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Was Kyoto Protocol a Failure?

Updated: Oct 31, 2022


Image Credits: Unsplash/Mathias P.R. Reding

The Second World War was the time when scientific innovations were blooming at an unprecedented rate. These innovations were particularly seen in making bombs and weapons. Different countries were bringing new bombs, bombers, etc. This reached its peak after nuclear bombs were introduced and used in the war. These bombs and weapons started a chain reaction of increasing the global temperature by realising huge harmful gases which trapped carbon dioxide which increased global earth temperature. The world leader left this problem unattended for a long time.

It was only in 1972 when the UN conducted its scientific conference, which was also known as the 1st Earth Summit, where Global Warming and environmental changes were major issues. An action plan was taken into consideration and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was established which aims to take control and record greenhouse gases and depletion of the Ozone layer. In 1988, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established with joint efforts of UNEP and the World Metrological Organisation, which made targets for controlling and reducing climate change occurring around the world.

1992 was a landmark year when countries around the world met in Rio de Janeiro and established UNFCCC. This was the first agreement that aimed to make greater changes to control climatic changes around the world. 197 parties signed the agreement aiming to “stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Since then, all the countries meet annually to discuss and check the goals for climate change, which is known by the name Conference of Parties.

In 1997, Kyoto Agreement was signed by COP and aimed to control gas emission which would create to bring positive change in the deteriorating climate. Kyoto Protocol came into force in 2005. This treaty aimed just to control greenhouse gases emissions by 5% against 1990 levels in 2008 - 2012, making sure that temperature should not increase over 1.5 degrees Celsius globally.

But the Kyoto Protocol didn’t showcase the expected results, so in 2015 COP met in Paris and signed the Paris Agreement. Most of the countries, environmentalists and other people from the field of environmental studies welcomed this agreement. This agreement aimed at keeping global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius. All countries, irrespective of their developmental status, were asked to contribute in this step in protecting the environment, which includes making use of sustainable energy, a shift towards green fuel, a green economy and the target to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions. This agreement is considered to next big step to accomplish the target of making planet Earth better again.

As we stepped in 2022, after almost one and a half-decade since the Kyoto Protocol came into force, many environmentalists are asking governments and the UN regarding the target set by Kyoto Protocol and has it proved what they aimed for?


Kyoto Protocol was signed on 11 Dec 1977 and currently, 192 member countries and the EU signed the protocol and came into force on 16 Feb 2005. This protocol works on the UNFCCC framework. Article 2 of UNFCCC Kyoto Protocol Preamble states:

“Each Party included in Annex I in achieving its quantified emission limitation and reduction commitments under Article 3, in order to promote sustainable development, shall: Implement and/or further elaborate policies and measures in accordance with its national circumstances.”

This article emphasises that all signatory countries in this protocol have to work on promoting research and development in climatic studies, promotion of afforestation and reforestation and main emphasis on reduction of greenhouse gases, which is elaborately explained in article 3 of the preamble of protocol, which states that –

“The Parties included in Annex I shall, individually or jointly, ensure that their aggregate anthropogenic carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of the greenhouse gases listed in Annex A do not exceed their assigned amounts, calculated pursuant to their quantified emission limitation and reduction commitments inscribed in Annex B and in accordance with the provisions of this Article, with a view to reducing their overall emissions of such gases by at least 5 per cent below 1990 levels in the commitment period 2008 to 2012.”

They extended the established commitment line up to 2020 after the Doha Amendment, held in 2012. But even after the extension of this commitment, Kyoto Protocol turned out to be a failure, since it could not meet its reduction of GHG emissions.


Image Credits: ITU


Experts say the reason for its failure is the burden-sharing formula of emission principle for climate change, which was accepted by Article 3 (1) of UNFCCC and Article 3 of the Rio Declaration which states -

UNFCC Article 3(1) “The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.”

Article 3 of the Rio Declaration “The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations.”

These articles establish the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities (CBDRRC) and the principle of Equity. The principle of Equity recognises the concept of Equality, which emphasises on the different capacities and responsibilities of different countries as per the Principle of CBDRRC for the continuous deteriorating environment. This principle recognises responsibility of every country, but the burden lies more on those countries who have a high historical contribution to environmental change as compared to other developing or under-developed countries.

These are 37 + 1 highly industrialised/developed countries and the EU.

The principle focused on the fact that developed countries have already used way too much of their carbon footprints and GHGs Emissions in the past, and they have enough economic and technological capabilities to reduce their GHGs emissions, mentioned in Annex 1 of UNFCCC. This is binding specifically on developed countries and not other developing and underdeveloped countries. This pattern has created a problem in balancing and creating accountability for global climate change. Experts pointed out that this could give developing countries like India and China unlimited power to exploit the environment since they don’t have to cut down their GHGs emissions.

The Kyoto protocol also motivated developing countries to make sure that their GHGs emissions are controlled, to facilitate this promotion they had transferred ESTs environmentally sound technologies, which could help in environmental stabilisation and they controlling the GHGs emissions in the environment. But this step didn’t find much useful because many developing countries were not able to get access to ESTs and the burden-sharing formula turned out to be a flop because it made a blame game for countries.




After seeing the failure of the Kyoto Protocol Conference of Parties in its 15th meeting in Paris and signed Paris Agreement which aimed to reduce global temperature by 2 degrees, it made it essential that all countries have an equal contribution in maintaining the environmental changes. Even though this protocol has been a failure, it has helped us to understand the flaws in the system and the laws that were framed. The Paris Agreement has given new hopes to people aiming to reduce carbon emissions till 2050, many developing countries like India are also aiming to reduce their carbon footprints with an extended deadline of 2070. Recovering and protecting Earth from climate change is a long and exhausting task. This would need joint efforts of people. If we all contribute by taking small steps like saving electricity, reducing our usage of plastic products, planning sustainable forms of living, etc, these small steps would help us reduce our carbon footprints and make our blue planet better again for our next generations.



1 Comment

Pratyaksh Kumar
Pratyaksh Kumar
Feb 23, 2022

The principle of Common But Differentiated the more viable and moral option available for now. In the long run, if we are to truly limit the rising avg temperature, then countries that haven't emitted as much as the developed ones, say like India and Brazil, they themselves will have to reduce their emissions...

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