What is the Kyoto Protocol?
Adopted on December 11, 1997 at the third Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP3) in Kyoto, Japan, the Kyoto Protocol commits industrialized countries to stabilizing GHG emissions during the first commitment period.
When is the first commitment period?
Parties to the Protocol are assigned emission targets, or allowable emissions, over the first commitment period. Industrialized countries must take domestic action first in order to reduce emissions and help combat climate change. However, under the Protocol, Parties are allowed a degree of flexibility in order to achieve their emission reduction commitments. This flexibility comes in the form of three market-based mechanisms.
Under the Protocol, three mechanisms were established to help countries stabilize and reduce GHG emissions worldwide. These mechanisms include: Emissions Trading (also known as the “carbon market”), the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and Joint Implementation (JI).
CDM and JI are considered project-based mechanisms which help feed the carbon market. Through the CDM, Parties to the Protocol invest in sustainable development projects in order to reduce emissions in developing countries. The JI mechanism, on the other hand, enables industrialized countries to implement projects with other developed countries (often with economies in transition).
Why do developed nations hold a heavier burden to reduce their GHG emissions?
The Kyoto Protocol adheres to a principal of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” In the case of climate change, richer developed countries share the most responsibility for creating the climate change problem, yet the world’s poorest nations face its harshest effects. Furthermore, the countries facing the greatest impact of climate change have little means to reduce this threat.
Recognizing this reality, the Protocol differentiates between levels of responsibility and allowable emissions among Annex I nations (developed countries who have signed the Protocol) and Non Annex I nations (those that are not Parties to the Protocol – namely developing nations and economies-in-transition). Non Annex I nations are not required to reduce their emissions, although they are encouraged to establish policies and encourage projects that still do so (particularly economies-in-transition such as China and India who are also heavy emitters).
How are targets monitored?
Parties to the Protocol are required to keep a national registry in order to track and record transactions under the mechanisms. These are recorded in an independent transaction log (ITL) in order to ensure that the transactions meet the rules of the Protocol and compliance is then verified by expert review teams.
Adaptation to climate change
Both the Convention and the Protocol are designed to help countries adapt to inevitable climate change impacts. In addition, they encourage the development of techniques that increase impact resilience. In order to help finance adaptation projects and programs within developing countries, the Adaptation Fund was established, utilizing a share of the proceeds from CDM project activities (2% of CERs per project), along with other sources.
What happens after the first commitment period?
In 2012, the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol concludes. In order to maintain and ideally increase global GHG emission reductions, a new (or additional) international framework is under negotiation. Last December, at COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, several nations signed on to what is known as the Copenhagen Accord. However, this document is not considered legally-binding and negotiations still continue as nations try to strengthen and solidify an international framework.