The Kyoto Protocol

What does it really say?

CSE Briefing Paper 1

To understand the Kyoto Protocol (KP), adopted in Kyoto on December 11, 1997, it is important to read it together with the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC). The following paragraphs explain what the Kyoto Protocol says and, where necessary, the relevant articles of the FCCC have been quoted. And, wherever possible, the implications of the various clauses of the Kyoto Protocol have been drawn out, especially from the point of view of developing countries.

The preamble to the Kyoto Protocol states that the Protocol has been developed to meet the ‘ultimate objective’ of the FCCC as stated in its Article 2. The objective of the FCCC is "to achieve....stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner."

Guiding Principles
The preamble further states that the development of KP has been guided by the Article 3 of FCCC. The Article 3 of the FCCC lists the following guiding principles, among others:

Nations which have become a party to the FCCC will take action to protect the climate system keeping in mind the following:

the benefits of present and future generations; equity; and, the common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities of nations. Developed countries are expected to take the lead in combating climate change and its adverse effects.

The special needs and circumstances of developing countries will be given full consideration, especially the needs of those that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, and those that would have to bear a disproportionate or abnormal burden under the FCCC.

Signatories to the FCCC will take precautionary measures keeping the following in mind:

anticipate, prevent or minimise the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse effects;

where there are serious threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty will not be used as a reason for postponing such measures;

policies and measures to deal with climate change will be cost-effective so as to ensure global benefits at the lowest possible cost; and,

these policies and measures should take into account different socio-economic contexts, be comprehensive, cover all relevant sources, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and adaptation, and cover all economic sectors.

Interested nations can cooperate amongst themselves to address climate change.

Nations have a right to, and should, promote sustainable development. Policies and measures should be appropriate for the specific conditions of each nation and should be integrated with national development programmes, taking into account that economic development is essential for adopting measures to address climate change.

Nations should cooperate to promote a supportive and open international economic system so that there is sustainable economic growth in all nations, especially developing countries, which will enable them to address climate change in a better way. Measures taken to combat climate change, including unilateral ones, should not lead to arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination or a disguised restriction on international trade.

Equity and common but differentiated responsibilities are, therefore, important guiding principles of the Kyoto Protocol.

Article 1: Definitions
This article defines conference of parties, convention, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Montreal Protocol, parties present and voting, party and party included in

Annex 1.
A party included in Annex 1 means a nation included in Annex 1 to the FCCC. These are developed countries and other nations which have committed themselves to actions specifically provided under Article 4(2) of the FCCC. These actions described under Article 4, sub-paragraphs 2(a) and 2(b) are:

  • adoption of national policies and measures and implementation of corresponding measures to mitigate climate change by limiting their anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and protecting their sinks and reservoirs; and,

  • keeping other nations informed about their policies and measures so that this information can be reviewed by the Conference of Parties (CoP).

Sub-paragraph 4(2)(d) says that the COP will in the light of best scientific information available review the commitments made under sub-paragraphs 4(2)(a) and 4(2)(b) and adopt amendments to these commitments.

Sub-paragraph 4(2)(f) says that the CoP, no later than December 31, 1998, will review the Annexes I and II and take decisions to amend them with the approval of the nation concerned. This means that the CoP-4 to be held in Buenos Aires could amend Annex I and II. Sub-paragraph 4(2)(g) says that any nation can notify at any time it wishes that it is prepared to be bound by sub-paragraphs 4(2)(a) and 4(2)(b).

This means that nations can take on voluntary commitments and join Annex I countries.