The Kyoto Protocol, signed in December 1998, marked the first ever binding commitment by the world's major polluters to reduce their emissions of 6 main greenhouse gases (GHG) by 2012. The Protocol requires the main developed countries to reduce their emissions of six greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, CO2 , methane, NOx, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride). These reductions average 5.2%, with 8% for the EU, 7% for the USA and 6% for Japan. A few countries are allowed stabilization, including Russia, while some countries are allowed increases (e.g. Australia, +8%). Emissions will be calculated as an average of each country's emission between 2008 and 2012, and compared to the level they were at in 1990. "Significant progress" will have to be shown by 2005. The emission or absorption of greenhouse gases by forest growth or destruction will also count in a country's GHG accounts.
Several flexibility mechanisms are also created. (1) Trading emissions of greenhouse gases allows industrialized countries to buy emissions rights from each other at a price commonly agreed. (2) Joint Implementation is also carried out between industrialized countries. It allows any industrialized country to subsidize projects in another in exchange for a credit. (3) The clean development mechanism is similar to joint implementation, but it will be carried out between developed and developing countries. However a part (yet to be defined) of each country's emissions reduction target will have to be fulfilled at home.
The Protocol will enter into force once 55 countries have ratified it, and providing these countries represent at least 55% of 1990 emissions by the identified most industrialized or developed countries. A compliance mechanism will have to be introduced at the first Meeting of the Parties of the Protocol.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, the UK has agreed to reduce emissions from a basket' of 6 greenhouse gases (i.e. carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride) by 122 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. Emissions of these gases weighted by global warming potential fell by 52 per cent between 1990 and 1996.
The inertia of the climate system as well as the global social economic systems has hardly been considered adequately in setting the targets for 2010. These are indeed modest. It is already clear that commitments to reduce emissions of GHG are not adequate and that more cuts will have to be agreed to in the near future.