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Kyoto Protocol

Objectives of the Protocol

Climate change is the greatest challenge facing the world today. It’s a global issue that demands a global response.

The Kyoto Protocol has been established to limit the growth in the emissions of greenhouse gases. Under the Kyoto Protocol, industrialised countries and those in transition to a market economy (the so-called "Annex I countries") have agreed to limit or reduce their emissions of six greenhouse gases.

Each gas has a global warming potential based on its radiative capacity compared with CO2. The GWP for each gas is determined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and reviewed from time to time.

Greenhouse gases

The six greenhouse gases addressed by the Kyoto Protocol are:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Methane (CH4)
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O)
  • Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
  • Perfluorocarbons (PFCs)
  • Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6)

The Protocol sets quantified emission limitations and reduction obligations with respect to a basket of six gases. Of these, carbon dioxide (CO2), which derives from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, is the most important. Methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions are also substantial contributors to the problem.

See Glossary and reference for the relative greenhouse impact of these gases.

Emission targets

'Annex I Countries' are those that have taken on emission reduction or limitation targets under the Kyoto Protocol. These targets are set relative to a countries GHG emissions in 1990, the base year. They define the amount of greenhouse gases that the countries are allowed to emit in the 'commitment period' of 2008 to 2012. These targets represent either a cut in emissions or a lower rate of increase in emissions.

To achieve its emission targets, the Annex I country is expected to implement initiatives that will reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions. It can also make use of the three 'Kyoto Mechanisms' to assist in reaching its targets.

See Glossary and reference for the individual country targets. More specific details are included in Country information.

The Kyoto mechanisms

The three Kyoto mechanisms are:

  1. Joint Implementation (JI): emission reductions which arise from project investments in other countries with their own Kyoto emission targets - other Annex I countries
  2. Clean Development Mechanism (CDM): emission reductions arising from project investments in developing countries which don't have their own Kyoto emission targets - non-Annex I countries
  3. International Emissions Trading: portions of Annex I country's emission allowances can be bought and sold on an international carbon trading market.

The principle on which the mechanisms are based is that the benefit to the global environment is the same wherever greenhouse gas emission reductions occur, so it is better to reduce emissions where the cost is lowest. The inherent assumption in this principle is that the country hosting the project will directly benefit and that the project should provide sustainable development in the host country.

The CCPO helps UK business take advantage of the opportunities provided by the JI and CDM project mechanisms.

Ratification and implementation

The Kyoto Protocol came into force on 16 February 2005 when the condition that it hat to be ratified by at least 55 countries, including Annex I countries accounting for at least 55% of this industrialised group's emissions in 1990 was satisfied. 180 nations have ratified the treaty to date. The detailed rules for the implementation of the Protocol were adopted at COP 7 in Marrakesh in 2001 and are called the 'Marrakesh Accords'

To view the current status of ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, visit www.unfccc.int/resource/kpthermo.html

For more information about individual countries in relation to climate change projects, select the country of interest from our Country information section.

You can find more information about the Kyoto Protocol under Frequently asked questions.