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.

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