The Legacy of the Kyoto Protocol: Its Role as the Rulebook for an International Climate Framework

In IRES Vol.5 No.1
Volume (Issue): Vol.5, No.1
Peer-reviewed Article

Global climate change has been one of the most contentious issues in international negotiations since the 1980s. At the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro - popularly known as the Earth Summit - most countries of the world adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which obligates them to work together to achieve the aim of stabilizing the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases (GHG) regardless of their level of development. The UNFCCC, however, did not contain concrete plans to attain this objective.

Recognizing the necessity to fortify the international commitment, the Parties to the UNFCCC gathered at the first Conference of the Parties (COP) in Berlin in 1995 and agreed on the Berlin Mandate, which required the Parties to start negotiations and reach agreement on the legal text regarding the numerical emission reduction targets for developed countries by COP 3 in 1997. There, as the benchmark for international efforts to tackle global climate change, the Parties agreed on the Kyoto Protocol, which includes GHG emissions reduction targets for Annex I countries during the protocol’s first commitment period from 2008 to 2012.

At present, seven years since COP 3 in Kyoto, Japan, the protocol has not come into force, although the COP is about to mark its tenth anniversary in December 2004 in Buenos Aires. Since 1997, there have been several changes in the Kyoto framework. The largest shock to the international commitment on climate change was the withdrawal of the United States (US) from the protocol in 2001, the largest emitter of GHGs.

There have also been positive developments since Kyoto. For example, although the European Union (EU) was initially reluctant to accept the use of Kyoto mechanisms at the time, it decided to launch its EU-wide Emissions Trading Scheme (EUETS) from 2005. The EUETS is now regarded as a possible core of the international emissions trading framework to which other countries may consider a possibility of linking their own domestic systems. Many countries appear prepared to do so regardless of the future direction of the Kyoto Protocol. The withdrawal of the United States and the ambivalent attitude of Russia make the fate of Kyoto uncertain, however, the protocol appears to have been recognized as the foundation of climate change policies in many countries, particularly the use of the Kyoto mechanisms, such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), joint implementation (JI), and emissions trading (ET), although these need further improvement.

Since official negotiations on post-Kyoto issues will start in 2005, the focus of discussions is now shifting to the international regime that will exist after the first commitment period. In order to establish a post-Kyoto regime that can accommodate the will of as many Parties as possible, it is also important to analyze whether the Kyoto Protocol framework will become the de facto international climate regime before COP 10. In order to establish a post-Kyoto international climate regime, it is important to consider its future; whether the protocol should be kept as it is now, or abandoned completely and the process started over, or whether the future regime should be constructed based on the Kyoto Protocol.

In this issue of the International Review of Environmental Strategies (IRES), various experts provide their assessments on the status of the protocol and offer suggestions for the future climate regime. This paper attempts to provide a quick review of their views. Recognizing that the Kyoto Protocol is the only international agreement that carries the name of a Japanese city, the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), as a policy research institute in the country that hosted COP 3, wishes to provide a resource on the Kyoto regime and perspectives for a future framework.