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The Kyoto Protocol 1997

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The Kyoto Protocol is an international environmental treaty that was adopted in December 1997 in the Japanese city of Kyoto. The Kyoto Protocol aims on reducing the emission of gases that contribute to global warming. Until today, 192 states have both signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol. The United States of America have signed the protocol in 1998, however until today they haven’t ratified it.

The Kyoto Protocol committed those countries that signed and ratified it, to develop national programs to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane. The greenhouse emission reduction targets agreed in the Kyoto Protocol were different for each country depending on its unique circumstances. However, only industrialized nations were obligated to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, while developing countries were not required to do so. Developing countries, like China and India, were not obligated to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, because their per-capita emissions were lower than those of developed nations. The Kyoto Protocol allowed less developed Member States to increase their emissions in order to be able to grow economically, while richer, more environmentally progressive Member States were obligated to reduce emissions on average by 8% by 2012 from 1990 levels.

The Kyoto protocol provided various approaches for states to reach their emission reduction targets. One approach was the use of natural processes, often also referred to as “sinks,” which remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Reforestation is an example of such sinks, because trees are able to absorb carbon dioxide from the air. The program “Clean Development Mechanism” is another approach established by the Kyoto Protocol aimed on fighting climate change. This program encourages industrialized nations to invest in infrastructure and technology in developing countries, where there are often enormous possibilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. An example of such an investment would be a clean-burning natural gas power plant which substitutes a coal-fired plant. Another approach was emissions trading, which allowed participating countries to buy and sell emissions rights. This placed an economic value on greenhouse gas emissions.

The European Union developed the “European Trading Scheme”, a mechanism aimed on meeting the targets under the Kyoto Protocol. Countries that weren’t able to meet their emissions targets would be obligated to make up the difference between their targeted and actual emissions, plus a penalty amount. Under the ETS, 40% of the EU’s total GHGs came under a system in which allowances to emit would be allocated and made tradable in a carbon market.

The Kyoto Protocol was also often criticised. According to some critics, the ultimate benefit to the environment isn’t significant, since China and the US, two of the main GHG emitters were not included in the targets of the protocol (China because its status as a developing country and the US because it hasn’t ratified the protocol). Other critics say that the emission reduction targets are too low to make a real difference in global temperature. In 2020 the Kyoto Protocol will be replaced by the Paris Agreement.

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