The Kyoto Protocol

What Is the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol was an international agreement that aimed to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and the presence of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere. The essential tenet of the Kyoto Protocol was that industrialized nations needed to lessen the amount of their CO2 emissions.

The protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan in 1997, when greenhouse gases were rapidly threatening our climate, life on the earth, and the planet. Today, the Kyoto Protocol lives on in other forms, and its issues are still being discussed.

Key Takeaways

  • The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement that called for industrialized nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions significantly.
  • Other accords, like the Doha Amendment and the Paris Climate Agreement, have also tried to curb the global-warming crisis.
  • Talks begun by the Kyoto Protocol continue in 2021 and are extremely complicated, involving politics, money, and lack of consensus.
  • The U.S. withdrew from the agreement on the grounds that the mandate was unfair and would hurt the U.S. economy.
  • The Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, which replaced the Kyoto Protocol, includes commitments from all major GHG-emitting countries to reduce their climate-altering pollution.

The Kyoto Protocol Explained


The Kyoto Protocol mandated that industrialized nations cut their greenhouse gas emissions at a time when the threat of global warming was growing rapidly. The Protocol was linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It was adopted in Kyoto, Japan on December 11, 1997, and became international law on February 16, 2005.

Countries that ratified the Kyoto Protocol were assigned maximum carbon emission levels for specific periods and participated in carbon credit trading. If a country emitted more than its assigned limit, then it would be penalized by receiving a lower emissions limit in the following period.

Major Tenets

Developed, industrialized countries made a promise under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce their annual hydrocarbon emissions by an average of 5.2% by the year 2012. This number would represent about 29% of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions.

Targets depended on the individual country. As a result, each nation had a different target to meet by that year.

Members of the European Union (EU) pledged to cut emissions by 8%, while the U.S. and Canada promised to reduce their emissions by 7% and 6%, respectively, by 2012.

$100 billion

The amount of the Kyoto Protocol fund that was meant to aid developing countries in selecting non-greenhouse-emitting industrialized processes and technologies.

Responsibilities of Developed Versus Developing Nations

The Kyoto Protocol recognized that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity. As such, the protocol placed a heavier burden on developed nations than less-developed nations.

The Kyoto Protocol mandated that 37 industrialized nations plus the EU cut their GHG emissions. Developing nations were asked to comply voluntarily, and more than 100 developing countries, including China and India, were exempted from the Kyoto agreement altogether.

A Particular Function for Developing Countries

The protocol separated countries into two groups: Annex I contained developed nations, and Non-Annex I referred to developing countries. The protocol placed emission limitations on Annex I countries only. Non-Annex I nations participated by investing in projects designed to lower emissions in their countries.

For these projects, developing countries earned carbon credits, which they could trade or sell to developed countries, allowing the developed nations a higher level of maximum carbon emissions for that period. In effect, this function helped the developed countries to continue emitting GHG vigorously.

The United States' Involvement

The United States, which had ratified the original Kyoto agreement, dropped out of the protocol in 2001. The U.S. believed that the agreement was unfair because it called only for industrialized nations to limit emissions reductions, and it felt that doing so would hurt the U.S. economy.

The Kyoto Protocol Ended in 2012, Effectively Half-Baked

Global emissions were still on the rise by 2005, the year the Kyoto Protocol became international law—even though it was adopted in 1997. Things seemed to go well for many countries, including those in the EU. They planned to meet or exceed their targets under the agreement by 2011. But others continued to fall short.

The United States and China—two of the world's biggest emitters—produced enough greenhouse gases to mitigate any of the progress made by nations who met their targets. In fact, there was an increase of about 40% in emissions globally between 1990 and 2009.

The Doha Amendment Extended Kyoto Protocol to 2020

In December 2012, after the first commitment period of the Protocol ended, parties to the Kyoto Protocol met in Doha, Qatar, to adopt an amendment to the original Kyoto agreement. This so-called Doha Amendment added new emission-reduction targets for the second commitment period, 2012–2020, for participating countries.

The Doha Amendment had a short life. In 2015, at the sustainable development summit held in Paris, all UNFCCC participants signed yet another pact, the Paris Climate Agreement, which effectively replaced the Kyoto Protocol.

The Paris Climate Agreement

The Paris Climate Agreement is a landmark environmental pact that was adopted by nearly every nation in 2015 to address climate change and its negative effects. The agreement includes commitments from all major GHG-emitting countries to cut their climate-altering pollution and to strengthen those commitments over time.

Every five years, countries engage in the Global Stocktake, which is an assessment of their progress under the Paris Climate Agreement.

A major directive of the deal calls for reducing global GHG emissions to limit the earth's temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees (preferring a 1.5-degree increase) Celsius above preindustrial levels. The Paris Agreement also provides a way for developed nations to assist developing nations in their efforts to adapt climate control, and it creates a framework for monitoring and reporting countries’ climate goals transparently.

The Kyoto Protocol Today

In 2016, when the Paris Climate Agreement went into force, the United States was one of the principal drivers of the agreement, and President Obama hailed it as “a tribute to American leadership.”

As a candidate for president at that time, Donald Trump criticized the agreement as a bad deal for the American people and pledged to withdraw the United States if elected. In 2017, then-President Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, saying that it would undermine the U.S. economy.

The former president did not begin the formal withdrawal process until Nov. 4, 2019. The U.S. formally withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement on Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the 2020 presidential election, in which Donald Trump lost his reelection bid to Joseph Biden.

On January 20, 2021, his first day in office, President Biden began the process of rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, which officially took effect on Feb. 19, 2021.

A Complicated Stalemate

In 2021, the dialogue is still alive but has turned into a complex quagmire involving politics, money, lack of leadership, lack of consensus, and bureaucracy. Today, despite myriad plans and some actions, solutions to the problems of GHG emissions and global warming have not been implemented.

Almost all scientists who study the atmosphere now believe that global warming is primarily the result of human action. Logically then, what humans have caused by their behavior should be able to be remedied by humans changing their behavior. It is frustrating to many that cohesive action to deal with the human-made global climate crisis has yet to happen.

Remember the Internet

It is critical that we remain convinced that we can, in fact, resolve these issues so crucial to our survival. We humans have already solved huge problems in numerous fields via technical innovation that led to radically new solutions.

Interestingly, if anyone had suggested in 1958 that our own Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which oversees the development of advanced technologies for use by the U.S. military, would lead the world in creating the Internet—a system that could "connect every person and thing with every other person and thing on the planet instantly and at zero cost"—they might have been laughed off the stage, or worse.

What Is the Primary Purpose of the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol was an agreement among developed nations to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and greenhouse gases (GHG).

Why Didn’t the U.S. Sign the Kyoto Protocol?

The United States backed out of the Kyoto Protocol agreement in 2001 on the basis that it unfairly burdened developed nations. The treaty called only for developed nations to reduce emissions, which the U.S. believed would unfairly stifle its economy.

What Special Problems Do Developing Nations Face With Such Treaties As the Kyoto Protocol?

Developing countries were not mandated to act under the agreement, and volunteering to reduce emissions under it would create large costs that they were either incapable of incurring or unwilling to incur.

What Sorts of Emissions Is the Kyoto Protocol Built to Curb?

The Kyoto Protocol was built to curb carbon dioxide (CO2) and greenhouse gas emissions.

Article Sources

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