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What is the Kyoto Protocol

Posted by Admin on August 25, 2014 | Comment



The fact that much of the global warming is ‘human-induced’ and it is the collective responsibility of the nations to mitigate its impact is reflected in the Kyoto Protocol – an international agreement established under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). As per this protocol, every participating nation is given emission reduction target, which is internationally binding.

History of Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on December 11, 1997. It took four years to create a detailed framework of rules for the implementation of the Protocol. In 2001, the rules were finalized at COP 7 in Marrakesh, Morocco. These are referred to as the “Marrakesh Accords.” The protocol came into effect on 16 February 2005. Presently, there are 192 parties (191 countries and 1 regional economic integration organisation) to the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC.

Objective of Kyoto Protocol

The main objective of the Kyoto Protocol is to make reductions in human-emitted greenhouse gases (GHGs).  The protocol shares the same objective agreed in the 1992 UN Framework Convention – “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would stop dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

The Protocol established emission reduction commitment periods with the first commitment period (2008–2012) coming to an end on 31 December 2012. Although nations were somewhat able to meet their first-round commitments, much greater reductions in emissions are needed to eliminate the concentration of CO from the atmosphere.

Developments since the Establishment of Kyoto Protocol

Since the Kyoto Protocol considers developed nations to be “principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere”, it places greater burden on them under the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” Almost every developed nation except US and Canada is a party to the protocol. While the US signed but did not ratify the Protocol, Canada withdrew from it in 2011.

The protocol was amended in 2012 to accommodate the second commitment period (between 2013 and 2020). However, it’s yet to be ratified. India has recently pitched for early ratification of second commitment period so that it becomes legally binding on rich nations to cut their emissions under specified targets till 2020. A widely controversial step was taken by the protocol by establishing a global trading system wherein nations get to earn credits toward their emission target if they invest in emission reductions outside their own country.

Kyoto Protocol Bodies


The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the platform for the parties to the Kyoto Protocol to meet and discuss future agenda. It is referred to as Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP). It meets annually during the same time when the COP meeting is held. The developing nations and other countries that are not party to the Convention can participate in the CMP as observers, but they can’t take decisions.

The functions of the CMP are in sync with those carried out by the COP. The first CMP meeting was held in Canada in December 2005. CMP is served by two permanent subsidiary bodies – Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI).  Moreover, The Bureau of the COP also serves the CMP. However, the member of the COP Bureau must represent a Kyoto Protocol Party.

Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Executive Board

The CDM Executive Board oversees the working of CDM under the Kyoto Protocol and shoulders the responsibility of preparing decisions for the CMP. Besides accreditation of operational entities, the board performs several tasks pertaining to CDM’s daily operation.

Joint Implementation Supervisory Committee (JISC) & Compliance Committee

JISC is guided by the CMP in its effort to supervise the verification of emission reduction units (ERUs) generated by joint implementation projects. For handling any compliance related issue, the Compliance Committee was established. It consists of a Facilitative Branch and an Enforcement Branch.

India’s Take on Kyoto Protocol

Over 100 developing countries are exempted from the Kyoto Protocol. Although India does not have binding targets under the Protocol, yet it remains committed to reduce its emissions. Like developed nations, India has taken several actions which include improving energy efficiency, reducing deforestation, and supporting renewable energy. Time and again, India has affirmed its commitment to proactively tackle the issue of climate change. The government has also announced a 2020 goal of reducing emissions.

Criticisms of the Kyoto Protocol

Environmental economists have been vocal about the inefficacy of the protocol. While some are of the opinion that the emission standards set by Kyoto are too optimistic, others believe that it’s an “inequitable and inefficient agreement” which won’t be of much help in curbing greenhouse gas emissions. It was also pointed out that the costs of the Kyoto Protocol far outweigh its benefits. In another interesting observation, an environmentalist noted that the emission limits set under the protocol don’t include emissions by international aviation and shipping.

James E. Hansen, an eminent climate scientist, has been highly critical of the Kyoto Protocol “cap and trade” system considering it as “inefficient and indulgent”. He called for “progressive carbon tax” instead of a counter-productive agreement on reducing emissions.