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Kyoto Protocol

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

The Kyoto Protocol, also known as the Kyoto Accord, is an international treaty among industrialized nations that sets mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

The greenhouse effect is the warming effect of the sun on greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, that act to trap this heat in our atmosphere.  The more of these gases that exists, the more heat is prevented from escaping into space and, consequently, the more the earth heats. 

Although the greenhouse effect is necessary for survival on earth, an overabundance of greenhouse gas emissions increases global warming beyond what is desirable. The purpose of the Kyoto Protocol is to stabilize human-generated emissions at a level that will not inflict further harm on the atmosphere.

The initial treaty was signed in Kyoto, Japan in 1997. That agreement outlined emissions targets. Implementation required participating members to create policies and measures to reduce and offset domestic emissions and increase absorption of greenhouse gases.  Other specifications included requirements for accountability, compliance and reporting. That agreement expired at the end of 2012. Members agreed upon an extension of the protocol, effective from 2013 to 2020.

The Kyoto Protocol is overseen by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). As of late 2013, all UN member states except for Andorra, Canada, South Sudan and the United States had signed and ratified the treaty.  All 28 nations in the European Union have also signed the accord.

See also: carbon offset, carbon-neutral, carbon footprint, carbon usage effectiveness (CUE), Green Grid, clean electricity

This was last updated in November 2013

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