What is the Role of Kyoto Protocol in Climate Change?

Growing concerns about the state of the environment were seen as far back as the early 90’s. A number of nations had become fully industrialized and were causing rampant pollution and environmental degradation. The emission of greenhouse gases had increased. Keeping this in mind, the United Nations began to work on methods that would reign in the pollution and set boundaries for all the countries with regard to emission of greenhouse gases. All of this was a part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. As a treaty, the role of Kyoto Protocol in the convention was to provide a binding agreement from all countries.

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in the year 1997, however it became a binding treaty only in the year 2005. At the time it was signed, one hundred and ninety countries were party to the treaty, along with the European Union. Under the protocol, many countries were required to bring about a decrease in their emission of greenhouse gases within two specific commitment time frames.


First of these was fixed as 2008-2012, while second was from 2013-2020. After the end of the first commitment period, many changes were made to the Kyoto Protocol, but it has been made legally binding as of 2013. As of now, the role of Kyoto Protocol is being reviewed once again.

The nature of the treaty is such that the developed nations have defined and binding targets, while the developing nations are required to reduce their emissions. Developed nations have been allowed an amount of freedom, but trading their quotas between each other or by helping developing nations in reducing theirs. Much of this involves financial help in harnessing sources of renewable energy, decreasing deforestation and finding ways to make their existing infrastructure energy-efficient. The role of Kyoto Protocol here is to allow development but reduce the environmental costs that come with it.

An issue that has been a part of the treaty since the time it was introduced has been that while almost every country has become a signatory, not all of them are willing to ratify it. Signing is simply a gesture of good faith and is not taken as an agreement to all the terms and conditions. Ratifying the treaty would mean that the country is effectively under a contract with the United Nations and fellow countries to follow the objectives outlined.

Not all countries chose to ratify the agreement, meaning the role of Kyoto Protocol is non-existent for them. The most common reason given was that it would harm the economy.

Countries such as the USA and Australia fought for almost ten years for changes to be made in the treaty. These countries have yet not ratified the treaty, meaning they are not being held legally responsible for decreasing their emissions as of now.

The basic purpose of establishing the Kyoto Protocol was to have an agreement within the countries to do their part in reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases. However, it was very difficult to get all the countries to agree about the role of Kyoto Protocol in their current governance.

A major issue faced by the treaty was that it built on very limited scientific knowledge and did not take into consideration the individual needs of each nation. A ratification by a country as small as Switzerland will do little if developed countries such as USA, Russia, UK, Australia and China continue to increase their emissions year after year.

Although made with the best of intentions, the Kyoto Protocol was at best a way to show that there is a global consciousness about climate change. In the ten years that it took to ratify the treaty and make it a legal contract, many developing nations had become developed. This was not reflected in the treaty.

There were several loopholes which allowed developed nations to make no effort in reduction of their emissions, instead using developing nations as a way of outsourcing them. However, the objectives of the 2008-2012 commitment period were not met in any way, thus making the role of Kyoto Protocol useless for the coming commitment period.

As of now, growing scientific knowledge has become a catalyst for environmental change. Developing nations are no longer being given the leeway to grow their emissions as per their industry. Even though most of Asia, along with the Indian subcontinent have low emissions, they are being offset by the emissions being produced by China. To make the role of Kyoto Protocol valid in the current situation, it has be changed in order to reflect the current state of the world.

Image credit: jean.ruymbeke


Rinkesh is passionate about clean and green energy. He is running this site since 2009 and writes on various environmental and renewable energy related topics. He lives a green lifestyle and is often looking for ways to improve the environment around him.