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The Kyoto Protocol and Greenhouse Gases

written by: JenniferB•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 8/28/2009

Chances are you've heard about the Kyoto Protocol to reduce global greenhouse gases. But do you know what it's all about? Find out here.

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    A Global Initiative

    December 10, 1997 marked an important day in history. One-hundred and sixty nations reached an critical agreement in Kyoto, Japan. The agreement outlined a strategy for limiting the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. World leaders from all over the globe contributed to creating this agreement, called the Kyoto Protocol, which recognized the real danger of climate change and established an urgent call to action.

    The Kyoto Protocol called for industrialized ations to reduce their average national emissions over the period from 2008 to 2012 to about 5 percent below levels of the mid-1990s. The United States initially agreed to achieve a level 7 percent below the 1990 level, slightly less than the European Union's pledge and more than Japan's. No developing country was required to set a limit.

    Initially, the protocol covered only three of the major greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Additional compounds were added in later years including hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. The treaty also included a program for the international trading of greenhouse gas emissions which added market incentives to ensure that the most inexpensive opportunities of reduction would be pursued.

    Due to a few reasons, the United States withdrew from the treaty in 2001, however still remains involved in discussions related to amending the treaty. The first issue that needs to be resolved concerns the establishment of a better governing body to monitor the trading of greenhouse gas emissions among industrialized countries. In addition, better criteria must be used to judge compliance while the penalties for not complying must be articulated more clearly. The last problem that US officials have with the Kyoto treaty is that long-term objectives aren't sufficienlty credible, and instead, moderate and specific near-term goals should be established for industrialized counties.

    For more details on the Kyoto Protocol, check out this article.