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Kyoto Protocol and Carbon Credits

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Recently the Cancun pact was inked. It’s a new pact between countries of the world aimed at reducing the impact of greenhouse gases on the environment. Some are calling it a successor of the Kyoto Protocol.


This article is aimed at a brief overview of the Kyoto Protocol, with facts which should help you in your group discussions.

What is..??

The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement under the UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). The treaty required industrialized countries and the European community to reduce their collective emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 5.2% (compared to the year 1990) by the year 2012. The treaty was negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997, and the agreement came into force on February 16, 2005. (The detailed rules for the implementation of the Protocol are called the “Marrakesh Accords.”)

Note: The reason for the lengthy timespan between the negotiation and the protocol being enforced was due to terms of Kyoto requiring at least 55 parties to ratify the agreement and for the total of those parties emissions to be at least 55% of global production of greenhouse gases. In February 2005, this condition was fulfilled when Russia agreed to ratify the Kyoto treaty.

The treaty recognizes that as a result of the past 150 years of industrial activity, the developed countries are primarily responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere. It thus places a heavier burden on the developed countries.

The Kyoto mechanisms

As part of the agreement, three flexible mechanisms were developed to help developed nations meet their emission reduction targets. These were

  1. Clean development mechanism (CDM)
  2.  Joint implementation (JI), and
  3.  International Emission Trading (IET).

Of these, JI and IET are executable amongst developed countries while CDM is between developed and developing countries. It is a mechanism allowing industrialized countries with a GHG reduction commitment to invest in emission reducing projects in developing countries. This results in the creation of carbon credits that are sold to developed countries for meeting their emission reduction targets, while the developing country receives capital and clean technology to implement the project.

Signing vs. Ratification

While signing the treaty is a token gesture of support, Ratification carries legal obligations and effectively becomes a commitment, an agreement.

169 countries ratified the agreement, of which only 2 refused to ratify the Kyoto treaty until December 2007 - Australia and the USA (USA - the largest emitter of carbon dioxide among all countries and Australia - the highest amount of carbon dioxide emissions per person). Both the countries gave the same excuse for not ratifying - it will be bad for our economies.

Another point worth noting is that while the 5.2% figure is a collective one, individual nations were assigned higher or lower targets. In fact Australia was allowed an 8% increase in emissions while the USA was expected to reduce emissions by 7%. The target for USA is non-binding as USA has still not signed the Kyoto.

As of July 2010, 191 nations had signed and ratified the protocol.

Kyoto - success or failure?

The Kyoto Protocol, while well intentioned, appears to be failing its objectives even before the 2008-2012 averaging period starts. CO2 levels in the atmosphere are increasing at breakneck speed. Global temperatures are continuing to rise. Without the USA signing the protocol or new emerging economies such as China (which were exempted in the original treaty) reducing emissions drastically; the targets will likely not be met.

Politicians and diplomats continue to finger point, fight and delay action. Elected officials are only concerned with their political terms and careers or winning the next election and lack the mentality to think globally in terms of the environment. This thinking needs to change to make the treaty a success.

Renewal and Cancun

With more and more new climate talks happening by the day, it has become evident that protecting the environment is the talk of the day. At the recently conducted Cancun Climate Change Conference, many countries including Russia, Canada and Japan openly stated their positions of not extending the Kyoto protocol beyond its 2012 term. Also, some European countries have been proposing a new treaty to commit developing and developed countries to reducing their climate emissions.

This move has outraged developing countries, including China and India, who fear that rich countries will use this new proposal to ditch the Kyoto protocol and replace it with a much weaker alternative. Kyoto Protocol was harsh on developed nations while allowing developing nations to continue their development without worrying about emissions. So, discontinuing this treaty is very well in the interests of the developed nations.

India and Carbon Credits

India launched the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) in June 2008. The plan aims to achieve development whicle addressing climate change. Other initiatives in India include
  • India has setup an Expert Group on Low Carbon Strategy for Inclusive Growth to develop a roadmap for low carbon development
  • It launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) to make India a global leader in Solar Energy.
  • The National Mission on Enhanced Energy Efficiency, launched in June 2010, includes several initiatives to help reduce CO2 emissions by 25 million tons per year by 2015.
  • India is also extremely open to CDM. As of October 2010, there were more than 1300 CDM projects under execution in India; most of them coming from renewable energy - wind and hydro.

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