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24 September 2014
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Kyoto Protocol

The attempt to reach a new international settlement on greenhouse gas emissions to follow on from the Kyoto Protocol, which runs out in 2012, is probably the most important single issue within the field of international climate change politics. Many scientists suggest that evidence which has become available more recently including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) make action even more urgent.

The Protocol was drawn up in Kyoto, Japan in 1997 to implement the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change It finally became international law after several years of debate between leaders, politicians and scientists on 16th February 2005.

For the protocol to come fully into force, the pact needed to be ratified by countries accounting for at least 55% of 1990 carbon dioxide emissions. With countries like the US and Australia unwilling to join the pact, the key to ratification came when Russia, which accounted for 17% of 1990 emissions, signed up to the agreement on 5th November 2004. The protocol is officially the first global legally binding contract to reduce greenhouse gases.

The road towards a successor to the Kyoto Protocol has been a difficult task involving much disagreement between various countries. Negotiations have already been going on for some time at UN meetings, G8 summits and at a series of meetings of the world’s major economies, organised by the United States. In addition, countries have been setting out their own targets, as well as commenting on each other’s proposals.

At the 2008 G8 summmit in Toyako, Japan, leaders agreed a statement on climate change which referred to "the vision" of achieving at least a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This represented progress from previous G8 statements.

Although significant progress has been made reaching a final settlement will undoubtedly be a difficult process. It is now thought that a successor to Kyoto will have to place obligations on developing countries as well as developed ones. Also, getting the US to accept any deal (as well as Japan and Canada) will probably be conditional on the inclusion of developing countries. Their exclusion from emissions obligations under Kyoto was one of the principle reasons for the US’s rejection of the protocol.

It is hoped that an agreement will be reached on a successor to Kyoto at the 2009 UNFCCC meeting in Copenhagen.

See the latest progress on Kyoto targets, as well as news and events at the UNFCCC website.

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