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Kyoto Protocol

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The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty, agreed in December of 1997 as a subsidiary Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of 1992 (UNFCCC). The Kyoto Protocol sets a binding target for industrialized countries (Annex 1 countries) to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases by an initial aggregate of 5.2% against 1990 levels over the period 2008 – 2012. This spread of years is known as the “first commitment period”. The Protocol finally entered into force in 2005.

It is recognized that industrialized countries are largely responsible for the historic build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and that developing countries need to expand their economies in order to meet social and develop¬ment objectives. Therefore, China, India and other developing countries do not have quantified, binding emission reduction commitments for the period from 2008-2012. However, it was agreed that they still share a ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ to reduce emissions.

The overall objective of the international climate regime is to achieve “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human) interference with the climate system”. National emissions reduction obligations under the Kyoto Protocol range from 8% for the European Union to 7% for the United States, 6% for Japan, 0% for Russia and permitted increases of 8% for Australia and 10% for Iceland. These figures exclude international aviation and shipping.

As of July 2009, 186 countries had ratified the protocol. Of these, 38 industrialized countries (plus the EU as a party in its own right) are required to reduce their emissions to the levels specified for each of them in the treaty. 145 developing countries have ratified the protocol, including Brazil, China and India, but have no reduction obligation. The United States is the only industrialized country not to have ratified the Protocol, and Kazakhstan is the only other signatory not to have ratified the agreement so far, although the Kazak government has recently signaled its intention to ratify.

Flexible Mechanisms
To combat climate change it does not matter where emissions are reduced, it is the overall global reduction that counts. As a result the Kyoto Protocol has taken a strong market approach, recognizing that it may be more cost-effec¬tive for Annex I parties to pay for emissions reductions in other countries, for example in the developing world or other countries where there is a large potential for cost-effective reductions. Industrialized countries therefore have the ability to apply three different mechanisms with which they can collaborate with other parties. These are Joint Implementa¬tion (JI), the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Emissions Trading.

Emissions Trading
Under the International Emissions Trading provisions, Annex I countries can trade so called “Assigned Amount Units” (AAU’s) among themselves. These are allocated to them on the basis of their overall emissions reduction targets. The emissions trading scheme also sees this activity as “supple¬mental to domestic actions”.

Those parties that reduce their emissions below the allowed level can then trade some part of their surplus allowances to other Annex I parties. It is unlikely that there will be very many Annex I parties who will be sellers of AAU’s, and an equally small number of buyers, at least in the first commit¬ment period.

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