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The Kyoto Protocol is the first additional protocol to the UNFCCC. The global agreement was the first of its kind when it was established in 1997. The primary goal was to mitigate climate change. The protocol established concrete and binding efforts to target the greenhouse gas emissions. More so, the Kyoto protocol entered into force in 2005 and expired in 2020. As it expired, it was replaced by the more ambitious Paris Agreement.


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

The climate convention has established policies and measures that aim to tackle climate change. For example, it states that industrialised nations should take a greater responsibility than developing ones. This is because they were responsible for the greater part of the emissions. The industrialised nations are called Annex I while the developing nations are referred to as Non-Annex I. Furthermore, Annex I countries are expected to report on their climate mitigation efforts more regularly than Non-Annex I nations.

The UNFCCC does not establish any concrete measures regarding greenhouse gas reductions. It is simply a framework, set goals for nations to work towards. Therefore, the convention allows for additional protocols. The first one of these is the Kyoto protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto protocol was the result of the COP3-meeting in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997. However, it did not enter into force until 2005. It operationalises the UNFCCC by establishing concrete limitations to greenhouse gas emissions. More so, it asked nations to work actively in their reduction of emissions.

Each nation had individual targets to work towards. These targets followed the principles of the UNFCCC. Meaning that it put a greater pressure on 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 was a group of nations that counted as Annex I countries because their economies were growing.

Three mechanisms

The Kyoto protocol had three global marked-based mechanisms. These were called international emission trading, clean development mechanism (CDM) and joint implementation (JI).

The mechanisms aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while being cost-effective for all. Another aim of these mechanisms was to enable a fair distribution of green technology.

Success or failure?

In 2012, the emissions of the industrialised nations had dropped 20 % from 1990 levels. The EU had cut emissions with 19 % and countries such as Germany 23 %. These numbers show some of the positive effects of the Kyoto protocol. However, the overall global emissions had gone up about 38 %.

One of the issues was that the United States never signed the Kyoto Protocol. More so, China counted as a Non-Annex I nation (not an industrialised nation). Which meant that the binding part of the Kyoto Protocol did not apply to China. These two nations are the world’s greatest emitters of greenhouse gases. Today, China is responsible for about 27 % of the emissions while the US stands for 11 % of the global total.

Because of the above facts, many refer to the protocol as a failure. Furthermore, it was criticised for the lack of climate targets for nations in the Global South. This made it possible for the economies of countries like China, India and Indonesia to grow rapidly. Naturally, the development led to huge emissions of greenhouse gases. Today, more than half of the worlds emissions come from developing or emerging economies.

The Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement is seen as a more successful agreement than the Kyoto Protocol. Since it includes nearly all of the countries in the world. This means that all countries, industrialised or not, has agreed to reduce global warming. This also includes that all nations have agreed to reduction targets. However, most nations have struggled to meet their targets.


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