The Kyoto Protocol: Relevance And Achievement – OpEd


The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty that was adopted on December 11, 1997, in Kyoto, Japan, and entered into force on February 16, 2005. It represents one of the earliest and most significant efforts to combat climate change on a global scale.

The main goal of the Kyoto Protocol is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate global warming. Key aspects of the Kyoto Protocol include:

a. Legally Binding Commitments: Unlike earlier climate change agreements, the Kyoto Protocol imposed legally binding commitments on participating countries to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases.

b. Emission Targets: The Protocol set specific targets for developed countries and the European Union to reduce their emissions of six greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs) by an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels during the commitment period of 2008 to 2012.

c. Flexibility Mechanisms: The Kyoto Protocol introduced three market-based mechanisms to help countries meet their targets in a cost-effective way: International Emissions Trading, Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and Joint Implementation (JI). These mechanisms allowed countries to earn or buy carbon credits by investing in emission reduction projects in other countries.

d. Differentiated Responsibilities: The Protocol followed the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” recognizing that developed countries are principally responsible for the current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to their historical industrial activities.

e. Compliance Mechanism: The Kyoto Protocol established a compliance mechanism to ensure that countries meet their obligations, including a monitoring and reporting system, and consequences for non-compliance.

In nutshell, the Kyoto Protocol was a landmark in international environmental diplomacy and laid the groundwork for subsequent climate change agreements.

Historical background

The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty that extends the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that commits state parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, based on the scientific consensus that (part one) global warming is occurring and (part two) it is extremely likely that human-made CO2 emissions have predominantly caused it.

The protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005:

a. Background and Adoption: It was a landmark agreement because it was the first time countries agreed to legally binding limits on their greenhouse gas emissions.

b. Entry into Force: For the protocol to enter into force, it required ratification by at least 55 parties to the UNFCCC, which, in total, accounted for at least 55% of the total global greenhouse gas emissions for 1990. This threshold was met on 16 February 2005, primarily after Russia ratified the protocol in November 2004.

c. Commitments: The protocol set binding emission reduction targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community. These targets amounted to an average of five percent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.

Further, the Doha Amendment in 2012, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, which set new commitments for the second commitment period from 2013 to 2020 for participating countries. However, the participation in this second period was lower, with major emitters like Japan, Russia, and Canada opting out. 

Objectives and Achievements

The Kyoto Protocol was designed with specific objectives and achieved various milestones in its efforts to combat global climate change:

a. Promote Sustainable Development: Through mechanisms like the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the protocol aimed to help countries achieve sustainable development by encouraging renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction projects.

b. Foster Global Cooperation: The protocol sought to bring together developed and developing countries in a united effort to address climate change, recognizing that it is a global challenge that requires a global response.

c. Flexibility Mechanisms: The introduction of market-based mechanisms such as Emissions Trading, CDM, and Joint Implementation (JI) was aimed at providing flexibility for countries to meet their emission targets in cost-effective ways.

Achievements of the Kyoto Protocol include:

a. Global Participation: Despite some notable exceptions, the protocol was ratified by a large number of countries around the world, showing a global commitment to addressing climate change.

b. Emission Reductions: Many countries that were part of the protocol’s first commitment period (2008-2012) met or exceeded their emission reduction targets. The protocol’s mechanisms helped to reduce emissions by over 1.2 billion tons, a significant achievement.

c. Market Mechanisms Success: The Clean Development Mechanism led to the registration of thousands of projects in developing countries, contributing to sustainable development and emission reductions in those nations.

d. Increased Awareness and Action: The protocol played a crucial role in raising awareness about climate change and the need for action, leading to increased public and private sector investments in renewable energy and other low-carbon technologies.

e. Foundation for Future Agreements: The Kyoto Protocol set the stage for subsequent climate agreements, most notably the Paris Agreement, by establishing key principles and mechanisms for international climate diplomacy.

f. Reporting and Verification: The protocol established a robust system for the reporting and verification of emissions and reductions, enhancing transparency and accountability in global climate efforts.

Despite its achievements, the Kyoto Protocol also faced criticism and challenges, such as the withdrawal of the United States and the lack of binding commitments for developing countries. However, it remains a landmark agreement that laid the groundwork for more comprehensive and inclusive efforts to tackle global climate change.

Dr. Rajkumar Singh

Dr. Rajkumar Singh is a University Professor for the last 20 years and presently Head of the P.G. Department of Political Science, B.N. Mandal University, West Campus, P.G. Centre,Saharsa (Bihar), India. In addition to 17 books published so far there are over 250 articles to his credit out of which above 100 are from 30 foreign countries. His recent published books include Transformation of modern Pak Society-Foundation, Militarisation, Islamisation and Terrorism (Germany, 2017),and New Surroundings of Pak Nuclear Bomb (Mauritius, 2018). He is an authority on Indian Politics and its relations with foreign countries.

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