What is the Kyoto Protocol and Who Does it Apply To?

The Kyoto Protocol was agreed in 1997 in an attempt to curb greenhouse emissions. However, it doesn’t apply to all countries and has been widely criticised.

The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement which became a legally binding treaty in 2005. It sets specific targets for industrialised nations to reduce carbon emissions by 2012 in an attempt to curb the effects of anthropogenic global warming.

It has been criticised for being both toothless and economically damaging; among the nations not to ratify it was Australia and the U.S (though Australia later backtracked in 2007), while China and India were exempt on account of being considered developing nations at the time the treaty was agreed. However, the Kyoto Protocol’s proponents argue that it is mankind’s best chance at avoiding the worst effects of climate change as a result of human activity.

What is the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol was born out of the earlier treaty agreed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC was the first attempt by industrialised nations to monitor greenhouse emissions and curb carbon pollution. The ultimate goal was to find a way of stabilising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases at a safe level that would mitigate against the worst effects of global warming.

The UNFCCC encouraged nations to reduce emissions but it was not legally binding; the Kyoto Protocol was the first treaty where formal targets were outlined. Industrialised nations were encouraged but not required to ratify the document; emissions caps applied only to those nations who did so. The overall target amounted to a reduction in carbon emissions of around 5% on 1990 levels taken as a four year average between 2008 and 2012.

Which Countries Signed the Kyoto Protocol?

As of November 2009, 191 states had ratified or otherwise approved the Kyoto Protocol, accounting for 63.7% of Annex I country emissions. Annexe I countries are a group defined by the UNFCCC, including all OECD countries and ‘economies in transition’. A full list of ratifying countries is published on the UNFCCC website.

In order for the Kyoto Protocol to become a legally binding document 55% of Annex I emissions needed to be accounted for by countries ratifying the treaty – a statistic which was achieved on 16th February 2005. As of 2010, the majority of outstanding emissions not covered by the Kyoto Protocol come from the United States, who between 1990 and 2005 accounted for 30% of global cumulative carbon emissions.

Criticism of the Kyoto Protocol

Various criticisms of the Kyoto Protocol have been made, ranging from accusations of inefficiency and inequality to suggestions that it is simply ineffective. One of the treaty’s highest-profile critics is James Hansen, who in 2009 boycotted the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, labelling it a farce and claiming that the developed world nations were paying lip service to real environmental concerns and simply wanted to continue with ‘business as usual’.

Another major criticism was that caps were only applied to developed nations and that ‘developing’ countries, such as China, India and Brazil, were not included despite the fact that they represent a rapidly growing percentage of global carbon emissions – indeed, China is now the third highest producer of global greenhouse gases (8%) after the US (30%) and the EU (23%).

The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty designed to curb greenhouse emissions among OECD countries and bring them down to 5% below 1990 levels by 2012. As of November 2009, it has been signed by 191 states and the US is the only major nation-state that has yet to ratify the agreement. It has been roundly criticised on a number of levels yet to date it remains the most important international agreement in the fight against anthropogenic global warming.

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