In December 1997, negotiators from all the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting at the Third Conference of the Parties to the Convention in Kyoto, Japan, successfully negotiated legally binding emission reduction commitments for nations the developed nations that are included in Annex 1 to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (the Annex 1 nations). While the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the "Kyoto Protocol") represents an important step forward, it will not by itself appreciably reduce the rate of climate change, and its effectiveness will depend on the resolution of a number of important issues.
This brief begins with an outline of the key elements of the Protocol. It then considers the projected impact of the Protocol on climate change. Then it reviews in more detail a number of interpretative difficulties, provisions in the Protocol that reduce its effectiveness and potential loopholes that result from questions of interpretation. These issues include:
• the potential for countries meeting international commitments through projects in the developing world that would have occurred in any event;
• the potential for Russia, the Ukraine and other states to sell portions of their allowed emissions ("international emission allowances") that exceed their likely emission levels under "business as usual";
• the potential for nations to buy emission rights that are not surplus to the needs of the nation selling them;
• the treatment of carbon forest and soil reservoirs and the potential for interpretations that could either give Australia a large surplus of excess emission rights or allow nations to count growth in forests while not counting emissions from harvesting;
• the ability of nations to use higher baseline years for some emissions.
Finally, this brief concludes with recommendations regarding how Canada can play a role in ensuring the effectiveness of the Protocol.