Kyoto Protocol: why it was fundamental, 25 years later

Kyoto Protocol: why it was fundamental, 25 years later

Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto protocol turns twenty-five: it was 11 December 1997 when, at Cop3 (the Conference of the parties on the climate of the United Nations, which was held that year in the Japanese city), the text was signed, marking one of the fundamental stages of the climate negotiations. Let's see why.

Multilateral method The Earth summit The Kyoto protocol Successes and criticisms Cop27 reaches an agreement to compensate for the damages of the climate crisis The European Union and the African bloc make the difference at the negotiating tables. Historic go-ahead for the loss and damage fund. For the rest, little progress has been made and we remain stuck at a year ago. The role of the fossil fuels lobby weighs

Multilateral method

Awareness of the importance of the multilateral method for environmental protection began to gain ground in the 1980s. In 1987 the Montreal Protocol marked a milestone. The document was aimed at reducing the use of substances that threaten the ozone layer that surrounds the Earth. As Kofi Annan,  former secretary general of the United Nations said, " this is an exceptional example of international cooperation, perhaps the single most successful environmental agreement between nations to date ". It was 2000.  The years proved the diplomat right : the "hole in the ozone layer", in the following decades, narrowed appreciably.

In 1988 the IPCC (lntergovernmental panel on climate change) was established, an international working group made up of some of the best scientists in the world with the task of providing a reliable scientific basis for decisions on climate change. The first report dates back to 1990. The latest, the sixth, came out in three parts between 2021 and 2022. The reports come out every seven years. The IPCC's working method is particular, which shuns absolute truths and assigns a degree of probability and consensus to each statement: in this way it tries to widen the audience as much as possible, anticipating the criticisms - often interested - of the deniers.

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The Earth Summit

In 1992 it was the turn of the so-called Summit of the Earth. In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the countries met to sign the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the key text on the matter. The agreement had as its objective the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, at a level such as to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference for the earth's climate system. However, it did not set limits on emissions; it can, therefore, rightly be said that it was not binding. However, the document included forecasts for updating to be delegated to protocols to be signed in the years to come: these would have indicated the limits. Among the cornerstones of the Framework Convention: the commitment to combat climate change, the recognition of the particular needs of developing countries, the fact that the lack (at the time) of full scientific certainty was not a sufficient reason to postpone prevention and mitigation measures.

It is important to note the context: the world had recently witnessed an event of historic and global significance such as the dissolution of the Soviet Union. At the time, it was difficult to imagine what would have happened. But the next decades would be the decades of globalization, with a parallel and unprecedented increase in world welfare and emissions.

The Framework Convention, as anticipated, recognized the particular needs of developing countries, with the intention of not hindering their economic growth. Annex 1 contains a list of countries which, on the basis of article 12, would have been required to send regular reports listing the measures adopted to reduce greenhouse gases. These are essentially industrialized countries (including Italy) together with those of the former Soviet bloc (the newly formed Russian Federation and the countries of the former Warsaw Pact), which at the time were commonly defined as the "second world" due to the presence of an industry in some way started. The cardinal principle, which will characterize all climate negotiations to follow, albeit to varying degrees, is that industrialized countries are recognized as primarily responsible for the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It is important to note that large states such as China, India and Brazil are lacking – and it will be a significant fact until today.

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The Kyoto protocol

In 1995, the participants of the Unfccc met in Berlin at the first Conference of the parties on the climate (Cop1) in order to define the main objectives regarding greenhouse emissions. We then come to 1997, when, on 11 December in Kyoto, the homonymous protocol was signed, which set plans for reducing emissions for 37 industrialized countries and with economies in transition. These are the countries included in Annex B, a list that substantially reflects the list of the 1992 Convention.

The treaty included the obligation to reduce the emissions of six greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide , hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride). The main feature of the Kyoto protocol is that it establishes binding and qualified targets: to reduce emissions by at least 5% compared to 1990 in the period between 2008 and 2012.

The Kyoto protocol would enter in force on February 16, 2005: for the mechanism to take effect, ratification was required by no less than 55 signatory states and that the states that had ratified it produced at least 55% of global polluting emissions. Condition, the latter, achieved only in November 2004, with the completion of the accession by Russia.

The Kyoto protocol prescribes that the reduction must take place essentially through national measures, but it also provides for a series of market-based mechanisms, the so-called "flexible mechanisms". It can be said that it was "invented" in the Japanese city " the carbon market that would then be perfected in Marrakech in 2001 and from there to Glasgow. There are three "flexible mechanisms": the clean development mechanism, joint implementation and emissions trading.

Cop27 arrives the agreement to compensate for the damages of the climate crisis The European Union and the African bloc make the difference at the negotiating tables. Historic go-ahead to the loss and damage fund. For the rest, little progress is made and we remain stuck at a year ago The role of the fossil fuels lobby weighs

Successes and criticisms

" Surely the Kyoto protocol represented a fundamental step for climate policy - says Stefano Caserini, professor of Climate Change Mitigation at the Politecnico di Milano and founding member of the Italian Climate Network study center -. In fact, it was the first moment in which the large emitters undertook commitments to reduce emissions". 

A system with differentiated responsibilities which, continues the professor, "made sense at the time, because there was a clear difference between industrialized and non-industrialized. China had a third of today's emissions. It is evident that, since then, the world has changed: with globalization the distance has narrowed. The impasse would later be resolved in Paris". It is worth noting that, as often happens in international politics, there are no sanctions. Caserini explains: "The commitments are not binding, but at stake is the credibility of the countries that have signed and ratified. Agreements such as the Kyoto and Paris are important not only for what they prescribe, but also for the signal they send, for example, to the world of finance or energy".

There was no lack of criticism. " There were two main ones, and of the opposite sign - notes Caserini - that the Kyoto Protocol was unambitious. The objective was actually a -5.5% reduction in emissions within fifteen years of signing. If we look at the goals we set ourselves now, it's easy to understand how different those back then were. The countries whose industrialization was still expected at the time were excluded from the agreement". actually verified".

Other voices, on the contrary, "stated that the agreement was too penalizing, with binding tables. In the United States, the states with large coal production were pushing not to ratify the agreement. The moreover, the years around 2000 were those of climate deniers who went crazy, starting with Bush and Chene y", says the professor.

A third strand of criticism, Caserini adds, points out that in Kyoto a system for modifying the protocol was devised. “ The 2015 Paris conference, which we can consider the natural continuation of the Japanese agreement, was much more skilful in this sense, with objectives that had to be re-discussed every five years. The 1997 agreement contained more certain objectives, but was judged too rigid ”, explains the expert, and therefore exposed to withdrawal by fundamental states. And he adds: “Kyoto should have been superseded by another text already in Copenhagen in 2009: instead we had to wait for 2015 with the Cop21 in the French capital. This meant losing seven-eight years, and we are still paying for it".  In any case, concludes the professor, "the system for updating commitments set up in Paris leads me to think that another climate agreement. Now is the time to do your homework ”.

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