Recognising the threats linked to climate change, the signatories to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The Protocol finally entered into force in early 2005 and its 165 member countries meet twice annually to negotiate further refinement and development of the agreement. Only one major industrialised nation, the United States, has not ratified Kyoto.

The Kyoto Protocol commits its signatories to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% from their 1990 level by the target period of 2008-2012 . This has in turn resulted in the adoption of a series of regional and national reduction targets. In the European Union, for instance, the commitment is to an overall reduction of 8%. In order to help reach this target, the EU has also agreed a target to increase its proportion of renewable energy from 6% to 12% by 2010.

The Kyoto Protocol’s architecture relies fundamentally on legally binding emissions reduction obligations. To achieve these targets, carbon is turned into a commodity which can be traded. The aim is to encourage the most economically efficient emissions reductions, in turn leveraging the necessary investment in clean technology.

Presently the Kyoto countries are negotiating the second phase of the agreement, covering the period from 2013-2017. Signatory countries agreed a negotiating ‘mandate’, known as the Bali Action Plan, in December 2007, but they must complete these negotiations with a final agreement on the second Kyoto commitment period by the end of 2009 in Copenhagen.

European commitments

Under the Kyoto Protocol the European Union (the EU-15) committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8% by 2012 compared to 1990. More recently the European Heads of State and Government (EU-27) decided to reduce greenhouse gases by up to 30% by 2020. They also established targets of 20% renewable energy and 20% energy efficiency to be achieved by the same date.

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