The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement among the member countries of the United Nations (UN), established with the aim of reducing the emission of gasses causing the greenhouse effect and consequent global warming.

Drafted and signed in Kyoto (Japan) in 1997, the Protocol has created guidelines to mitigate the impact of environmental problems caused by the models of industrial development and consumption in force on the planet.

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According to the Protocol, nations commit to reduce emissions of gasses causing the greenhouse effect by 5.2%, compared with the levels of 1990. The main target is the carbon dioxide (CO2), as experts believe the rampant issuance of this and other gasses is linked to global warming, a phenomenon that can have catastrophic effects for humanity in the coming decades.

The intensity of the cut in greenhouse gas emissions varies, however, from country to country, and were only required to follow the commitment above the nations considered developed.

The Protocol entered into force from 2004 and states that its goals are met between 2008 and 2012, when it will expire, resulting in another agreement. This new protocol should be negotiated, drafted and approved by the realization of the UN conference scheduled for the end of 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Mechanisms and measures

The Kyoto Protocol establishes three mechanisms to assist countries to meet their environmental goals. The first provides for partnerships between countries in the creation of environmentally responsible projects. The second is entitled to developed countries to purchase “credits” directly from nations that pollute little. Finally, it was also created the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), known as the carbon credit market.

According to the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries have to take some measures to achieve greenhouse gas reduction goals:

  • Increased energy efficiency in relevant sectors of the economy;
  • Protection and enhancement of sinks and greenhouse gas reservoirs on the environment, such as forests;
  • Promotion of sustainable forest management practices, afforestation, and reforestation;
  • Promotion of sustainable forms of agriculture;
  • Research, promotion, development and increased use of new and renewable forms of energy;
  • Promotion and research of carbon dioxide sequestration technologies;
  • Promotion and research of environmentally sound technologies advanced and innovative;
  • gradual reduction or elimination of tax incentives, tax and duty exemptions, and also subsidies for all emitting sectors of greenhouse gasses that are contrary to the objective of the Protocol;
  • Convention and application of market instruments that reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Encouragement of appropriate reforms in relevant sectors aimed at promoting policies and measures which limit or reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses;
  • Limitation and / or reduction of methane emissions through recovery and use in waste management, as well as in production, power transmission, and distribution;
  • Cooperation, sharing of information on new technologies adopted.

Signatures and ratifications

 Drafted the document, it was necessary that countries sign and ratify the Protocol, or confirm their adherence to the agreement entered into force.

The signatures began to be collected in 1998, but the Protocol entered into force only in 2004, after the acceptance and ratification of Russia. This is because, to enter into force, the Protocol had to be ratified by at least 55 countries that together represent at least 55% of greenhouse gas emissions made in 1990.

Currently, 175 countries have signed and ratified the document, but the United States, the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world (36.1%), opposed to the Kyoto Protocol, stating that the implementation of the targets would hurt the country’s economy.

At the time, President George W. Bush considered possible the hypothesis of global warming, but said he would rather fight it with voluntary actions by the polluting industries and new technological solutions. Another argument used by Bush to refute the agreement was the fact that the Protocol does not require emissions reductions in developing countries such as China and India.

During the administration of George Bush, the position of the US government suffered changes, but in no time the United States signaled a clear intention to ratify the Protocol.

This slight change in US behavior occurred from December 2007, after the UN Conference in Bali, where they discussed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC). At that time, Australia, which until that time had been reluctant to sign the Protocol, just adhering, leaving the United States isolated in relation to other developed countries.

After Barack Obama’s election to the US presidency, the position of the country, until the first months of 2009, was still unknown.

Carbon Certificates

Among the countries most engaged in the execution of the Protocol are members of the European Economic Community, which, for example, began to take steps to fine the most polluting cars.

In addition, these countries are the ones that emit carbon emission reduction certificates. Such roles finance the so-called Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which are projects around the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or capture carbon emitted by industrial processes.

CDMs form the basis of mandatory carbon trading. It is in this vein participating developing countries. Brazil, China, and India, for example, have several projects that have issued carbon credits to be sold.

For the future, it is planned to create a large global carbon market, with smaller regional markets functioning in parallel. It is hoped the approach between Japan, which already has a voluntary scheme in place, and New Zealand, which already draws a national scheme; as well as the union between the United States and Canada. That is, it will be common countries make agreements.

Discussions continue

One of the key issues in relation to global warming is: who will pay the account of the efforts required to mitigate climate change?

It was in search of an answer than a thousand representatives from 190 countries met in early April 2008 in Bangkok, Thailand, and will continue gathering. They discuss the division of responsibilities to reduce the generation of pollution and “save the planet”.

Thus, the proposed new environmental laws should be ready by the end of 2009 to in 2013, replacing the Kyoto Protocol. This new treaty will include all countries, not just developed, impacting the world economy.

The forecast is that by the end of 2009 in Copenhagen, will be a treaty designed to control emissions of greenhouse gasses (GHG) emissions after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol. The more practical aspects such as reduction rules or flexible mechanisms to help countries meet the targets will be built later.

However, contrary to what provides the Kyoto Protocol, the greenhouse gas emissions of industrialized countries grew 2.3% between 2000 and 2006. These are worrying figures, especially when the world is facing three interrelated crises: climate, economic and energy.