The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement forged in Kyoto Japan in December of 1997 that seeks to limit world greenhouse gas emissions to slow the progress of global warming. The Protocol entered into force on February 16th, 2005 after ratification by Russia in November of 2004.

Background There is a lengthy history of governmental negotiations leading up to the crafting of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. In 1972, the first World Summit was convened in Stockholm Sweden, at which time governmental leaders declared the intention of reconvening every ten years in order to reassess the health of the planet.

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The 1982 summit held in Nairobi, Kenya was such a dismal failure, though (due to tensions between the Soviets and Western governments), that it was never considered to have been a true "Earth Summit," and it was not until 1992 that the Second Earth Summit was convened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was at this summit that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was finalized for ratification.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
(UNFCCC) of 1992

During the 1980's, prior to the 1992 Second Earth Summit, attention was being paid to the possibility that climate change was under way as a result of human activities, and in 1987, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was formed by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), "to assess the available scientific, technical and socio-economic information in the field of climate change." In 1990, the first report of the IPCC was released. It called for immediate action to avoid the effects of a warming climate. This report was supported by representatives at the Second World Climate Conference which occurred later that same year. Immediate negotiation of a framework convention on climate change was called for by the representatives of this second climate conference. The UN General Assembly created a committee to draft a treaty for the Second Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. That treaty, now known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), was subsequently accepted and signed by more than 150 nations represented at the Rio Conference. Kyoto Protocol.

The ultimate objective of the UNFCCC was: "Stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system." It stated further that "such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change and to insure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner."

Countries ratifying the convention agreed:

  1. To develop programs to slow climate change
  2. To share technology and cooperate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  3. To develop a greenhouse gas inventory listing national sources and sinks

At the Second Earth Summit in Rio, it was generally agreed that the responsibility falls upon the developed nations to lead the fight against climate change, as they are largely responsible for the current concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The original target for emission reductions that was generally accepted in 1992 was that the developed nations should, at a minimum, seek to return to 1990 levels of emissions by the year 2000. Additionally, developed nations should provide financial and technological aid and assistance to the developing nations to produce inventories and work toward more efficient energy use. Kyoto Protocol.

The parties to the Framework Convention agreed to meet annually in order to develop realistic mechanisms to meet the goals of the Convention; the first meeting, or "Conference of the Parties" (COP), was held in 1995 in Rome, Italy (COP1), the second (COP2) in Geneva, Switzerland, and the third Conference of the Parties (COP3) was scheduled to be held in Kyoto, Japan in 1997 to implement legally binding agreements on greenhouse gas emissions.

The Dilemma of Equitable Emissions Reductions

There are inherent conflicts of interest related to the issue of climate change. Traditional points of digression between developed and developing nations of the world become overwhelmingly apparent during climate change negotiations. The developed world has a relatively high standard of living in comparison to the developing world. The developed world is largely responsible for the current dangerous levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, yet the developing world will likely be hit the hardest by the outcomes of climate change.

Concern about the rates of population growth and future industrial growth in developing nations has caused industrialized nations to demand that developing nations be bound by any agreement on emissions reductions. The developing nations argue that they don't possess the economic or technological resources to buy into an agreement yet. They see the demands of the developed nations as an attempt to stifle their economic and industrial growth, while they are desperately striving for a higher standard of living and a better life. They ask why they should be responsible for remediating a mess they did not create. Kyoto Protocol.

In the United States, reservations about the lack of commitment by developing nations led to the passage of the non-binding Byrd-Hagel Resolution the U.S. Congress in early 1997. The resolution had two main points:

  1. The U.S. will not enter into an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that will be detrimental to the economy of the U.S.
  2. The U.S. will not enter into an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that does not require "meaningful involvement" on the part of developing nations.

While this resolution was an effort to safeguard U.S. interests, it became a significant psychological and legal impediment to stringent restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. Such obvious reservations about emissions reductions on the part of the world's richest and most powerful nation did not foster optimism about the likelihood of an aggressive international agreement to curb climate change. While the Clinton administration would ultimately send a delegation to help negotiate the Kyoto Protocol, it was faced with the challenge of satisfying the requirements laid out in the Byrd-Hagel resolution and then garnering enough support for Senate ratification, ultimately a fruitless task.

The Kyoto Conference of 1997

In December of 1997 the countries which met in Rio in 1992 re-convened in Kyoto to develop a set of legally binding agreements on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Prior to the conference several developed nations had made proposals outlining the extent to which reductions should take place. The U.S. proposed that nations should be required to stabilize their greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels in the interval 2008 -2012. (Keep in mind that is 8 -12 years later than was proposed as a minimum target in Rio). The European Union proposed that nations should be required to reduce their emissions to 15% below 1990 levels by the year 2010. Kyoto Protocol.

Kyoto was not just a meeting of delegates sent by each nation to discuss and draft a greenhouse gas reductions agreement, but rather, it was a collection of representatives from every organization with a vested interest in the outcome of the agreement, from lobbyists for oil and coal corporations, to the directors and chairmen of NGO's (non-governmental organizations) like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, to ecologists and climatologists studying the issue of warming, to the handful of greenhouse skeptics, to numerous representative from the U.S. Congress. The stakes in this type of agreement are high and the chasm between the developed and developing nations becomes that much wider and more apparent.

After 10 days of discussion and occasional heated debate, the delegates at the Kyoto Conference reached an agreement. The Kyoto Protocol calls for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions for several industrialized nations below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. The U.S. agreed to a 7% reduction, and the European Union and Japan agreed to 8% and 6% reductions, respectively. Twenty-one other industrialized nations agreed to similar binding targets. The Protocol allows for the trading of "emissions quotas" among industrialized nations, a significant victory for the United States. Emissions trading would allow nations that failed to meet their binding targets to purchase emissions credits from nations that had emissions levels that were lower than their required targets. This would allow a nation like the U.S. that has high emissions levels, but also a lot of capital, to satisfy the agreement. However, despite adamant opposition by the U.S. and other industrialized nations, the Protocol also indicated that there would be no binding commitments required of developing countries.

Ratification in 2005

In order to be implemented, the Kyoto Protocol had to be ratified by national governments the world over. At least 55 parties to the convention (from among 176 nations) were needed to ratify the Protocol and the ratifying countries had to account for more than 55% of 1990 greenhouse gas emissions in order for the Protocol to become international law. Since the United States and Russia were responsible for 36% and 17%, respectively, of 1990 greenhouse gas emissions, these two countries were seen as key players, with the ratification of at least one of the two countries essential for implementation of the Protocol.

When the second Bush administration withdrew the United States from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, it was seen by some as sounding the death knell for the ratification process. The US Administration claimed that the science was unsound and argued that adherence to the provisions of the Protocol would be harmful to the US economy. Russia used similar arguments to forestall ratification, but eventually was persuaded by the possibility of advantageous emissions trading coupled with pressure from the European Union in return for the EU's support of Russia's admission to the World Trade Organization. As of February 16, 2005, 141 nations had ratified the Protocol, accounting for 61.6% of 1990 greenhouse gas emission (Source: UNFCC Kyoto Protocol Thermometer), and the Protocol entered into force, ninety days after ratification by the Russian Duma, or lower house of parliament.

What is the Impact?

Even if the Protocol were implemented by all parties to the Kyoto conference, it would result in a just a 5.2% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels, reducing anthropogenic emissions from around 7.2 billions tons per year to about 6.8 billion tons per year. From an environmental standpoint, this agreement falls woefully short of measures needed to head off the warming of the earth. Most scientists studying this issue are calling for a stabilization of the composition of the atmosphere. That would mean emissions reductions on the order of 50% of 1990 levels in addition to the cessation of widescale deforestation, also a contributor to greenhouse gas accumulation. The Kyoto Protocol is seen by most environmentalists as a tiny step in the right direction.
However, human action is essential. As stated by George M. Woodwell, Director of The Woods Hole Research Center, "There is at the moment no obvious mechanism that will slow, stop, or otherwise deflect the warming short of stabilization of the composition of the atmosphere by human action."

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Potential Outcome

Three known human actions can move towards the stabilization of the composition of the atmosphere:
- Decreasing the use of fossil fuels by switching to renewable energy resources
- Decreasing or eliminating deforestation
- Increasing rates of reforestation Immediate action is imperative when the time scales of remediation are considered. Kyoto Protocol.
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Kyoto, (pop. 1,467,705), is one of Japan's largest cities. It lies on Honshu Island, about 27 miles (43 kilometers) inland from the industrial center of Osaka. Kyoto was Japan's capital from A.D. 794 to 1868, and it became the home of many of the country's cultural treasures.
Kyoto is an important religious center, with many Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines housing priceless works of art. One of the most beautiful sights, the Golden Pavilion, was built in 1397 and rebuilt in the 1950's. Deputies of the Tokugawa shoguns lived in Nijo Castle from the 1600's to the 1800's. The Imperial Palace, first erected in A.D. 794, was rebuilt in 1855.
The city has many institutions of higher education, including the government-controlled Kyoto University, and Doshisha University, a Protestant school.
Workers in small factories produce exquisite textile, ceramic, lacquer, and cloisonne goods. Weaving and dyeing silks is an important industry.
Emperor Kammu established Japan's capital at Kyoto in A.D. 794. He called it Heian-kyo, meaning capital of peace and tranquillity. Many Japanese called it Miyako, meaning imperial city, or Kyoto, meaning capital city. Tokyo replaced Kyoto as the capital in 1868. Kyoto was the only major Japanese city which escaped bombing during World War II (1939-1945).


Japan is an island country in the North Pacific Ocean. It lies off the east coast of mainland Asia across from Russia, Korea, and China. Four large islands and thousands of smaller ones make up Japan. The four major islands-Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku-form a curve that extends for about 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers). About 127 million people are crowded on these islands, making Japan one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

The Japanese call their country Nippon or Nihon, which means source of the sun. The name Japanmay have come from Zipangu, the Italian name given to the country by Marco Polo, a Venetian traveler of the late 1200's. Polo had heard of the Japanese islands while traveling through China.

Mountains and hills cover most of Japan, making it a country of great beauty. But the mountains and hills take up so much area that the great majority of the people live on a small portion of the land-narrow plains along the coasts. These coastal plains have much of Japan's best farmland and most of the country's major cities. Most of the people live in urban areas. Japan's big cities are busy, modern centers of culture, commerce, and industry. Tokyo is the capital and largest city.

Japan is one of the world's economic giants. Its total economic output is exceeded only by that of the United States. The Japanese manufacture a wide variety of products, including automobiles, computers, steel, television sets, textiles, and tires. The country's factories have some of the most advanced equipment in the world. Japan has become a major economic power even though it has few natural resources. Japan imports many of the raw materials needed for industry and exports finished manufactured goods.

Life in Japan reflects the culture of both the East and the West. For example, the favorite sporting events in the country are baseball games and exhibitions of sumo, an ancient Japanese style of wrestling. Although most Japanese wear Western-style clothing, many women dress in the traditional kimono for festivals and other special occasions. The Japanese no and kabuki dramas, both hundreds of years old, remain popular. But the Japanese people also flock to see motion pictures and rock music groups. Many Japanese artworks combine traditional and Western styles and themes.

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