The UNCFCC and the Kyoto Protocol

Climate change is considered one of the most serious threats to sustainable development. Scientists agree that rising concentrations of anthropogenically produced greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are leading to changes in the climate.

The international political response to climate change began with the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC the Rio Convention) in 1992. This sets out a framework for action aimed at stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases in order to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference” with the climate system. Controlled gases include carbon dioxide (CO2), the most important and also, in descending order of environmental impact, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). The UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994.

The Kyoto Protocol : In December 1997, delegates met in Kyoto, Japan, and agreed to a Protocol to the UNFCCC that commits developed countries and countries with economies in transition (EITs) to achieve quantified emissions reduction targets. These countries, known as Annex I Parties, agreed to reduce their overall emissions of six greenhouse gases (the 3 ones covered by the UNFCCC plus HFCs, PFCs and SF6 ) by 5.2% below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012 (the first commitment period), with specific targets varying from country to country.

On the page Countries included in Annex B to the Kyoto Protocol emissions targets for the different countries are indicated.

The Protocol also establishes three flexible mechanisms to assist Annex I Parties in meeting their national targets cost efficiently: an emissions trading system; joint implementation (JI) of emissions-reduction projects between Annex I Parties; and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which allows for projects to be implemented in non-Annex I Parties.

To date, 132 Parties have ratified the Protocol, including 37 Annex I Parties, representing 61.6% of 1990 Annex I greenhouse gas emissions. After the ratification by Russia, the Protocol entered into force on 16 February 2005.

Currently (2011), 192 countries have ratified the Protocol.

Countries included in Annex B to the Kyoto Protocol and their emissions targets.

Country Target (1990** – 2008/2012)
EU-15* plus Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia,Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Monaco, Romania,Slovakia,Slovenia, Switzerland -8%
U.S.A.*** -7%
Canada, Hungary, Japan, Poland -6%
Croatia -5%
New Zealand, Russian Federation, Ukraine 0
Norway +1%
Australia +8%
Iceland +10%

* The EU’s 15 member States will redistribute their targets among themselves, taking advantage of a scheme under the Protocol known as a “bubble”. The EU has already reached agreement on how its targets will be redistributed.
** Some EITs have a baseline other than 1990.
*** The U.S.A. has indicated its intention not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

The EU “Burden Sharing” Agreement

The EU commitment of 8% is shared between 15 Member States under a legally binding “Burden Sharing Agreement”, which sets individual emissions targets for each Member State.

Belgium – 7.5 %
Denmark -21 %
Germany -21 %
Greece + 25 %
Spain + 15 %
France 0 %
Ireland +13 %
Italy -6.5 %
Luxembourg -28 %
Netherlands -6 %
Austria -13 %
Portugal +27 %
Finland 0 %
Sweden +4 %
United Kingdom -12.5 %

The ten New Member States that joined the EU in May 2004 have also ratified the Kyoto Protocol, but with their own Kyoto targets (see above).

Cyprus and Malta are treated as developing countries in the Kyoto Protocol and so do not have emission targets.

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