The Legacy of Kyoto Protocol

by | Jan 15, 2023 | Environment

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The Kyoto Protocol has played an essential role in bringing the global community together to focus on the issue of climate change. It has also helped several countries to cut down their greenhouse gas emissions. However, the reduction of emissions was smaller compared to how they appear on paper.

The Kyoto Protocol has significantly helped developing countries tackle climate change through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Countries applied the Kyoto Protocol policies to encourage low-emission technologies widely. Developing countries continue to receive financial support every year, which has grown to approximately US$100 billion annually.

Despite the important role of the Kyoto Protocol in tackling climate change globally, the future of the Protocol looks bleak. Recent geopolitical developments have led to certain countries rejecting emission reduction, such as the continuous rejection of the Kyoto Protocol model by the United States. Will new approaches be added to the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol So Far

The Kyoto Protocol is the first international treaty on climate change that lays down specific legally binding targets for countries’ emission reductions- through flexible tools like the CDM. The CDM provides developing countries incentives to explore areas for emission reduction projects. The Protocol supports developing and industrialized countries in tackling climate change by providing funds and supporting the transfer of clean technologies.

The legacy of Kyoto Protocol


The emission levels of all Kyoto Parties were around 20 percent below 10 GtCO2e. Projected emissions levels from 2008 to 2012- the period over which nations made emission reduction commitments- showed a 20 to 22 percent reduction. According to projections, all countries will likely be able to fulfill their targets with the help of the Kyoto mechanisms.

However, global emissions have risen from 38 GtCO2e in 1990 to 50 GtCO2e in 2010. This was due to increased emissions by developing countries for economic growth. Eastern European countries and countries of the former Soviet Union have overachieved their emission targets, as the expected increase of emissions after their economic recovery did not occur due to changes in their economic structure. Together they were 36 percent below their 1990 level in 2008.

The Kyoto Protocol’s CDM allowing developing countries to sell their emission reduction from projects to industrialized countries- was a huge success. Up to the 1st of July 2012, 10,000 CDM projects were proposed, and about 8300 of those projects were still actively pursued. Altogether they represent a reduction of around 0.22 GtCO2e per year between 2008 to 2012 and around 0.9 GtCO2e per year from 2012 to 2020. The 0.22 GtCO2e reduction is around 50 percent of the total emission reductions that Kyoto Annex I countries are supposed to achieve.

The Kyoto Protocol has generated significant action toward mitigating climate change and its increasing impacts. In this long fight to limit the impacts of climate change to moderate conditions, the first five years of the Kyoto Protocol implementations are only the beginning. Without the Kyoto Protocol, the world would be much worse.

Future of the Protocol

The Legacy of Kyoto Protocol


Even though the Kyoto Protocol has led to significant emission reduction and delivered goals, as mentioned before, its future looks bleak. The Protocol itself stated that agreement on the second commitment period should be reached before the 1st commitment period in 2008. However, that did not happen.

In December 2011, at Durban, a decision was made to establish a second commitment period, but only for a small part of the original Kyoto Protocol Annex B countries. This was because no developing country agreed to be a part of the new Annex B. This led to Russia and Japan withdrawing from the second commitment period.

Later, in 2012, even New Zealand decided not the join the second commitment period, and the reduction commitments for 2013 to 2020 were set at unambitious levels. Countries (Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan) are even threatening to withdraw from the second commitment as few decisions will be taken to limit the use of surplus emissions allowances.

The countries that joined the second commitment only agreed to the low end of their pledges, which, according to the UNEP Emissions Gap Report, will not be sufficient to stop the global temperature from increasing beyond 2 degrees Celsius.

Developing countries- the largest emitters and emerging economies- rejected all the legally binding emission reduction targets while they insisted that developed countries continue with the targets. The reason for rejection by developing and developed countries seems to be the fear that it will weaken economic growth and development.

Countries like Canada, the USA, Russia, Japan, and New Zealand, refuse to accept the commitments for this reason only. At the same time, the European Union wants to continue with the Kyoto Protocol as it has invested too much in it. This has led to a system of voluntary pledges and national commitments without the proper machinery to make it as effective as possible.

What Next?

The UNFCC Durban decisions contain the guidelines for a proper reporting and review system. It was different for both developing and developed countries. This could be a huge step toward current obligations. However, it is still not enough to create a transparent system to motivate countries.

Article 2.4 of the Kyoto Protocol creates a possibility to take coordinated measures and policies. These policies might prove helpful in the future. The coordinated action of countries would make it much easier to overcome their competitiveness and help in emission reductions globally.

A flaw in the current UNFCC-Kyoto Protocol system is that emission control is based on production emissions accounting. It ignores the emissions related to imported goods, especially in developed countries. A consumption-based emissions ceiling would prove efficient as it would force countries to pressure exporting countries to lower emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol has left important marks in the last 15 years of action to tackle climate change. Opportunities still exist to add more elements to the Kyoto Protocol in mitigating climate change more effectively. Adopting a green growth paradigm and integrating climate actions into green growth. This approach can help develop a more effective global arrangement system.

Also Read: International Environmental Conventions and Protocols


  • Dr. Emily Greenfield

    Dr. Emily Greenfield is a highly accomplished environmentalist with over 30 years of experience in writing, reviewing, and publishing content on various environmental topics. Hailing from the United States, she has dedicated her career to raising awareness about environmental issues and promoting sustainable practices.

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