The Kyoto Protocol is an international, legally binding agreement that requires its members to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The treaty, drafted in 1997, was enacted in 2005. Its 37 industrialized member states as well as the European Union are committed to the Kyoto Protocol: They aim to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by an average 5 percent below their 1990 levels by the year 2012. The two methods to do this are either to invest resources into finding ways to lower pollution levels or to invest in other members' abilities to do so.
The Kyoto Protocol covers six greenhouse gases in particular. These are:
- Carbon dioxide
- Nitrous oxide
- Sulphur hexafluoride
Countries are assigned emission targets that are measured in carbon dioxide-equivalent levels to help reach the overall 5 percent reduction by 2012. The United States was assigned a 7 percent reduction, and Canada 6 percent. The United States has elected not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol [source: United Nations Framework on Climate Change].
The Kyoto Protocol is not just about assigning binding targets to countries, however. It is an international approach to a global issue. The Kyoto Protocol's clean development mechanism, which channels investments into clean energy and resulting greenhouse gas reductions, had registered at least 3,000 projects around the globe as of May 2011 [source: UNFCCC Press Release]. This part of the protocol encourages involved countries to help implement projects that reduce emissions in developing countries. For example, a country might support a project that equips a rural community in a developing country with solar panels. Member states also can participate in joint emission reduction projects.
The Kyoto Protocol also has helped its members invest in others' efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions by making emissions a commodity. Some countries have emission units to spare, and they can trade those with countries that have surpassed their targets on the carbon market. They also can trade or transfer units under the agreement that are allotted based on participation in clean development mechanism projects or other emission reduction activities.
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