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What is the Kyoto Protocol?

On 11 December, 1997, in Kyoto, Japan, the additional protocol to the organisation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted. The aim was to slow down climate change by means of climate protection measures. The Kyoto Protocol included clear regulations on how greenhouse gases were to be reduced. It came into force in 2005 and was replaced by the Paris Agreement in 2021.

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How did the Kyoto Protocol Come into Existence?

The Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, with the aim of stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at an acceptable level in order to combat the serious consequences of climate change. After ratification by the 50th nation, it came into force in 1994. 

The signatories have since met at regular intervals at what are known as COPs (Conference of the Parties), in order to agree on how to proceed with international climate protection efforts. In 1997, this meeting was held in Kyoto, Japan, where the “Kyoto Protocol” was adopted as the first document with legally binding obligations to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the ratified industrial countries. Two periods of validity were established: 2008 to 2012 (1st commitment period) and 2013 to 2020 (2nd commitment period). 


What was set out in the Kyoto Protocol?

During the first period, industrial countries were to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.2 per cent compared to 1990. The countries of the European Union along with Switzerland made it their goal to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of eight per cent compared to 1990. No fixed reduction targets were defined for emerging and developing countries at that time.

The Kyoto Protocol presented mechanisms that were to help industrial countries achieve their emissions reduction targets. These so-called flexible mechanisms or Kyoto mechanisms allowed the industrial countries to deliver some of their reduction commitments abroad. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) represented an important framework for the voluntary carbon market. 


Which Countries were Involved in the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol was Ratified by over 191 countries. It came into force in 2005, after which it was signed by over 55 countries, which were responsible for at least 55 per cent of the CO₂ emissions of industrial countries in 1990. The USA never joined the Kyoto Protocol, while Canada left it before the end of the first period. The countries of the European Union, Switzerland, Australia and some other countries, on the other hand, committed to reductions for the second commitment period until 2020.


Were the Goals of the Kyoto Protocol Achieved?

The emissions reductions for the first commitment period were achieved. For example, 15 countries in the EU at the time, including Switzerland, which had committed to an average reduction of eight percent, achieved a reduction of 11.7 per cent compared to 1990. However, the trend shows that countries such as the USA, as well as emerging countries such as China, Mexico, Brazil and India, steadily increased their CO₂ emissions over the same period. By 2010, global greenhouse gas emissions increased by around 29 per cent compared to 1990.


Why did the Kyoto Protocol fail in its Second Commitment Period?

In Doha in 2012, the second commitment period was determined, that is, an extension of the Kyoto Protocol until 2020. The goal was to extend the commitments and increase the reduction targets. The extent and distribution of future greenhouse gas reductions were disputed, as well as the inclusion of emerging and developing countries in the reduction commitments and the amount of the financial transfers. This second commitment period was to come into force after 90 days, once 144 signatories of the Kyoto Protocol had accepted it. With the signature of Nigeria on 2 October 2020, it came into force almost symbolically for a few hours at the end of 2020.


What happened next with climate protection and carbon markets?

To maintain the international climate protection process after 2020, a new climate agreement became necessary.


Paris Climate Agreement

At COP21 in Paris in 2015, the “Paris Agreement” or the “Paris Treaty” (L’Accord de Paris) was adopted, which for the first time included a specific goal for limiting global warming to significantly below 2°C, with a target of preferably 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial level of 1750. The Paris Agreement states that all signatories – not just industrial countries as in the case of the Kyoto Protocol – must commit to binding targets for CO₂ reduction, a steadily increasing ambition and the net-zero target. The additional importance of voluntary climate protection measures delivered by companies and private individuals was also emphasised with Article 6.

All information about the Paris Climate Agreement can be found here.


Climate Change Conference in Glasgow

At the Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) in 2021, 151 countries made new commitments (National Determined Contributions, NDCs) to curb global climate change. After six years of difficult negotiations, the regulations for Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which is relevant to CO₂ markets, were also adopted. 

All information about the Climate Change Conference in Glasgow can be found here.


What do these agreements mean for the future of voluntary financing of climate protection projects?

The resolutions in Glasgow have now provided greater clarity about the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Coordinated and robust regulations have further strengthened the importance of international collaboration in climate protection and the significance of market mechanisms, as well as voluntary contributions from business and society. 

More information on future developments relating to voluntary financing of climate protection projects can be found here.

Das Protokoll von Kyoto
BMUV - Protokoll von Kyoto zum Rahmenübereinkommen der Vereinten Nationen über Klimaänderungen
BAFU - International climate policy: the Kyoto Protocol


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