11:32 am - Monday May 28, 2012

Kyoto Protocol

kyoto_protocolThe Kyoto Protocol is a protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC), aimed at fighting global warming. The UNFCCC is an international environmental treaty with the goal of achieving the “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

The Protocol was initially adopted on 11 December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, and entered into force on 16 February 2005. As of September 2011, 191 states have signed and ratified the protocol. The only remaining signatory not to have ratified the protocol is the United States. Other states yet to ratify Kyoto include Afghanistan, Andorra and South Sudan, after Somalia ratified the protocol on 26 July 2010. In 2011, Canada declared its intention to withdraw from the Kyoto treaty.

Under the Protocol, 37 countries (“Annex I countries”) commit themselves to a reduction of four greenhouse gases (GHG) (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride) and two groups of gases (hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons) produced by them, and all member countries give general commitments. At negotiations, Annex I countries (including the US) collectively agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% on average for the period 2008-2012. This reduction is relative to their annual emissions in a base year, usually 1990. Since the US has not ratified the treaty, the collective emissions reduction of Annex I Kyoto countries falls from 5.2 % to 4.2% below base year.[9]:26

Emission limits do not include emissions by international aviation and shipping, but are in addition to the industrial gases, chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which are dealt with under the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

The benchmark 1990 emission levels accepted by the Conference of the Parties of UNFCCC (decision 2/CP.3) were the values of “global warming potential” calculated for the IPCC Second Assessment Report. These figures are used for converting the various greenhouse gas emissions into comparable CO2 equivalents (CO2-eq) when computing overall sources and sinks.

The Protocol allows for several “flexible mechanisms”, such as emissions trading, the clean development mechanism (CDM) and joint implementation to allow Annex I countries to meet their GHG emission limitations by purchasing GHG emission reductions credits from elsewhere, through financial exchanges, projects that reduce emissions in non-Annex I countries, from other Annex I countries, or from annex I countries with excess allowances.

Each Annex I country is required to submit an annual report of inventories of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions from sources and removals from sinks under UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. These countries nominate a person (called a “designated national authority”) to create and manage its greenhouse gas inventory. Virtually all of the non-Annex I countries have also established a designated national authority to manage its Kyoto obligations, specifically the “CDM process” that determines which GHG projects they wish to propose for accreditation by the CDM Executive Board.

The Kyoto Protocol Mechanisms

Under the Treaty, countries must meet their targets primarily through national measures. However, the Kyoto Protocol offers them an additional means of meeting their targets by way of three market-based mechanisms.

The Kyoto mechanisms are:

  • Emissions trading – known as “the carbon market”
  • Clean development mechanism (CDM)
  • Joint implementation (JI).

The mechanisms help stimulate green investment and help Parties meet their emission targets in a cost-effective way.

Monitoring Emission Targets

Under the Protocol, countries’actual emissions have to be monitored and precise records have to be kept of the trades carried out.

Registry systems track and record transactions by Parties under the mechanisms. The UN Climate Change Secretariat, based in Bonn, Germany, keeps an international transaction log to verify that transactions are consistent with the rules of the Protocol.

Reporting is done by Parties by way of submitting annual emission inventories and national reports under the Protocol at regular intervals.

A compliance system ensures that Parties are meeting their commitments and helps them to meet their commitments if they have problems doing so.

Adaptation

The Kyoto Protocol, like the Convention, is also designed to assist countries in adapting to the adverse effects of climate change. It facilitates the development and deployment of techniques that can help increase resilience to the impacts of climate change.

The Adaptation Fund was established to finance adaptation projects and programmes in developing countries that are Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. The Fund is financed mainly with a share of proceeds from CDM project activities.

The Road Ahead

The Kyoto Protocol is generally seen as an important first step towards a truly global emission reduction regime that will stabilize GHG emissions, and provides the essential architecture for any future international agreement on climate change.

By the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012, a new international framework needs to have been negotiated and ratified that can deliver the stringent emission reductions the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has clearly indicated are needed.

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