Monday, March 26, 2012

The Kyoto Treaty


On December 11, 1997, after an all night session, the Third Conference of Parties (COP-3) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change approved a "Kyoto Protocol" setting a legally-binding collective target for 39 developed country Parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% from a 1990 (generally baseline) for the period 2008-2012. The agreement includes individual reduction targets of 7% for the U.S., 8% for the European Union collectively, and 6% for Japan. Each party must show demonstrable progress towards meeting its target by 2005.

Gases, Bubbles and Budgets

The agreement covers six gases (CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, HFCs, PFCs, and SF6) as a "basket" with the latter three using a 1995 instead of a 1990 baseline. It also enshrines the ability of the European Union (EU) to comply as a group, but it requires adjustment of EU commitments if its membership enlarges. The U.S. proposal for a multi-year target (2008-2012) survived, but no second period was established. This is to be done by 2005 by amendment to an Annex to the protocol, requiring 3/4s of the protocol Parties to approve and to ratify. This latter language was tightened at the behest of U.S. Senate staff observers.

Ratification Process

The protocol will be opened for signature between March 16, 1998 and March 15, 1999 and afterward transmitted for acceptance by Parties. It will enter into force after ratification by 55 Parties which must include developed (Annex I) nations representing 55% of the carbon dioxide emissions from all annex I countries in 1990. The U.S. sought a 65/50 formula, which the Chairman of the Negotiating Committee, Raul Estrada, opposed on the grounds that it would allow the U.S. to hold up entry into force of the protocol by withholding its ratification.

Emissions Trading

The agreement nearly collapsed on the issue of emissions trading. It was favored by the U.S. (along with Russia, Iran, Samoa, and Mexico,) but opposed by a number of both developed and developing nations. Opposition within the EU was led by France. In return for gaining acceptance of emission trading (EU amendments calling for establishment of procedures and guidelines for verification and accounting by a future COP before going into force,) U.S. relinquished its opposition to the EU bubble and ultimately moved from a target of stabilization at 1990 levels to a 7% reduction (the bidding began at 2%).

Developing Nations Exemption

Article 9, calling for a voluntary opt-in process for developing nations to adopt binding commitments, was deleted with opposition led by China, Brazil, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. While Russia and the Alliance of Small Island States supported it (as did Mexico, Korea and Argentina with certain reservations,) Chairman Estrada ruled that there was no consensus and dropped the article. Later, Argentina and the U.S. sought to place the issue on the agenda for COP-4 in Buenos Aires next year, but this too was opposed by China and others. Estrada said he would try to work something out next year. Hailing the agreement, Vice President Gore said in Washington on December 11, 1997 that the Administration would not submit the protocol to the Senate until "meaningful participation by key developing nations" was obtained. The agenda for COP-4 will be decided at a meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Implementation in June, 1998 in Bonn.

Joint Implementation/Clean Development Mechanism

Another item identified early on by the U.S. as a "must" for agreeing to a protocol was Joint Implementation (JI) among all Parties with credit. As approved, JI will be limited to Annex I Parties. A new device, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) will be available for joint projects in non-Annex I nations through the payment of a special administrative fee by developed nation participants. This is a reworking of a Brazilian proposal for a penalty fee for non-compliance for Annex I Parties that miss their targets.


Another major negotiating point was the treatment of emissions removed from the atmosphere by land and forestry "sinks". The U.S. sought a definition, although limited to human-induced sinks, that included "managed" forests, a concept strongly opposed by Brazil. Language supported by the U.S. and applicable only to the first budget period (2008-12) was finally accepted.

Compliance and Damages

The Kyoto Protocol says enforcement procedures for dealing with non-compliance "shall" be established at the first meeting of the Parties to the Protocol. The first meeting shall also consider what actions related to "funding, insurance and transfer of technology" may be needed to minimize adverse social, environmental and economic impacts on developing nations of actions taken by developed nations to meet their targets.

Policies and Measures

Article 2 of the Protocol says each Party "shall" implement or further elaborate policies and measures "in accordance with its national circumstances" and lists eight examples including measures to limit emissions in the transport sector. The COP may later decide to "coordinate" any of these measures. However, the language is not mandatory.

Pentagon Waiver

In a separate decision (FCCC/CP/1997/L.5) the COP approved the waiver sought by U.S. Department of Defense officials. It states that emissions from multi-lateral operations pursuant to the UN Charter should not be included in national reporting totals. However, other defense-related emissions must be reported and this point raised the concern of Congressional observers in Kyoto.