Difference between Paris Agreement and Kyoto Protocol is in the Approach to Achieve the Ultimate Goal of Stabilizing Greenhouse Gases in the Atmosphere

By | May 20, 2017

Paris Agreement on Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol share the same goal. It is to restrict the global temperature rise below 2 degree Celsius.

Unprecedented increase in the Greenhouse gas Emissions is being attributed for the global temperature rise. To limit the rising temperature collective actions are required to be taken by all the countries. 

Kyoto Protocol (Treaty) 1997  is the first international agreement to keep the global temperature rise under check. Its commitment period will end in 2020 and from onward the Paris Agreement on Climate Change 2015 will come into effect.  Both the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement took place under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Difference between Paris Agreement and Kyoto ProtocolIn order to understand the key difference between Paris Agreement and Kyoto Protocol it is important to understand that different countries emit different amount of Greenhouse gases (GHG’s). The GHG emissions of  the past is called historical emissions. The historical emissions of different countries have also been very different. This means that each country has contributed differently towards the present global temperature rise. Therefore, it is logical that the efforts by different countries to reduce emissions and adapt to the climatic changes should also be in tune with their emission levels.

The United Nations provide a platform to discuss and decide ‘who’ will do ‘what’. These international treaties set targets for different category of nations to combat climate change.

The Paris Agreement and Kyoto Protocol differs in their approach to achieve the ultimate goal of stabilizing Greenhouse Gases in the atmosphere and keeping the temperature rise below 2 degree C. The difference is in the way these treaties make developed and developing countries commit to take actions to combat climate change.

Kyoto protocol legally binds developed countries to reduce their emissions. These countries are listed in the Annex I of the UNFCCC. During the first commitment period of Kyoto protocol (2008-2012), the developed countries were required to reduce their emissions by 5% below the 1990 level.

During the present second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol which spans between 2013-2010 these nations are required to reduce the emissions by 18%. 

Kyoto protocol does not bind developing countries to cut down their GHG emissions.

Thus, Kyoto protocol maintains strict difference between the developed and the developing nations in terms of emission reduction targets.

The reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol now covers only 15% of the total emissions worldwide. The reason is that the USA did not participate in the Kyoto protocol, a few countries opted out of it for the second commitment period and some could not achieve their targets.

Paris agreement on climate change attempts to blur the divide between the developed and the developing nations. It made all the nations under UNFCCC to voluntarily commit on their own domestic emission reduction targets.

Paris agreement was agreed (adopted) by 195 nations in Paris during the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21). The efforts to make the countries commit on emission reductions started long before the 21st meeting of COP.

The Conference of Parties 19 (COP19) held in Warsaw (2013) asked all the countries to submit their national pledges to reduce emissions and other plans to combat the adverse effects of climate change. These were called Intended Nationally Determined Contributors (INDC).

Before the Paris conference 180 countries communicated their emission reduction targets to the UNFCCC. These countries collectively emit 90% of the total emissions worldwide.

It is clear that that contrary to Kyoto protocol that makes smaller fraction of emitter countries reduce their emissions, Paris climate agreement can make maximum emitters reduce their emissions. However, in this effort of emission reduction Paris agreement asks developed countries to take the lead.

While the approach adopted by Kyoto protocol was top down in terms of emission reduction targets, in Paris agreement it is the countries that have decided internally (national pledges) how much emissions they aim to reduce. This makes the Paris Agreement’s approach more bottom up.

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