Kyoto Protocol Summary : First International Treaty on Climate Change

Kyoto Protocol is the first international agreement on climate change. The objective of the Kyoto protocol was to keep the global temperature rise below 2 ºC. A comprehensive summary of the Kyoto protocol covering must know facts about it is provided below.

Kyoto Protocol Summary

Kyoto Treaty is an international agreement under United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Since the industrial era, the concentration of Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is constantly rising. The more these gases are there in the atmosphere, the more is the global warming. The global temperature rise changes the climate system. Since it is because of the gases emitted by man made industries, it is called anthropogenic influence in our climate system. 

The aim of the Kyoto protocol is to stabilize the level of Greenhouse Gases in the atmosphere.  

Know more about the present level of atmospheric carbon dioxide

Kyoto Protocol legally binds industrialized and developed countries to reduce the dangerous level of GHG’s in the atmosphere within a time frame.

Kyoto treaty was adopted in Kyoto city of Japan in 11 December 1997.  But it took it more than 7 years to come to force. It entered into force on 16 February 2005. At present 192 countries are party of the Kyoto protocol.

The concentration of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere rose sharply over the past 150 years. This is mainly because of the industrialized nations. This past emission is termed as historic emission. Kyoto protocol takes the past or historic emissions into account.

Based on their past emissions, Kyoto treaty gives more responsibility to developed countries to reduce emissions than the developing and poor nations. This forms the core of the protocol. It is known as the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities“. 

It means that although all the countries have this common responsibility to reduce GHG emissions, but the level of commitment should be more from the nations that have emitted more such gases in the past. 

Based on the historic and current GHG emissions, the developed countries are required to take the lead to reduce the emissions of the greenhouse gases and respond to the climate change.

Based on the economic conditions, countries are grouped under the UNFCCC in following manner:

Kyoto Protocol Countries 

Kyoto Protocol Countries are called Parties of the Protocol. Currently, there are 192 Parties (191 States and 1 regional economic integration organization) to the Kyoto Treaty to the UNFCCC. 

Kyoto Protocol countries are groups of Annex I, Annex II  and Non Annexed Parties of UNFCCC.

Annex I Parties of UNFCCC

In the Annex 1 of the UNFCCC there are 43 countries. It includes European Commission. These are industrialized nations that were members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1992 and Nations with Economies in Transition (EIT).

Annex II Parties of UNFCCC

This is a subset of Annex 1 party consisted of 23 developed countries but the countries with Economies in Transition (EIT) have excluded from this group. These are highly developed countries.

Non Annex 1 Parties

Mostly developing countries come under the Non Annex 1 Parties to the Kyoto protocol.

Kyoto Protocol Targets

First Commitment Period of Kyoto Protocol (2008-2012)

  • The time frame of first commitment period of Kyoto protocol was 2008-2012. 37 industrialized countries and European community (Annex I party) set the target of reducing their GHG emissions by 5% below 1990 levels during this time period.
  • Each Annex 1 country has been given total allowable emissions known as Assigned amount units (AAU) for this commitment period.

Second Commitment Period of Kyoto Protocol (2013-2020)

  • The second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol is 8 year long. In this period 37 countries (Annex 1 party) committed to reduce GHG levels by 18% below the level of 1990.
  • Four countries: Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Russia that were part of the First commitment period opted out from the new commitments. Another four countries Belarus, Cyprus, Kazakhstan and Malta are the newcomers that were not there in the first period but became joined it for the second commitment period.
  • United States of America (USA), the biggest polluter of GHG emissions, refused to become part of Kyoto protocol.
  • The protocol exempts more than 100 developing countries for legal commitment on GHG reductions. These countries include China and India.
  • Kyoto protocol also provides support to the developing countries and to the countries in economic transitions to mitigate and adapt to the climate change.

Greenhouse gases regulated under the Kyoto Protocol

The emission of 6 Greenhouse Gases were targeted to reduce under the Kyoto Protocol: Carbon dioxide (CO2); Methane (CH4); Nitrous oxide (N2O); Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs); Perfluorocarbons (PFCs); and Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).

Through Doha Amendment, the seventh gas ‘Nitrogen trifluoride‘ has been added to the list of regulated GHGs. Its regulation applies in the second commitment period of the protocol.

Paris Agreement on Climate Change

Paris agreement on Climate Change is a global treaty under international law to combat climate change. It was agreed (adopted) by 195 nations in Paris during the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on December 12, 2015. Some of its provisions are legally binding.

Key Points of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change


At the core to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is to limit the global temperature rise below 2°Celsius as compared to pre-industrial era in the present century. The agreement also emphasizes to drive efforts so that the temperature rise can be limited to 1.5 °C.

Why limiting temperature rise below 2 °C is so important?

Temperature rise of 2 °C is a critical limit. The reason is that if the temperature rises beyond this limit its impact will be catastrophic. If the global average temperature rises beyond 2°Celsius, it would become impossible to go back to the previous normal. 

Long Term Emissions Goals of Paris Agreement

Paris Agreement sets two important emission goals.

  • One of the goals is with regard to the Peaking Year. Peaking year means the year when the emissions of the country will reach to its maximum levels. The emissions start declining from the next year onward. Paris agreement states that Emission Peaking Year be reached as soon as possible. At the same time it recognizes the fact that the developing countries may take longer in reaching their peaking year.
  • The second goal to be reached by countries is Greenhouse Gas Neutrality. This means that the countries are required to become able to remove as much GHGs by sinks as are emitted by anthropogenic activities by source. 

Mechanisms and Approach of Paris Agreement on Climate Change for Successful Implementation

1. Nationally Determined Contributors (NDC)

In the run up to the Paris climate change conference each country was asked to communicate their pledges related to climate actions and emission reductions targets they intend to take up. This was supposed to be done voluntarily and decided within the country through discussions. This was called Intended Nationally Determined Contributors (INDC’s).

Once a country formally joins the Paris Agreement, it commits itself to work towards the implementation of the communicated pledges. At this stage the pledges it made earlier are called ‘Nationally Determined Contribution (NDCs)’ and the word “intended” is dropped.

Each country is required to communicate new and successively more and more ambitious NDC’s in every 5 years. Providing NDCs is a binding commitment under Paris Agreement. However, the implementation of NDCs domestically is not a legally binding commitment. The Paris agreement commits parties to drive efforts domestically to achieve the pledges they made for emission reductions (NDC).

2. Carbon Market

  • The Paris agreement approves ‘Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes’ to fulfill nationwide pledges of emission reduction (NDC’s). With reference to climate change, the word ‘Mitigation’ refers to the efforts one takes to reduce or prevent emission of greenhouse gases.
  • Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes means that a country can make efforts to reduce GHG emissions (mitigation) in other countries. The emission reduction it achieves else where in the word will be counted towards its own emission reduction targets. The accounting guidelines for these mitigation efforts are yet to be developed.
  • To make Clean Development Mechanism of Kyoto Protocol successful a new mechanism will also be developed.

 3. Through NDCs countries have communicated their pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When all the NDC’s are collected, it provides an idea of how much total global emission reductions the global community is targeting  over a period of time. It is found, however, that the collective efforts would not be sufficient to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degree C by the end of the century. Therefore, countries are required to progressively increase their emission reduction targets.

To promote it, the Paris agreement establishes two processes; (i) Global Stocktake, and (ii) Submission of the New Commitments/ Pledges called new NDCs by countries.

  • Global Stocktake and Submission of the New NDC’s

Global Stocktake: The purpose of the global stocktake is to assess and track progress made towards achieving the goals of the agreement. The first Stocktake will happen in 2023.

New NDC’s: The ultimate goal of Paris Agreement on Climate Change is to keep the global temperature rise below 2 °C. Stocktake will tell the required increase in the emission reduction targets to achieve the goals. It will be beneficial for directing countries to increase their emission reduction targets successively. The new national pledges (NDCs) submitted by the countries should be reflecting the outcomes of the stocktake. 

4. Transparency

To make the countries accountable, Paris Agreement sets a new transparency system with binding commitments from all the countries.

Emission Inventories:  In order to track the progress made by the countries towards achieving their NDC’s possible, all the countries are required to submit Emission Inventories and the other necessary information. The necessary information includes their adaptation efforts; support extended by the developed countries and received by the developing countries should also be reported. This information will be reviewed by the experts.

Except small island countries and least developed countries, rest of the countries needed to submit the inventories after every 2 years.

In order to make the developing countries able for such sort of transparency requirement, support will be provided to build their capacities.

The details of the transparency system will be negotiated by 2018.

5. Implementation/ Compliance

To promote compliance and support implementation, there will be a committee of experts. The committee will report to COP annually. The details are yet to be decided.

6. Finance

Funding climate change has always been a contentious issue between rich and poor countries. Under the convention, developed countries are bound to provide support of 100 billion$ per year to developing countries every year till 2020 through Green Climate Fund. Paris Agreement extends the 100 billion$ per year support by rich nations till 2025. For the period post 2025 a new higher financial goal will be set. With regard to financial support, for the first time in any international agreement, developing countries are also encouraged to come forward voluntarily to contribute financially.

7. Loss and damage

Warsaw international mechanism was established to address Loss and Damage due to climate change. The mechanism has been charged to develop approaches to help vulnerable countries better cope with extreme weather events and slow onset events such as sea level rise. Paris agreement extends the existing Warsaw mechanism. This is especially useful for the countries highly vulnerable to climate change such as small island countries.

Way Forward

In order to enter into force, Paris agreement required ratification (approval) by at least 55 countries responsible for 55% of GHG emissions worldwide by submitting their instruments of ratification.

On April 22, 2016, the agreement was opened for signature by States and regional economic integration organizations that are Parties to the UNFCCC at the UN Headquarters in New York. So far (5 may 2017) 146 Parties have ratified out of 197 Parties to the Convention (also called acceptance or approval). 

On 5 October 2016, the requirement for Paris Agreement to enter into the force was achieved. The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016.

With this, the COP begins meeting as ‘Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA)’. The first CMA 1 took place in Marrakech, Morocco in 2016.

‘Coming into force’ does not mean commencement of emission reduction obligations. Emission reduction obligations will only start in 2020.

Paris agreement is basically post 2020 agreement. The agreement will replace the first international treaty on climate change i.e. the Kyoto protocol after its second commitment period (2013-2020) ends on 31 January 2020.