The Kyoto Protocol

Essay by bbikkyUniversity, Bachelor'sA, March 2003

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A majority of scientists agree that global warming, caused by higher levels of gases that trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere, could lead to catastrophic consequences. Among them: flooding of low-lying areas; droughts and more severe weather that could cause food shortages; and the displacement of millions of people. When governments adopted the Convention, they knew that its commitments would not be sufficient to achieve its ultimate objective. They therefore included a series of review mechanisms in the Convention to ensure that its commitments could be tightened in the future. The first review mechanism kicked in at the first session of the Conference of the Parties, held in Berlin in March/April 1995, where, in a decision known as the "Berlin Mandate", Parties agreed that the specific commitments in the Convention for Annex I Parties were not adequate. Thus, they launched a new round of talks to decide on stronger and more detailed commitments for these countries.

After two and a half years of intense negotiations, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto on 11 December 1997. The Kyoto Protocol commits Annex I Parties to individual, legally-binding targets to limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, adding up to a total cut of at least 5% from 1990 levels in the "commitment period" 2008-2012. The targets cover emissions of the six main greenhouse gases: Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (N2O), Hydro Fluorocarbons (HFCs), Per Fluorocarbons (PFCs), and Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6). The Protocol establishes three innovative "mechanisms", known as joint implementation, emissions trading and the clean development mechanism, which are designed to help Annex I Parties reduce the costs of meeting their emission targets by achieving or acquiring reductions more cheaply in other countries than at home. The clean development mechanism also aims to assist developing countries in achieving...