January 23, 2022

Summary of Kyoto Protocol, 1997 and Mechanisms of Control

Environmental law

Negotiations for a Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change commenced in 1995 after the first COP meeting in Berlin. Determined that the commitments provided in Article 4 of the Convention were ‘not adequate’ and decided to launch a process to strengthen the commitments of Annex I parties through the adoption of a Protocol.

The group set a deadline namely, Kyoto Conference to establish legally binding targets for reducing emissions in CO2, methane, nitrous oxide. Therefore, a Conference was held at Kyoto on climate change on December 1, 1997 to review the progress made in 5yrs from UNFCCC and to formulate plans and strategies and objectives for the future.

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted on the 3rd COP and was opened for signature on 16th March 1998. The Protocol has 28 Articles and 2 Annexes:

  • Annex I: Greenhouse Gases
  • Annex II: Developed Nations
  • Non-Annex Nations: Developing Nations [in real, there is no such annex like this, but foe the convenience of all the parties, the developing nations have been categorized as  Non-annex Countries]

The parties to UNFCCC, in pursuit of its ultimate objectives as stated in Article 2 of UNFCCC agreed to fulfill the obligations contained in UNFCCC through Kyoto Protocol.

The Protocol came into force on February 16th, 2005.

he Kyoto Protocol is a complex regime addressing both adaptation and mitigation, and gave effect to the principle in the UNFCCC that developed countries should lead in emissions reduction. This is articulated through the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ that stems from the Rio Declaration, 1992. Accordingly, the Protocol places different obligations for developed countries i.e. Annex II countries, and developing countries i.e. Non-Annex Countries.

The basic obligation accepted by the Annex I countries is set out in Article 3(1) which provides that parties shall individually or jointly, ensure that their aggregate or anthropogenic CO2 emissions of GHG’s listed in Annex I does not exceed their assigned amount.

Further, the Protocol provided that in the pre-commitment period up until 2005, each Annex parties are required to have made demonstrable progress in achieving its commitments under the Protocol. The first commitment period commences in 2008 and continues up till 2012. However, parties with economies in transition need not 1990 as their base year, but rather can use a different base year calculated in accordance with Art 3(5).

Six gases are covered by the emissions reduction commitments of the Annex II parties: CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulphur hexafluoride. [rests are covered under the Vienna Convention].


Under the Protocol, parties are allowed to meet their targets by using the so called flexible mechanisms which are three:


Article 6 provides that for the purpose of meeting its commitments under Article 3 any Annex II party may transfer or acquire from any Annex II party the Emission Reduction Credits (ERC’s)  resulting from projects aimed at reducing anthropogenic removals by sinks of GHG’s in any sector of the economy. This method was first introduced in the 1991 during the negotiations of Climate Change Convention by Developed Countries. Under Article 6, both the host and the donor countries have commitments and so, there will be no overall change in the assigned global amounts for the Annex II countries because emissions reduced in the host countries and deducted from its assigned amounts are added to the assigned amounts of the donor countries.


The CDM allows Annex II parties to carry on emissions reductions projects in Non-annex parties and use the Certified Emissions Reductions (CER’s)  accruing from such project activities to contribute to compliance with part of their  quantified emissions limitations and reduction commitments under Article 3. A share of the proceeds of such projects must be used to cover administrative expenses as well as to assist developing countries parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change to meet the costs of adaptation. Therefore, the stated purpose of CDM is to help the developing countries achieve sustainable development and the developed countries to achieve their emissions commitments.

In simple terms, developed countries pay for the projects undertaken in the developing countries. Article 12 further provides that CER obtained between 2000-2005 can be used to assist in achieving compliance in the first commitment period.

On the surface, CDM is an attractive concept to both developed and developing countries. Developed countries are provided with an opportunity to achieve their commitments more cost-effectively, while developing countries can be helped to achieve their developmental and environmental goals through investments and clean development which they might otherwise not be able to afford. However, in reality CDM contains a number of serious weakness which means it could not only fail to deliver ‘clean development but could actually allow global emissions to increase rather than decrease. For instance, it allows developed countries to add CER’s generated from projects from developing countries to their assigned amounts. Thus, credits generated through CDM are additional to the total budget or assigned amounts of Annex II countries.


Article 17 allows the Annex II parties to participate in emissions trading for the purpose of fulfilling their commitments under Article 3 but provides that any such trading must be supplemental to domestic actions taken to achieve emissions reductions. This mechanism works by setting a legally binding limit on each party’s emission and then permitting parties to trade part of this. This means that developed countries whose emissions are less than their assigned amount can sell their unused portion to countries whose emissions exceed their assigned amounts. The net result is the same as if both countries achieved their commitments, since emissions are deducted from the assigned amounts of the selling countries and added to the assigned amounts of the buying countries.

Many economists believe this system to be an economically effective means of achieving global emissions reductions. However, the main defect of this mechanism is that in case, if a developing country exceeds its assigned amount, the there is no way of penalizing that country.

  • Further, Article 19 deals with the amendments to the provisions or the annexes to this Protocol and also deals with addition of new provisions or annexes to the Protocol.
  • Article 25 provides that there can be no reservations for any provisions to the present Protocol.
  • Till the year 2008-2010 (3 years), Luxemburg and Canada were the farthest from their emissions targets. They crossed their targets by 30% and 29% respectively. Similarly, other countries that emitted more than their target levels are Austria, Iceland, New Zealand, US, Australia, Denmark, Switzerland, Norway, Italy, Japan, Ireland, Netherland.
  • Countries like Finland, Belgium, Croatia, Portugal, Germany, France, Greece, UK, Sweden are in comfortable positions having a surplus of emissions. Lastly, Ukraine is the target over-supplier of Kyoto units with -55%.
  • Further, China and India are becoming important players in the global GHG’s arena. The CO2 emissions in these countries have increased by 9% and 6% respectively as on 2011.

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