The ”Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change” was adopted in Kyoto on the afternoon of December 11, 1997. It is the first legally binding document requiring reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2%.

The Kyoto Protocol commits the developed nations to reducing their collective emissions of six key greenhouse gases -- carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride -- by at least 5% of 1990 levels by 2012. The European Union, along with Switzerland and most Central and East European states, will cut emissions by 8%; the United States by 7%; and Canada, Hungary, Japan and Poland by 6%. Russia, New Zealand and Ukraine must stabilize their emissions, while Norway is allowed an increase of 1%, Australia 8% and Iceland 10%. The six gases will be combined in a basket, with reductions in individual gases translated into "CO2 equivalents" that are then added up to produce a single figure.

The sixth Congress of the Parties (COP6) to the Framework Convention takes place in The Hague from November 13-24, 2000; its purpose is to decide exactly how the signatories are to meet their targets.

Innovative but controversial mechanisms for achieving the targets include the trading of emissions credits, where nations which exceed their goals can trade or sell credits to those (mainly the US) who want to lessen the pain; and the use of carbon sinks. The EU is pushing for a position that at least have each nation's commitments must be met by a genuine reduction in domestic emissions; the US is pushing for greater flexibility.

Further information:,, and

The Kyoto protocol died when the President of the United States announced on March 28, 2001 that he would not implement the treaty that his country signed in Kyoto four years ago (1). The Senate has not ratified it, but the main reason he invoked was that the protocol would harm the American economy.

This information was barely discussed in the US (only one sentence in the Wall Street Journal that day). The rest of the world strongly denounced such a lack of respect for international treaties.

The American position is: maybe global warming will harm us in the long term, but maybe it won't. So let us do nothing. This is the dice policy, as opposed to the European policy, based on insurance: let us spend money right now on that problem even if we are far from sure it's useful. In a similar case, everybody chose the insurance policy for the Y2K bug, probably because the danger was (or seemed to be) immediate: an IT manager could have been fired if something had happened in his company.

Another, more cynical, explanation of the American position is that the US are rich enough to build Dutch-like dykes around Manhattan if the waters of the ocean rise one day.

Update: on the following day (March 30, 2001), the WSJ featured an editorial about the affair, but still no real, informational article. Of course they strongly supported Mr. Bush.

(1) See for example

You think Bush chose 'economy over mankind'? Really?

Look, the economy is what enables so many people to be so productive in this country (and elsewhere). If the Kyoto Protocol were adhered to by the US, the economy would tank OVERNIGHT. It's already a bit fragile. It doesn't need another whack to the jaw.

The document was first signed by Al Gore. He was given NO AUTHORITY to do so on behalf of the United States government. His action was his own, and had no bearing on anything the US government wanted. In fact, the Kyoto Protocol was voted 95-0 AGAINST (that means 95 senators voted against it, and only 5 abstained) in the US Senate. Politicians may be corrupt and seedy, but they are not stupid. They know what would happen if that bill passed. The Dow would fall 20% over one session. People would lose their jobs. That's not losses on paper. That's real people not being able to work and earn money for food and shelter even though they want to. That's real people having to drop out of college because they have to help their parents earn enough money to eat.

But we'd have cleaner air, wouldn't we.

Minimally cleaner, really. It's arguable in the extreme whether C02 could be a significant contributer to global warming, which is unproven and disputed heavily. Hell, the first effects are decades, if not centuries away, and might be rather pathetic when they arrive. We don't even know if the temparature is going to drop or rise. When we get there, we'll deal with it with science that continues to accelarate. Technology is the solution to problems created by technology. Nanotechnology. Advanced biotechnology and chemistry. Our theoretical plans for planetary terraforming will not be theoretical for as long as you think. It can be done here, too.

Slowing down doesn't get us any closer to the solution. Crippling the economies that will create solutions to these possible problems is not the best way to go. Call me crazy.

What gives us the right to choose our short-term convenience over the long-term welfare of the population of the entire world? The entire world, mind you. We have already done irreversible harm to the global atmosphere. Currently accepted scientific estimates run in the 1 to 3 °C range for global temperature increase and in the .1 to .6 meter range for sea level rise in the next hundred years. And that's if we take drastic measures to reduce emissions right now. The numbers run as high as 6°C and 1 meter if we don't.

I ask again: what gives us the right to destroy this planet for our convenience? Let us presume for a moment that implementation of the Kyoto Protocol would instantly and completely topple our fragile economy, hurling us into a crippling depression from which we would not recover for decades. So?. That we would have the audacity to put our economy before the interests of 95% of the world's population (not to mention future generations) positively sickens me, especially considering that so many of the major nations around the globe have pledged to make whatever sacrifices need to be made to do their part.

Granted, the Kyoto Protocol would not solve the global warming problem. The greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere would not magically disappear. Florida might well end up underwater anyway. But it would be a start. And if not now, then when? Should we wait until New York is reduced to a glorified fish tank and then ban all the offending agents entirely? How would that suit the economy? Hm?

Maybe, just maybe, it would be prudent to cut back gradually over the next few decades. It wouldn't be easy, but it would sure as hell beat cold turkey, and something has to be done eventually. The Protocol would have been an excellent kick-off. But so much for that idea.

Some factual bits were gleaned from the report "Summary for Policymakers: A Report of Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change" which may be found at

The Kyoto protocol was adopted by 186 countries on July 23, 2001, with the notable exception of the United States. After two days of negotiation in Bonn a waterd down version of the treaty was finally accepted. Cuts in emissions for the worlds 37 richest countries will only be marginal, about 1%-3% before 2010, but this is seen as an important first step in combating climate change. The deal leaves the US as the world's environmental pariah, putting pressure on George W Bush to come up with his own proposals for tackling climate change. The agreement also includes a fund of 500 million USD per year aimed at helping developing countries combat climate change.

The Kyoto Mechanisms
Here is an explanation of the three market-based mechanisms aimed at achieving reductions as cost-effectively as possible:

International Emissions Trading (IET)
country level trading of credits
– countries with emissions limitation commitments can transfer part of their allowed emissions from one country to another, keeping total allowable emissions constant
ex. Transfer of part of its assigned amount by the Russian Federation to the governmentt of Japan

Joint Implementation (JI)
– project level trading of credits
– allows companies or countries with emissions limitation commitments to fund specific emission reduction projects in other developed countries, and to “credit” the resulting emission reductions against their own obligations
ex. Investment by a U.S. firm in the Czech Republic to switch from coal to natural gas and to improve efficiency of the system could be a JI project

Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)
– project level trading of credits, for non Annex I countries
– companies or countries can fund specific emission reduction projects that contribute to sustainable development in developing countries and credit resulting reductions against their own obligations
ex. Investment by government of The Netherlands to improve the efficiency of a re-heat funace in a steel plant in Thailand

Trading of emissions credits is somewhat controversial. While the goal is to increase efficiency by allowing emissions reductions to take place where they are least costly, some nations claim that traiding could allow wealthy states to accomplish a large portion of their reductions without making any changes in lifestyle. Another point of contention are emissions credits trading with Russia, whose emission level goals were set prior to the nation's economic collapse. Their emissions levels have already been met as a result of economic downturn rather than consciencious emissions reductions. Trading is also difficult to monitor and verify.

Haites, E. and M. Aslam. The Kyoto Mechanisms & Global Climate Change: Coordination Issues and Domestic Policies. Pew Center on Global Climate Change. 2000.
Porter, G., J.W. Brown and P.S. Chasek. Global Environmental Politics. Westview Press. 2000.

Complete text, Introduction and links to each article.


Third session

Kyoto, 1-10 December 1997

Agenda item 5



The Parties to this Protocol,

Being Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, hereinafter referred to as "the Convention",

In pursuit of the ultimate objective of the Convention as stated in its Article 2,

Recalling the provisions of the Convention,

Being guided by Article 3 of the Convention,

Pursuant to the Berlin Mandate adopted by decision 1/CP.1 of the

Conference of the Parties to the Convention at its first session,

Have agreed as follows:

(Click to view each article).
Kyoto Protocol - Article 1
Kyoto Protocol - Article 2
Kyoto Protocol - Article 3
Kyoto Protocol - Article 4
Kyoto Protocol - Article 5
Kyoto Protocol - Article 6
Kyoto Protocol - Article 7
Kyoto Protocol - Article 8
Kyoto Protocol - Article 9
Kyoto Protocol - Article 10
Kyoto Protocol - Article 11
Kyoto Protocol - Article 12
Kyoto Protocol - Article 13
Kyoto Protocol - Article 14
Kyoto Protocol - Article 15
Kyoto Protocol - Article 16
Kyoto Protocol - Article 17
Kyoto Protocol - Article 18
Kyoto Protocol - Article 19
Kyoto Protocol - Article 20
Kyoto Protocol - Article 21
Kyoto Protocol - Article 22
Kyoto Protocol - Article 23
Kyoto Protocol - Article 24
Kyoto Protocol - Article 25
Kyoto Protocol - Article 26
Kyoto Protocol - Article 27
Kyoto Protocol - Annex A and B (Includes emission targets).

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