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The Kyoto Protocol

This global agreement is designed to bring down greenhouse emissions across the world, but how exactly does it work?

Delegates at the Kyoto Protocol meeting

Delegation members from about 170 countries listening in Kyoto to a speech during the opening session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on December 1, 1997.

Credit: AFP/Toru Yamanaka

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What is it?

The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement designed to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, nitrous oxide and some types of fluorinated gases. These gases are known to contribute to global warming.

The protocol was negotiated back in 1997 by the countries of the United Nations, but didn't come into force until it was ratified by 55 countries, which happened in February 2005 when Russia came on board.

Australia and the United States signed the protocol and were involved in its development. New Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ratified the protocol officially at the Bali conference in December, 2007. The USA is yet to ratify the agreement.

The details

Under Kyoto, industrialised countries that ratified the protocol must reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2 per cent from 1990 levels by the end of the Kyoto period, which is 2012.

Although the average reduction is 5.2 per cent, individual countries have different targets, ranging from 8 per cent reductions for the European Union to 0 per cent for Russia and permitted increases of 8 per cent for Australia and 10 per cent for Iceland.

Countries that fail to meet their target must make up the difference plus an additional 30 per cent in subsequent accounting periods.

The rules of Kyoto allow countries to meet their emissions targets by buying emissions reductions from elsewhere, such as financial exchanges, or by investing in projects that reduce emissions in developing countries, called the Clean Development Mechanism.