The Battle against Global Warming

Sharon Cheng Yuan Yuan explains the role of the Kyoto Protocol



The phenomenon of climate change and global warming caused by the much debated greenhouse effect attributed primarily to the emission of greenhouses gases (GHG) has created a growing awareness that mitigation of the growth in concentrations of GHG in the atmosphere necessitates serious attention from global stakeholders.




The first major breakthrough in global co-operation to control the growth in GHG emissions can be traced to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which was formulated at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992.


The objective of the UNFCCC, a non-binding treaty, is to stabilize GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.


Arising from the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted by the Third Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC (COP-3) in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997 and came into force on 16 February 2005.


The Kyoto Protocol sets quantified and binding commitments for limiting or reducing GHG emissions of anthropogenic origin for certain industrialized countries (commonly described as Annex I countries) for a 5-year period from 2008 to 2012.


The Annex I countries that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, such as Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden and Denmark, have committed to reduce their collective GHG emissions by an average of 5.2% from their respective 1990 emission levels by 2012. The United States of America did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol and is therefore not legally obliged to reduce its GHG emission.


Each Annex I country is assigned a limit as to the amount of GHG emission which it may generate. This limit, described in the Protocol as an "assigned amount", is then divided into "assigned amount units" (AAUs). Although the limits are set at national level, each country will in practice, assign a specific number of AAUs to industrial entities, commonly described as operators, within its territory.


Developing countries, commonly referred to as non-Annex I countries, do not have any binding commitments to reduce their GHG emissions even if they have ratified the Protocol. Accordingly, Malaysia does not have any legally binding commitments to reduce GHG emissions notwithstanding that it ratified the Kyoto Protocol on 4 September 2002.


The Kyoto Protocol introduces three mechanisms to assist Annex I countries to comply with their emission limits, that is, Joint Implementation (JI), Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and International Emissions Trading (IET). The detailed rules on these mechanisms were finalised at the Seventh Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC (COP-7) in Marrakech, Morocco (Marrakech Accords) in 2001.




An Annex I country may carry out specific projects with another Annex I country that reduce anthropogenic emissions by sources or enhancing anthropogenic removals by sinks of GHG in any sector of the economy.


The amount of GHG emission reduction achieved under the project is to be verified by the appropriate authority specified in the Marrakech Accords. Thereafter, the country in which the project is implemented may issue the appropriate amount of "emission reduction units" (ERUs) generated by the project. Each ERU is equivalent to one metric tonne of CO2.




A CDM is a co-operative project between an Annex I country and a non-Annex I country for the reduction of GHG emissions in the latter.


The purpose of a CDM is two-fold. First, it assists a non-Annex I country to achieve sustainable development and to contribute to the ultimate objective of the UNFCCC. Second, a CDM assists an Annex I country to comply with its emission limitation and reduction commitments under the Protocol.


The GHG reductions achieved by each CDM project is quantified in standard units, known as "certified emission reductions" (CERs). A unit of CER is equal to one metric tonne of CO2. The Kyoto Protocol lays down the procedures for certification and issuance of CERs.


The Annex I country will receive CERs for participating in a CDM project while the non-Annex I country will benefit from the capital investment and the clean technology.


The CDM is the only mechanism in the Kyoto Protocol that involves non-Annex I countries.




Under the IET, an Annex I country that does not use up its AAUs may sell the excess units to other Annex I countries. Similarly, ERUs and CERs are tradable. The trading of AAUs, ERUs and CERs has come to be described as 'carbon trading' as CO2 is the principal subject matter involved.


Article 3 of the Kyoto Protocol lays down the following rules on the consequences of carbon trading:


(1) any AAU or ERU which is transferred by an Annex I country will be subtracted from the assigned amount for that country;

(2) any AAU or ERU which is acquired by an Annex I country will be added to the assigned amount for that country; and

(3) any CER acquired by an Annex I country will be added to the assigned amount for that country.




Although it is universally acknowledged that there is an urgent need for governments to agree on a new international framework to mitigate the rise in global temperature as a result of the release of GHG emissions into the atmosphere before the commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of 2012, the task is by no means an easy one.


The failure of the 192 countries who attended the Fifteenth Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC (COP-15) in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009 to reach consensus on a new framework to replace the Kyoto Protocol stands as evidence as to the magnitude of the task ahead.


After 2 weeks of fruitless negotiations, the United States of America, China, India, Brazil and South Africa put forward the "Copenhagen Accord" on the last day of the conference in an attempt to salvage the conference.


The Copenhagen Accord acknowledged the need to keep the increase in global temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius but did not specify the means by which it is to be achieved. It also contemplated the establishment of a USD 30 billion fund by industrialized countries for the period 2010 to 2012 (increasing to USD 100 billion a year by 2020) to fund adaptation and mitigation measures by developing countries.


The accord recognized the need to reduce GHG emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and to enhance the removal of GHG emission by forests and proposed that industrialized countries provide "positive incentives" for developing countries to achieve these objectives.


The Copenhagen Accord was not formally adopted as a decision of COP-15 but its existence was noted at the final plenary session of the Conference. This means that the Copenhagen Accord will have to be adopted at another general meeting of the UNFCCC in order for it to become a new treaty on climate change.


The Kyoto Protocol is a remarkable achievement notwithstanding that it involves primarily only the industrialized countries. While developing countries may place greater emphasis on economic development, they must recognise that the preservation of the environment is a responsibility of all countries. It is hoped that governments will reach agreement on the numerous outstanding issues that have arisen from the Copenhagen Accord so as to pave the way for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol to be adopted at the Mexico Conference (COP-16) in December 2010.



SHARON CHENG YUAN YUAN ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )


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