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What is the Kyoto Protocol? - Definition, Summary, Pros & Cons

Instructor: Kimberly Winston
Have you ever thought that year after year the weather seems to be changing for the worse? In the following lesson you will learn about the Kyoto Protocol and how nations are working together to decrease or slow global warming.

Global Warming
Global Warming

What is the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement between industrialized nations to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is named after Kyoto, Japan where the agreement was drawn up in 1997 at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Greenhouse Gas

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), greenhouse gas emission occurs as a result of human activities. GHG is the emission of any gaseous substance that inhibits the release of heat from the atmosphere, causing temperatures to rise at the earth's surface and ultimately causing the occurrence of extreme weather for extended periods of time.

Many reports point to the burning of fossil fuels as a large source of GHG. What does this mean? What is our role in creating GHG? When fossil fuels are burned they produce energy, which is used for such things as electricity or fuel. So, when it is said that GHG are caused as a result of human activity, it could be caused from something as simple as driving to work. How many times have you driven to work, school, or your local park just in the last week?

Now imagine millions of other people doing the same thing. Add millions of other activities that require electricity or fuel into the GHG equation and you have a big problem. The Kyoto Protocol is the United Nations' attempt to address this issue. The Kyoto Protocol is mainly concerned with six GHGs:

  • Carbon dioxide
  • Methane
  • Sulfur hexafluoride
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Penfluorocarbons
  • Hydrofluorocarbons

Conditions of the Kyoto Protocol

There were two conditions that the United Nations insisted on for the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. The first condition was that at least 55 industrialized nations needed to sign the agreement. The second condition was that the nations that signed the agreement had to account for at least 55 percent of the world's emissions. The Kyoto Protocol was scheduled to be in effect 90 days after the conditions were met.

The first condition was satisfied when Iceland signed the agreement on May 23, 2002. The second condition was satisfied when Russia signed the agreement in November of 2004. The Kyoto Protocol went into effect on February 16, 2005. Each nation that signed the agreement had individual targets to lower their emissions by. The Kyoto Protocol set an overall target to lower GHG emissions by 5.2 percent of the 1990 GHG emissions between the periods of 2008 to 2012.

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