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The Kyoto Protocol is the first additional protocol to the UNFCCC; it was created in 1997 and entered into force in 2005. The global agreement set mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions for industrialised nations. In 2020, it expired and got replaced by the more ambitious Paris Agreement.

The Kyoto Protocol is named after Kyoto in Japan, which is where it was created.


As mentioned, the Kyoto Protocol is the first additional protocol to the UNFCCC, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The convention is the first international agreement to fight climate change, established in 1992. It is signed by 197 countries, making it a nearly universal treaty. More so, the abbreviation also refers to the UN climate change secretariat in Bonn, Germany.

The UNFCCC is a framework for international cooperation to tackle climate change. For example, it states that industrialised nations are more responsible for climate change since they have emitted the most greenhouse gases. In the convention, industrialised nations are known as Annex I, while developing countries are Non-AnnexI. Among many things, the first group had to report on their climate mitigation efforts more frequently than the latter.

The UNFCCC has no concrete measure for greenhouse gasreductions. It is a framework, not a binding agreement. Therefore, the convention allows for additional protocols. Such as the Kyoto protocol and the Paris Agreement. The added deals operationalise the UNFCCC. 

The Kyoto Protocol

As mentioned, the protocol was created in Kyoto, Japan. It resulted from COP3, the third international meeting on climate change. The primary outcome was establishing concrete limitations to greenhouse gas emissions for developed countries. It also stated that nations must work actively to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Each nation had individual emission targets. These goals followed the principles of the UNFCCC, which means they were stricter for Annex I countries. For example, it set binding emission reduction targets for 37 industrialised countries, the EU and the so-called economies in transition. The latter refers to nations with growing economies, hence counting as Annex I.

Three mechanisms

The Kyoto protocol had three global marked-based mechanisms. These were international emission tradingclean development mechanism (CDM) and joint implementation(JI). The mechanisms aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while being cost-effective for all. Another aim was to enable a fair distribution of green technology.

Success or failure?

The protocol managed to reduce emissions from the industrialised nations that had signed it. For example, by 2012, emissions had dropped by 20 % compared to the level in 1990. The European Union had cut emissions by 19 % and countries like Germany by 23 %. These numbers show a positive outcome of the Kyoto protocol. However, the total global emissions increased by about 38 % during the same period.

One of the reasons for the results above was that the worlds leading greenhouse gas emitters, China and the United States, failed to reduce their emissions. The United States, which counted as an Annex I nation, never signed the Kyoto protocol. At the same time, China counted as a Non-Annex I country, which meant that the binding part of the protocol did not apply to China. Today, China is responsible for about 27 % of the emissions, while the US represents 11 % of the global total.

Because of the facts above, many refer to the protocol as a failure. Furthermore, it got criticised for the lack of climate targets for nations in the Global South. The lack of emission restrictions made it possible for countries like China, India and Indonesia to develop their industrial sector. Naturally, the development led to huge emissions of greenhouse gases. Today, more than half of the world’s emissions come from developing or emerging economies.

The Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement is seen as a more successful agreement than the Kyoto protocol, partly because it demands reductions from nearly all the countries in the world. This means that all countries, industrialised or not, have agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, most nations struggle to meet their targets.


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