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Kyoto Protocol Overview, Pros, & Cons

Edith Forsyth, Kimberly Winston
  • Author
    Edith Forsyth

    Edith Forsyth has taught High School Business for over five years. They have a bachelor’s degree in business administration from University of Evansville, Evansville, Indiana.

  • Instructor
    Kimberly Winston

    Kimberly has been a business owner for over 11 years. She has a BA in International Studies from Christopher Newport University and a MBA in Logistics & Supply Chain Management from Kaplan University.

Learn about the Kyoto Protocol and its impact on reversing or controlling the effects of climate change in the modern world. Discover the treaty's major provisions. Updated: 03/16/2022

What is the Kyoto Protocol?

Climate change remains one of the leading global concerns. In response to the existential threat caused by climate change, countries, governments, and multinational organizations have developed international measures and frameworks to combat the problem. The most important framework is the Kyoto Protocol.

What is Kyoto Protocol? It is an international environmental agreement enforced in 2005. 192 major promoters of this treaty aimed to curb the impact of climate change caused by human activities. The Kyoto Protocol operationalized global action against climate change by obliging signatories to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Each signatory is required to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide by adhering to agreed targets. Generally, the international treaty requests industrialized and emerging economies that have signed the convention to adopt and report their mitigation measures against climate change.

The Kyoto Protocol recognizes developed countries such as the US, European countries, and China as predominantly responsible for the high levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases. A major contributing industry is the automobile sector. Cars that rely on fossil fuels account for a large proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The treaty binds 37 countries to individual targets in reducing carbon emissions. Parties to the international agreement are required to deposit instruments of acceptance in every commitment period. The protocol attempts to mobilize global communities towards achieving the common goal of addressing climate change.

What Is the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol is the 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). Now that we know what the protocol was, let's take a closer look at what it was attempting to address.

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  • 0:04 What is the Kyoto Protocol?
  • 0:28 Greenhouse Gases
  • 1:40 Kyoto Protocol Conditions
  • 2:32 Pros and Cons
  • 3:23 Lesson Summary
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Kyoto Protocol Provisions

Kyoto Protocol 1997 was named after the Japanese city where it was enforced in 1997. In full, the treaty is known as the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Specifically, the Kyoto climate provisions seek to reduce greenhouse emissions below 1990's levels. The treaty is widely recognized as the most important environmental agreement ever enacted. Nonetheless, critics continue to question its practicality and effectiveness, which explains why some countries are reluctant to follow the treaty fully.

According to the provisions, signatories must develop and enforce national programs designed to reduce their atmospheric carbon footprint. Applicable policies of the treaty target the reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases such as sulfur hexafluoride, nitrous oxide, and methane. The Kyoto Protocol also targets a reduction of hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons in the atmosphere. According to the scientific mechanics underlining the protocol, high levels of these greenhouse gases result in a global increase in average temperatures. This phenomenon is called global warming. The increase in global average temperatures is caused by imbalanced atmospheric energy due to high levels of carbon, methane, and other greenhouse gases.

The Kyoto Protocol provisions are justified by scientific studies on the impact of global warming. According to existing research, continued global warming will have adverse long-term environmental implications, including:

  1. A global rise in sea levels that will result in the disappearance of islands and coastal regions.
  2. The melting of glaciers and Arctic ice.
  3. Earthquakes, floods, droughts and other extreme weather events will become more frequent and severe.
  4. Mass extinction of animal and plant species.

Fifty-five nations were required to ratify the agreement and enforce provisions for reducing emissions. The provisions established a framework that enforces emission reduction targets specific to each signatory. Generally, the provisions oblige countries to plant more trees to trap and recycle atmospheric carbon. The Clean Development Mechanism was also proposed in the provisions. This mechanism encourages countries to invest in green technology. For example, investing in natural gas will provide clean energy as an alternative to coal power.

Greenhouse Gases

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 GHGs. What does this mean? What is humanity's role in creating GHGs? When fossil fuels are burned they produce energy, which is used for such things as electricity or fuel. So, when it is said that GHGs 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

Kyoto Protocol Conditions

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% 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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Video Transcript

What Is the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol is the 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). Now that we know what the protocol was, let's take a closer look at what it was attempting to address.

Greenhouse Gases

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 GHGs. What does this mean? What is humanity's role in creating GHGs? When fossil fuels are burned they produce energy, which is used for such things as electricity or fuel. So, when it is said that GHGs 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

Kyoto Protocol Conditions

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% 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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Frequently Asked Questions

Why was the Kyoto Protocol created?

The Kyoto Protocol was created to curb the impact of climate change caused by human activities. The agreement required signatories to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What are the key points of the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Its key points include an obligation for signatories to implement national programs for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the provisions placed an economic consequence for countries that failed to fulfill their commitments.

Is the Kyoto Protocol still active?

The Kyoto Protocol lacked an effective enforcement mechanism. Coupled with opposition from business leaders and the U.S., it lacked support. In 2012, the treaty officially expired.

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