The Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is an amendment to the international treaty on climate change, assigning mandatory targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to signatory nations.


From December 1 through December 11, 1997, more than 160 nations met in Kyoto, Japan to negotiate binding limitations on the emissions of greenhouse gases for the world’s developed nations, pursuant to the Framework Convention on Climate Change of 1992.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme in 1988 to assess the available scientific, technical, and socioeconomic information in the field of climate change.

The text of the Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted at the United Nations on May 9, 1992, and opened for signature at Rio de Janeiro on June 4, 1992. The objective of the Framework Convention was to “achieve stabilization of the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (man made) interference with the climate system. ” The signatories agreed to formulate programs to mitigate climate change, and the developed country signatories agreed to adopt national policies to return anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases to their 1990 levels.

The subsequent Kyoto Protocol established emissions targets for each of the participating developed countries - the Annex I countries - relative to their 1990 emissions levels.

The greenhouse gases covered by the Protocol are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. The aggregate target is based on the carbon dioxide equivalent of each of the greenhouse gases. For the three synthetic greenhouse gases, countries have the option of using 1995 as the base year.

Several provisions of the Protocol allow for some flexibility in meeting the emissions targets. Net changes in emissions by direct anthropogenic land-use changes and forestry activities may be used to meet the commitment, but they are limited to afforestation, reforestation, and deforestation. Emissions trading among the Annex I countries is a lso allowed.

Joint implementation projects are permitted among the Annex I countries, allowing a nation to take emissions credits for projects that reduce emissions or enhance emissions-absorbing sinks, such as forests and other vegetation, in other Annex I countries. The Protocol also establishes a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), under which Annex I countries can take credits for projects that reduce emissions in non-Annex I countries.

Source: Energy Information Administration