Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

The Kyoto Protocol (1997)

In 1992, the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted during the United Nations Conference on Environmental and Development that took place in Rio de Janeiro. This framework came into force after the ratification of the 50th nation in 1994. Since then, the Parties have met regularly in the Conferences of the Parties (COPs) to reach agreements on international climate efforts.

In 1997, the Parties met in Kyoto, Japan and on 11th of December 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted as the first global agreement that set binding emission reduction targets for developed countries in an effort to confront the challenge of global climate change. Carbon trading was formally established with this international treaty.

The Protocol was ratified by enough countries to reach the threshold required and entered into force on 16th  of February 2005. A total of 192 states were Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

The protocol’s main aim was to reduce GHG emissions by at least 5% below 1990 levels, through collective efforts to a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.


The Protocol came into force after it was signed by 55 Parties, who were responsible of the 55% of global emissions in 1990. During the 1st commitment period, legally binding emission reduction targets were set for the ratified industrial countries. European Union countries were able to reduce their emissions an average of 8%, achieving a great milestone.

Unfortunately, emerging and developing countries had no fixed reduction targets set at that time. These countries gradually increased their emissions during the same period of time and by 2012, global emissions had risen an average of 44% compared with 1997.

Despite being one of the most remarkable international achievements, the Protocol failed to meet the stated goals of limiting global warming. Nonetheless, the European Union, Australia and Switzerland, committed to a 2nd period until 2020 during the 18th COP session held in Doha.

Thus, two periods of validity are recognized throughout the history of the Kyoto Protocol :

  • 1st commitment period (2008 to 2012)
  • 2nd commitment period (2013 to 2020)


While the Kyoto Protocol entailed an incredible milestone in addressing climate change, it faced several challenges that ultimately limited its effectiveness and made its failure evident as global temperatures have risen over the past years.

Some of the factors that drove the collapse of the protocol are:

  • Limited participation: Some of the major GHG emitters never ratified the protocol, like USA. Some countries like Canada and Russia signed the agreement, but later withdrew or failed in meeting their targets.
  • Lack of legally binding commitments for developing and emerging countries: The exemption of high-carbon polluters developing countries, like China, created a limited impact on the protocol achievements, as these countries became significant contributors to the global GHG emissions.
  • Focus on industrialized economies while neglecting the rapidly industrializing developing countries: The protocol was negotiated in 1990s and did not consider the shift in global economic dynamics which resulted in a fragmented and incomplete approach.
  • Compliance and enforcement challenges: Although a monitoring and reporting system was established, no penalties were enforced for the countries not complying with the emission reduction targets, which undermined the protocol efficiency.


The Kyoto Protocol marked a major milestone in international efforts to address climate change, by setting binding emission reduction targets and market mechanisms that have shaped climate policies and actions globally. It also laid the foundations for international climate negotiations and subsequent agreements, such as Paris Agreement.

Some of the key aspects established by the Kyoto Protocol are:

  • Emission Reduction Targets: The Kyoto Protocol aimed to reduce global emissions by an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels during the 1st commitment period of 2008 to 2012 by establishing emission reduction targets for developed countries (Annex I).
  • Compliance Mechanism: A compliance mechanism was established under the Kyoto Protocol to ensure the emission reduction targets which included a system of reporting and verification.
  • Carbon markets: The Kyoto Protocol facilitated the development of carbon markets by establishing a framework for trading emission allowances and creating a demand for carbon credits. This enabled countries to meet their emission reduction targets by purchasing credits from other countries or investing in emission reduction projects through the flexible mechanisms.
  • Additionality and Sustainable Development: The Kyoto Protocol emphasized the principle of additionality, which required that emission reduction projects under the flexible mechanisms should result in reductions that would not have occurred in the absence of the project. It also aimed to promote sustainable development by ensuring that projects supported by the Protocol contribute to the social, economic, and environmental well-being of the host countries.
  • Flexible Mechanisms (Clean Development Mechanism CDM, Joint Implementation JI and Emissions Trading: These mechanisms supported countries to meet their targets lowering costs. Parties were allowed to earn emission reduction credits by investing in projects located in other countries, or trading emission allowances within specified limits.