The Kyoto Protocol will become legally binding on its 128 Parties on 16 February, following the receipt by the United Nations Secretary-General in November of the Russian Federation’s instrument of ratification.
“A period of uncertainty has closed. Climate change is ready to take its place again at the top of the global agenda,” said Joke Wailer-Hunter, Executive Secretary of the Climate Change Secretariat, which services the UN Climate Change Convention and its Kyoto Protocol. The Protocol’s entry into force means that, from 16 February:
30 industrialised countries will be legally bound to meet quantitative targets for reducing or limiting their greenhouse gas emissions;
the international carbon trading market will become a legal and practical reality – the Protocol’s emissions trading regime enables industrialised countries to buy and sell emissions credits amongst themselves; this market-based approach will improve the efficiency and cost effectiveness of emissions cuts;
the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) will move from an early implementation phase to full operation
the CDM will encourage investments in developing country projects that limit emissions while promoting sustainable development; and
the Protocol’s Adaptation Fund, established in 2001, will start preparing itself for assisting developing countries to cope with the negative effects of climate change.
nder the Protocol, industrialised countries are to reduce their combined emissions of six major greenhouse gases during the five-year period 2008-2012 to below 1990 levels. The European Union, for example, is to cut its combined emissions by 8%, while Japan should reduce emissions by 6%. For many countries, achieving the Kyoto targets will be a major challenge that will require new policies and new approaches.
Only four industrialised countries have not yet ratified Kyoto: Australia, Liechtenstein, Monaco and the United States. Australia and the US have stated that they do not plan to do so; together they account for over one third of the greenhouse gases emitted by the industrialised world.
Developing countries, including Brazil, China, India and Indonesia, are also ‘Parties to the Protocol’ but do not have emission reduction targets, says the UN, but many developing countries have already demonstrated success in addressing climate change.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (lPCC), the most up-to-date scientific research suggests that humanity’s emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will raise global average temperatures by 1.4-5.8°C by the end of the century. They will also affect weather patterns, water resources, the cycling of the seasons, ecosystems and extreme climate events. Scientists have already detected many early signals of global warming, including the shrinking of mountain glaciers and Arctic (see box) and Antarctic sea-ice, reduced ice cover on lakes and rivers and longer summer growing seasons.