The Who, What, When, Where, and Why in Kyoto Pact

Published November 1, 1998

The Kyoto Protocol was provisionally adopted last December at an international conference in Japan as an extension of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Although Vice President Al Gore agreed to terms of the treaty, it has not been submitted to the Senate for ratification. The protocol is just 24 pages long and can be read on the Internet. Its key provisions are:

  • Developed countries are required to reduce their overall greenhouse gas emissions “by at least 5 percent below 1990 levels” by 2012, with the U.S. required to reduce its emissions even further, to 7 percent below 1990 levels.
  • Developing nations that are major sources of greenhouse gases, such as China, India, and Mexico, are excused from having to comply with any emission requirements–even one of their own choosing–and are promised “the establishment of funding, insurance and transfer of technology mechanisms” to “minimize adverse social, environmental and economic impacts” that might result when developed countries reduce their emissions.
  • Countries belonging to the European Union agreed to reduce their emissions by 8 percent, but are allowed to “jointly fulfil their commitments,” with each country getting a new emission cap to be set out in a separate agreement.
  • A permanent international body, the Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, is created, served by a Subsidiary Body for Implementation and a Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice. It is to receive from each participating nation an “annual inventory of anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases . . .” and national “programmes containing measures to mitigate climate change and measures to facilitate adequate adaptation to climate change.”
  • International emission trading appears in the Protocol but is restricted to buying and selling credits among developed countries and “shall be supplemental to domestic actions for the purpose of meeting” a country’s reduction requirements. Joint implementation of emissions reductions is allowed, but only for specific projects that are part of a “clean development mechanism” outlined in Article 12. Since the Kyoto meeting, spokespersons for developing nations have disparaged both emission trading and joint implementation, suggesting they could be phased out or never developed.
  • Developing nations, which account for 36 percent of the world’s 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 1990, are not required to limit emissions.