, has predicted the earth’s average temperature will increase between the years 1990 and 2100, with potentially significant environmental and social consequences. Moreover, the IPCC has linked the global warming phenomenon to human actions, and specifically, to increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions by humans through such activities as the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and industrial and agricultural production. The Protocol is meant to serve as a framework by which participating countries work cooperatively to stabilize concentrations of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere.
The major feature of the Protocol is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European Community (Parties to the Protocol) to reducing six major greenhouse gas(GHG) emission- carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs), and per fluorocarbons (PFCs). The Parties to the Protocol have agreed to lower overall emissions by 5.2% calculated as an average over the five-year period of 2008-12. The Protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations, who are principally responsible for the current high levels of emissions in the atmosphere, under the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” National targets for developed countries range from 8% reductions for the European Union (for the 15 countries that were EU members in 1997) to 7% for the US, 6% for Japan, 0% for Russia, and permitted increases of 8% for Australia and 10% for Iceland compared to 1990 levels. Developing countries, including India and China, do not have to commit to specific targets. However, they have to report their emissions levels and have to develop national climate change mitigation programs.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries must meet their targets primarily through national measures. The Parties to the Protocol are also allowed to use emissions trading to meet their obligations. The emission trading is a cap-and-trade system, which allow Parties that can easily meet their targets to sell credits to those that cannot. As such protocol provides mechanism also to meet their obligations and which is another important element of the Kyoto Protocol and known as flexibility mechanisms. These enable participating nations to achieve their emission targets by means other than simply reducing their own national emissions of greenhouse gases.
There are three market-based mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol in order to assist countries who ratified the Protocol to meet their targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Those mechanisms are Emissions Trading, Joint Implementation (JI) and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
- Emissions Trading: This mechanism allows Annex 1 nations to purchase emission ‘credits’ from other Annex 1 countries. Some countries will be below the emission targets assigned to them under the Protocol and, as such, will have spare emission credits. Under the emissions trading system, other nations may purchase these spare credits and use them towards their own emission targets.
- Joint Implementation (JI): JI is a project-based activity in which one country can receive emission reduction credits if it funds a project in another country where the emissions are actually reduced. It offers a flexible and cost-efficient means to fulfill parties’ obligation to Kyoto agreement, while the host party can benefit from foreign investment and technology transfer.
- Clean Development Mechanism (CDM): This mechanism allows developed (or Annex 1) nations to receive emission credits towards their own emission targets by participating in certain projects in developing (or Non-Annex 1) countries. These Clean Development projects must be approved by members of the Protocol and must contribute to sustainable development and greenhouse gas emission reductions in the host developing country.
These mechanisms are meant to provide individual countries some flexibility in meeting their particular emission targets, while still ensuring an overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Clean Development Mechanism, for example, the Annex 1 nation receives emission credits for reducing greenhouse gas emission in a developing nation. Hence, while emissions in the Annex 1 nation have in actuality remained the same, overall global emissions have been reduced.
In addition to these flexibility mechanisms, the Protocol also provides for a compliance regime consisting of a Compliance Committee that is made up of two branches: a Facilitation Branch and an Enforcement Branch. The mandate of the Facilitation Branch is to provide advice to, and assist, participating nations in meeting their Protocol commitments. The Enforcement Branch, by contrast, has the power to assess whether or not nations have met their emission commitments, and to determine possible consequences for non-compliance. Under the Protocol, nations that fail to meet their emission targets are required to make up the shortfall, plus an additional 30 percent goal, over the next emissions target period. Moreover, the Enforcement Branch may also assess a financial penalty to violating nations by suspending their eligibility to sell emission credits under the Protocol’s emission trading system.