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Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol is a proposed amendment to an international treaty on global warming -- the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Countries which ratify this protocol will commit to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which are linked to global warming. It also reaffirms sections of the UNFCCC.

The formal name of the proposed agreement is the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. [1]

It was negotiated in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997, opened for signature on March 16, 1998, and closed on March 15, 1999.

Table of contents
1 Details of the treaty
2 Status of the treaty
3 Current positions of governments
4 Controversy
5 Kyoto Now!
6 External links

Details of the treaty

According to a press release from the United Nations Environment Programme:

The Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding agreement under which industrialized countries will reduce their collective emissions of some greenhouse gases by 5.2% compared to the year 1990 (but note that, compared to the emissions levels that would be expected by 2010 without the Protocol, this target represents a 29% cut.) The goal is to lower overall emissions from six greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs - calculated as an average over the five-year period of 2008 - 12. National targets range from 8% reductions for the European Union and some others to 7% for the US, 6% for Japan, 0% for Russia, and permitted increases of 8% for Australia and 10% for Iceland. [1]

It is a protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was adopted in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. All parties to the UNFCCC can sign or ratify the Kyoto Protocol, while non-parties to the UNFCCC cannot. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted at the third session of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan.

Most provisions of the Kyoto Protocol apply to developed countries, listed in Annex I to the UNFCCC.

Financial commitments

The Protocol also reaffirms the principle that developed countries have to pay, and supply technology to, other countries for climate-related studies and projects. This was originally agreed in the UNFCCC.

Emissions trading

General article: emissions trading

The protocol operates in an interesting fashion. Each Annex I country has agreed to limit emissions to the levels described in the protocol, but many countries have limits that are set above their current production. These "extra amounts" can be purchased by other countries on the open market. So, for instance, Russia currently easily meets its targets, and can sell off its credits for millions of dollars to countries that don't yet meet their targets, Canada for instance. This rewards countries that meet their targets, and provides financial incentives to others to do so as soon as possible.

Countries also receive credits through various shared "clean energy" programs and "carbon sinks" in the form of forests and other systems that remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Washington D.C.-based NGO, in their report "Getting It Right: Emerging Markets for Storing Carbon in Forests", assumes values of $30-40/ton in the US and $70-80/ton in Europe. On April 18, 2001, The Netherlands purchased credits for 4 megatons of carbon dioxide emissions from Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic.

Status of the treaty

As of February 2002, the agreement had been ratified by 104 countries, representing 43.9% of emissions [1]. Countries do not need to sign the treaty in order to ratify it—signing is a symbolic act only. A total of 19 countries had signed the protocol but not ratified it. The remaining 58 parties to the UNFCCC had neither signed nor ratified the protocol.

According to the terms of the protocol, it enters into force "on the ninetieth day after the date on which not less than 55 Parties to the Convention, incorporating Parties included in Annex I which accounted in total for at least 55 per cent of the total carbon dioxide emissions for 1990 of the Parties included in Annex I, have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession."


The protocol left several issues open, to be decided later by the COP. COP6 attempted to resolve these issues at its meeting in the Hague in late 2000, but was unable to reach an agreement due to disputes between the European Union on the one hand (which favoured a tougher agreement) and the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia on the other (which wanted the agreement to be less demanding and more flexible).

In 2001, a continuation of the previous meeting (COP6bis) was held in Bonn where the required decisions were adopted. After some concessions, the supporters of the protocol (led by the European Union) managed to get Japan and Russia in as well by allowing more use of carbon dioxide sinks.

COP7 was held from 29 Oct - 9 Nov 2001 in Marrakech to establish the final details of the protocol.

Current positions of governments

As of 2002, 104 countries have ratified the protocol, including Canada, People's Republic of China, India, Japan, New Zealand, and the fifteen countries of the European Union.

19 countries have signed the protocol but not ratified it. Of those eight are Annex I countries:

Some countries that have signed but not yet ratified are: Egypt, Indonesia, Israel, Kazakhstan, Marshall Islands, Niger, Philippines, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Solomon Islands.

Position of the former Soviet bloc

The Kyoto Protocol limits emissions to a percentage increase or decrease from their 1990 levels. Since 1990 the economies of most countries in the former Soviet Union have collapsed, as have their greenhouse gas emissions.

Because of this, Russia should have no problem meeting its commitments under Kyoto, as its current emission levels are substantially below its targets. Indeed, it may be able to benefit from selling emissions credits to other countries in the Kyoto Protocol, which are currently using more than their target levels of emissions. For these reasons, Russia was initially expected to ratify the treaty, which would have been sufficient to bring the accord into force.

UN and European backers of the Kyoto Protocol who had hoped Russia would commit to ratification were disappointed in September 2003 when at a Moscow conference Putin indicated his reluctance to sign. Among the reasons for this were the outspoken criticism of Russian scientists for the fundamental scientific foundation of Kyoto - the hypothesis that CO2 is a major driver of world climate change. Russia has committed to examining the treaty in detail (including the science) before making a ratification decisions.[1]

On December 2, 2003, Andrei Illarionov, aide to Vladimir Putin for economic affairs, announced that Russia would not ratify the treaty "in its present form" [1]. However, deputy Minister of Economics Mukhamed Tsikhanov the next day distanced the government from Illarionov's statement, saying that no such decision had been made, and that the government continued to "move towards ratification", though it continued to have reservations that would need to be met before that could take place [1].

The issue of Russian ratification is particularly closely watched in the international community, because Russia's ratification would bring the accord into force, and, conversely, a failure by Russia to ratify, combined with the United States' decision not to ratify, would likely preclude the treaty entering into force at all.

The Ukrainian economy, like the Russian economy, is such that meeting Kyoto commitments should initially be easy, and Ukraine is expected to ratify the treaty.

Position of the European Union

On May 31, 2002, all fifteen members of the European Union deposited the relevant ratification paperwork at the UN. The EU produces around 21% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and has agreed to a cut, on average, by 8% from 1990 emission levels. The EU has consistently been one of the major supporters of the Kyoto Protocol, negotiating hard to get wavering countries on board.

In December, 2002, the EU created a system of emissions trading in an effort to meet these tough targets. Quotas were introduced in six key industries: energy, steel, cement, glass, brick making, and paper/cardboard. There are also fines for member nations that fail to meet their obligations, starting at €40/ton of carbon dioxide in 2005, and rising to €100/ton in 2008. Current EU projections suggest that by 2008 the EU will be at 4.7% below 1990 levels.

Position of the United States

Summary: The United States, although a signatory to the protocol, has neither ratified nor withdrawn from the protocol. The protocol is non-binding over the United States unless ratified.

On June 25, 1997, before the Kyoto Protocol was to be negotiated, the U.S. Senate passed by a 95-0 vote the Byrd-Hagel Resolution (S. Res. 98), which stated the sense of the Senate was that the United States should not be a signatory to any protocol that that did not include binding targets and timetables for developing as well as industrialized nations or "would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States". Disregarding the Senate Resolution, on November 12, 1998, Vice President Al Gore symbolically signed the protocol. Aware of the Senate's view of the protocol, the Clinton Administration never submitted the protocol for ratification.

The current President, George W. Bush, has indicated that he does not intend to submit the treaty for ratification, not because he doesn't support the general idea, but because he is not happy with the details of the treaty. For example, he does not support the split between Annex I countries and others. Bush said of the treaty:

"The world's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases is China. Yet, China was entirely exempted from the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol. This is a challenge that requires a 100 percent effort; ours, and the rest of the world's. America's unwillingness to embrace a flawed treaty should not be read by our friends and allies as any abdication of responsibility. To the contrary, my administration is committed to a leadership role on the issue of climate change. Our approach must be consistent with the long-term goal of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere."

China emits 2,893 million metric tons of CO2 per year (2.3 tons per capita). This compares to 5,410 million from the USA (20.1 tons per capita), and 3,171 million from the EU (8.5 tons per capita). China has ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and is expected to become an Annex I country within the next decade. The US Natural Resources Defense Council, stated in June 2001 that: "By switching from coal to cleaner energy sources, initiating energy efficiency programs, and restructuring its economy, China has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions 17 percent since 1997".

In June 2002, the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the "Climate Action Report 2002". Some observers have interpreted this report as being supportive of the protocol, although the report itself does not explicitly endorse the protocol.

The prospect of the US staying outside the agreement influenced a number of other countries including Australia, Japan, and Canada to discuss whether they should ratify the agreement, putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage with the USA. While Japan and Canada ultimately decided to ratify the protocol, Australia's current government has said it will not ratify. This may change at the next change of government, as the major opposition parties have committed to ratification if in a position to do so.

Position of Canada

On December 17, 2002, Canada ratified the treaty. This was however opposed by groups of businesses, non-governmental climate scientists and energy concerns, using arguments similar to those being used in the US.

However an additional twist is involved. The US is Canada's major trading partner (and vice versa), so with Canadian companies having to pay for emissions, and US companies not, the fear is that Canadian companies will not be able to compete on a fair trading ground. In one example a company can sell natural gas to the US to be burned in an electrical plant to produce electricity. That gas, burned in the US, is not subject to "Kyoto tax". However if that same plant were operated in Canada, the gas would be taxed as it was burned. That would result in the same electricity costing more if produced locally.

The result is an ongoing "war of words", primarily between the government of Alberta (a major oil and gas producer) and the federal government, although non-governmental climate scientists are becoming increasingly vocal in the press in their opposition to the treaty - for example, see This is largely due to the fact that these scientists were shut out of the consultation process while environmental pressure groups were allowed to take part broadly.

It also appears that the federal government will ask for additional credits for "clean" fuels sold to the United States, most notably natural gas.


Advocates of the Kyoto Protocol claim that reducing these emissions is crucially important; carbon dioxide, they believe, is causing the earth's atmosphere to heat up too much (see global warming).

Most prominent among these advocates have been officials of the Clinton administration and many environmentalist organizations. The United Nations and some individual nations' scientific advisory bodies have also issued reports favoring the Kyoto Protocol.

Some critics state that the protocol will prevent or damage economic growth.

  • American Council for Capital Formation[1]
National Bank of New Zealand[1]
John Daly, author of The Greenhouse Trap, August 2002[1]
President George W. Bush[1]
Ken Green, Fraser Institute, [1]

The 1997 Leipzig Declaration called the Kyoto Protocol "dangerously simplistic, quite ineffective, and economically destructive to jobs and standards-of-living". Most of the signers of the Leipzig Declaration are non-scientists or lack credentials in the specific field of climate research.

An open letter was written to Canada's future prime minister, Paul Martin, signed by 46 climate experts from six countries - Martin has yet to respond. A previous open letter was signed by 27 climate experts and sent to current Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien.

Some opponents argue that the protocol does not go far enough to curb greenhouse emissions, and the standards it sets would be totally ineffective at curbing or even slowing climate change. In addition, there have been recent scientific challenges to the idea of carbon credits, planting "Kyoto forests" or tree farms to reduce total carbon dioxide output. Recent evidence shows that this may in fact increase carbon dioxide emissions for the first 10 years, due to the growth pattern of young forests and the effect it has on soil-trapped carbon dioxide. Several industrial countries have made carbon credits an important part of their strategies for reducing their net greenhouse gas outputs, further calling into question the effectiveness of the protocols.

To evaluate the effectiveness of the Kyoto protocol, it is necessary to compare global warming with and without the agreement. Several independent authors agree that the impact of the Kyoto protocol on global warming is very small (a reduction of 0.15 Celsius degrees by 2100, out of a projected total change of 1.4 to 5.8 Celsius degrees). Even some defenders of the Kyoto Protocol agree that the impact of it is small, but they view it as a first step, with more political than practical importance, for future reductions, perhaps of up to 70%.

The Kyoto Protocol can also be evaluated by comparing costs and gains. Several economic analyses were made that show that the Kyoto Protocol is more expensive than the global warming that it avoids. Defenders of the Kyoto Protocol argue however that while the initial greenhouse gas cuts may have little effect, they set the political precedent for bigger (and more effective) cuts in the future. Also, they demonstrate commitment to the precautionary principle.

Some theorists predict that even if the world's leading industrial nations agree to reduce their "greenhouse" emissions as mandated by the Kyoto Protocol, it is likely that there would be no net change in emissions worldwide. As the industrialized countries cut their demand for fossil fuels, the law of supply and demand will tend to cause the world prices of coal, oil and gas go down, making fuel use more affordable for poorer nations. These theorists predict increased fuel use (primarily coal) in the "non-Annex I" countries, tending to offset the reductions of the "Annex I" countries. [1]

Kyoto Now!

Kyoto Now! is a student led movement at colleges and universities across the USA through which students hope to make American universities commit to reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Cornell Kyoto Now! demanded that the University commit, "to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by seven percent below the 1990 levels of emissions by 2004. These reductions are not on a square foot basis, but based on the total campus emissions," as stated in their list of demands made to Campus administration.

Punk band Bad Religion wrote a song called Kyoto Now! for their 2002 album, The Process of Belief, which spoke about the Kyoto Protocol and their opinions on it. It can be considered an anthem for the Kyoto Now! movement.

See also: Citizens for a Sound Economy, Environmental agreements, Emissions trading, global warming

External links