Kyoto Protocol


The Kyoto Protocol

Why is the Protocol Important?

Climate change is a global problem and the solution must be global. Greenhouse gases affect the whole planet no matter where they are produced.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (see IPCC), 2000 of the world’s top climate scientists, estimates that the average global surface temperature is likely to increase by between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees C by 2100. (Climate Change 2001 Synthesis Report p 206). This may not seem like much of an increase, but small changes in the Earth’s temperature have had dramatic impacts in the past. The last time the earth’s average temperature was 5oC colder, for example, Canada was covered with three kilometres of ice.

Climate change will affect our economy, our health and our quality of life.

How did the Kyoto Protocol come about?

In the 1980s, scientists began to link global warming with burning fossil fuels. Concerned scientists launched a series of international conferences to try to address the problem. The first one, The World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere, was held in Toronto, Ontario, in 1988. Here scientists from 46 countries called for an international treaty on climate change.

The World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program then established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC was directed to study the scientific data on climate change and come up with a recommendation. The IPCC said in 1990, that the world would need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent to stabilize carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

In response to the IPCC report, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was finalized as an international treaty in 1992. That December, Canada became one of more than 155 nations to ratify this agreement. Unfortunately, the voluntary emission reductions of the UNFCCC were ineffective and people realized that a stronger treaty was required.

In 1997, countries from around the world met in Kyoto, Japan. That conference produced a Protocol to the UNFCCC. The Kyoto Protocol established legally binding targets for those industrialized countries that ratify the agreement and the timeframes within which those targets are to be met. The industrialized countries are called Annex I counties.

Emissions Reduction Targets

The agreement commits Annex I (industrialized) countries who sign to reduce emissions of six greenhouse gases by 5% by 2012. A specific target for each of the gases would be very complicated, so the overall emissions targets for all six is combined into “CO2 equivalents” used to produce a single figure for the country’s target.

So to achieve the 5% group target, individual countries have the following targets:

  • 8% emission cuts by Switzerland, most Central and East European states, and the EU (which will meet its target by distributing different rates among its member states.)
  • 7% emission cut by the US
  • 6% emission cuts by Canada, Hungary, Japan, and Poland
  • Russia, New Zealand, and Ukraine are to stabilize their emissions
  • Norway may increase emissions by up to 1%
  • Australia may increase emissions by up to 8% Iceland may increase emissions up to 10%

The agreement allows a nation to meet its reduction quota by reducing emissions from power plants and automobiles. Developed countries may also achieve their commitments by deducting the greenhouse gas emissions absorbed by “carbon sinks” from their gross emissions in the commitment period. Carbon sinks remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Recall that photosynthesis in green plants converts carbon dioxide into sugar. Reforestation and land use changes that involve growing plants are examples of carbon sinks.

Developing countries are not legally bound to emissions reduction targets as yet, because these countries have historically been responsible for only a small portion of the global greenhouse gas emissions.

The agreement specifies that all Parties to the Protocol must follow a number of steps including:

  • design and implementation of climate change mitigation and adaptation programs
  • preparation of a national inventory of emissions removals by carbon sinks
  • promotion of climate friendly technology transfer
  • fostering partnerships in research and observation of climate science, impacts and response strategies


The ratification procedure requires the signatures of at least 55 Parties to the Convention, and must include enough Annex I Parties (industrialized nations) to account for at least 55 percent of total CO2 emissions from industrialized countries in 1990.

Ratification Progress: emissions percents included:

  • Czech Republic: Ratified November 2001 – 1.2%
  • Romania: Ratified March 2001 – 1.2%
  • European Union: Ratified May 2002 – 24.2%
  • Japan:Ratified June 2002 – 8.5%
  • Poland: Ratified September 2002 – 3.0%
  • New Zealand: Ratified December 2002 – 0.2%
  • Canada: Ratified December 2002 3.3%
  • Russia: Officially declared intention to ratify; however, recently the government has begun swaying back and forth on decision of whether to ratify – 17.4%


Total = approx 59.0% (Environmental Media Services website, Ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, May 20, 2004)

The United States – the world’s largest emitter – withdrew from Kyoto in 2001, so the only way that the Protocol will enter into force now is if Russia ratifies the agreement.

David Suzuki Foundation website
UNFCCC website, May 18, 2004.)


ACTIVITY: Kyoto Protocol Activity
(Refer to The Kyoto Protocol)

Part A Graphs
1. Go to the United Nations Environment Network website at: Under “Thematic Portals”, choose “Climate Change”. Choose “Greenhouse Gas Emission Graphs.

2. a) Note the rate of global CO2 emissions counter at the top of the page. What units are used for this counter?
b) Choose a partner. One of you needs a watch with a second hand. One person is the timer and one is the recorder. When the timer is ready to start clocking a one minute time interval, the recorder notes the final four digits of the counter. Start the timing. After one minute, note the final four digits of the counter. How many tones per minute is our global rate of emissions of CO2?

3. Choose the Total Emissions for Annex I Countries and Global Emissions graph.
a) What is the total percent of emissions required for Annex I countries to meet their Kyoto targets?
b) What is the global percent reduction suggested by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to stabilize global CO2 in our atmosphere at 500 ppmv?

4. Go back and choose the graph for Canada. Notice that the source for actual emissions and projected emissions are different, so the starting point for the two lines is different.
a) What is our current CO2 emission rate (as of 1999)?

b) What was our projected emission rate for this year in 1990? Are we meeting our projected rate?
c) What is our Kyoto target for 2010?
d) What is the difference between our current rate and our Kyoto target?
e) What percent of our current rate is this difference? Compare this percent reduction required to meet our Kyoto target with the percent reduction on the graph. This was calculated based on the projections in 1990. How are we doing?

5. Choose the graph for New Zealand. Is New Zealand likely to achieve its Kyoto target? Explain

6. Choose the graph for Russia. What is the trend for actual emissions? Why do you think this is? What is the trend for the target emissions? Explain this (hint: see The Kyoto Protocol article).

Part B Maps
1. Go back to the Climate Change page and choose Kyoto Protocol Map Service.
2. Under 2000 Emissions choose Total. Observe the map. What countries have the greatest total emissions? What are the units used for these emissions?
3. Under 2000 Emissions choose per capita. What does per capita mean? Which countries have the greatest per capita emissions?
4. Under 2010 choose difference.
a) Which countries have to reduce their emissions by the largest percentages?

b) Click on the Zoom in circle and click on Europe to zoom in. Which European countries have to reduce emissions by the largest percentages?
c) Which countries are projected to be below their target emissions? Give possible explanations for this.

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