Know Climate Change

Adaptation and Mitigation


The Kyoto Protocol

Newspaper clipping of delegates
celebrating adoption of the Protocol
in 1997

In December 1997, 160 countries met in Kyoto, Japan and reached a historic agreement to reduce GHG emissions. The Kyoto Protocol was drafted to get industrialized nations to commit to limiting their GHG emissions.

The Protocol introduced binding emission-reduction targets, and they have been specified differently for different industrialized nations—8% below the 1990 emission levels for the European Union, 7% for the US, and 6% for Japan.

The Protocol applied to reduction in the emission of six major gases. Four of these are GHGs - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and sulphur hexafluoride, and two other groups of gases namely, hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons.

Under the Protocol, the UNFCCC divides countries into the following three categories based on their commitment to reduce emissions.

Click each category to view its detail.

  • Annex I Parties or Countries
  • Annex I Parties or Countries

    It comprises industrialized countries, members of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), countries with EIT (Economies In Transition), Russian Federation, the Baltic states, and several central and eastern European states. For the first commitment period (2008–12), these countries are required to reduce their collective annual emissions by 5.2% below the 1990 emission levels.

  • Annex II Parties or Countries
  • Annex II Parties or Countries

    It consists only of OECD members of Annex I, but not EIT parties. These countries have the additional responsibility of providing financial and technological support and resources to the developing countries to enable the latter to reduce their emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

  • Non-Annex I Parties or Countries
  • Non-Annex I Parties or Countries

    It comprises developing countries, and they are excluded from any legally binding commitment in terms of emission reductions. Based on their exposure, vulnerability and inherent capacities to respond to the changes in climate, these countries are further classified. A separate group of 48 countries comprises the LDCs (Least Developed Countries) group.

To help meet the emission targets in a cost-effective manner, the Kyoto Protocol has introduced some flexible market-based measures. These are as follows.

  • CDM (Clean Development Mechanism): It allows Annex I Parties to implement projects that reduce emissions in non-Annex I Parties, or sequester carbon through afforestation/ reforestation activities in exchange for CERs (Certified Emission Reductions), and assist the host parties in achieving sustainable development, thereby contributing to the ultimate objective of the UNFCCC.
  • JI (Joint Implementation): It allows an Annex I Party to implement an emission-reducing project or a project that enhances removal by sinks in the territory of another Annex I Party. It allows the Annex I Party to utilize the resulting emission reduction units towards meeting its own Kyoto target.
  • ET (Emissions Trading): It provides for Annex I Parties to acquire emission reduction units from other Annex I Parties.

To know more about the mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol, you can read an article (The Mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol) on

Let us now proceed to discuss the patterns of GHG emission.

The 1990 emission level is considered as the base level for comparison. Scientists from all over the world engaged in a debate as to which year to consider as the base year. After a lot of discussion, the year 1990 was chosen as the base year. This is so because scientists defined 2 0C rise in global temperature and a carbon dioxide concentration of 350 ppm (parts per million) as the threshold of irreversible damage to the environment, and the emission level in the year 1990 was of the right magnitude on which a temperature rise of 2 0C could be appropriately defined and measured.