The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty extending the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which aims to reduce the effects of climate change like global warming. The plan is for countries who adopt the protocol to limit how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases they expel into the atmosphere.
The full name for the treaty is the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It was agreed upon on December 11, 1997 in Kyoto, Japan – hence the name Kyoto Protocol. However, it was only entered into force in 2005. Currently, there are 192 Parties to the Protocol – the United States, China and India are notable exceptions from that list.
The first commitment period of the Protocol started in 2008 and ended in 2012. The Doha Amendment to the protocol – which is the second commitment – was agreed on in 2012. As of July 2015, 36 states have accepted the Doha Amendment – entry into force requires the acceptance of 144 states.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, industrialized nations would aim to cut their annual carbon emissions by varying amounts. Since being put into play since 2005, what have these promises yielded? Some countries would argue that yes, they have lessened carbon emissions. But data will show that our world is getting worse, not better.
The Kyoto Protocol aimed to fight global warming by reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere “to a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”
2015 marks the tenth year the Kyoto Protocol has been in place, and yet from what we gather in news reports: our world is getting warmer and it is slowly dying.
What then happened with the aims of the Kyoto Protocol? Were they too grand? Was something missing? To help answer these questions, it helps to look back at what made the Kyoto Protocol a good idea in the first place and why it’s seemingly being declared a failure ten years later.
List of Pros of the Kyoto Protocol
1. It is aimed at reducing the effects of climate change.
Countries who agreed to participate in the Protocol and have ratified it are expected to cut emissions of not only carbon dioxide, but of other greenhouse gases as well, and these include:
- nitrous oxide
- sulphur hexaflouride
The goal of participating countries was to reduce their emissions by 5.2% below the recorded levels in 1990 by 2012. While 5.2% was the collective goal, individual countries had their own separate percentage to reach.
The Kyoto Protocol also put into place a range of market mechanisms that would help rich countries offset emissions, and this includes investing in low carbon projects in poor areas around the world.
At the time the agreement was reached, then US President Bill Clinton hailed it as an “environmentally strong and economically sound deal.” He also added that “It reflects a commitment from our generation to act in the interests of future generations.”
However, lawmakers in Washington disagreed with the Senate voting 95-0 against the treaty. Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush withdrew US support for the Protocol calling it “fatally flawed.”
2. It is a global collaborative effort.
We inherited this earth, and therefore we all must to something to save it, right? Although there have been studies to prove that us humans are responsible for the state our world is in, it doesn’t take science to tell us that what we have been doing to excess is wrong. So in order to right those wrongs, the Protocol was created.
Agreed upon in 1997, it took years before it could be put into place in 2005. Why that long? The Protocol required that at least 55 Parties ratify the agreement, and that the sum of their total emissions should be at least 55% of global greenhouse gas production.
List of Cons of the Kyoto Protocol
1. It only requires wealthy nations to cut emissions.
Interestingly, developing nations such as China and India refused to be included in the Kyoto Protocol. At that time the Protocol was being discussed, it probably made sense for them to not include themselves in the conversation.
But that is so much more different today where developing countries are major sources of carbon emissions. And by excluding them, the aim of the Protocol just doesn’t make much sense.
Interestingly, the US agreed to the Protocol, but it wasn’t ratified. In essence, we have one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases and they aren’t even participating in a Protocol that aims to curb those emissions. To add more trivia, it took until 2005 for Russia to agree into participating in the Kyoto Protocol.
Also saddening was the withdrawal of Canada from the Protocol in 2012 because they couldn’t meet targets.
Late in 2014, a UN climate deal conference in Lima, Peru was held. The intention was to agree on a post-Kyoto legal framework that would require all major polluters to pay for carbon dioxide emissions. Representatives from 196 countries agreed to a deal that would require them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Then again, the Lima deal might seem flawed as well because the content of each country’s plan is voluntary. Meaning, participating countries can choose to cut their emissions as much or as little as they like. They may or may not provide a timetable as well. The plans that will be submitted will be the agenda of a major new climate agreement that will be negotiated in Paris at the end of 2015 and would take effect by 2020. The thing is, the Paris agreement doesn’t seem legally binding either, which just means that countries won’t face any consequences if they don’t follow through on their promises.
2. None of the limits imposed on participating countries resulted in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Yes, participating countries reported that they have indeed lessened their release of harmful gases into the atmosphere. However, data shows otherwise. All we are hearing about these days is how everything is getting warmer and that global emissions are actually going up – and at a frightening rate.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.