Photo by David Emrich on Unsplash

All 36 countries that committed to emission caps under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change complied with their commitments, according to a scientific study by Igor Shishlov and others published today in the Climate Policy Journal, which uses the final data for national greenhouse gas emissions and exchanges in carbon credits (which only became available at the end of 2015). Nine of the 36 used Kyoto’s ‘flexibility’ mechanisms to comply.

An extended Climate Policy Editorial discusses some of the implications and lessons. It concludes that the Protocol did have substantial impact in the countries that remained (after US non-participation and the withdrawal of Canada). Emissions in both the EU and Japan during the Kyoto compliance period (2008-12) were at least 20% lower than central projections made after the Protocol was adopted in 1997.  The paper concludes that the countries signed up to the Protocol collectively surpassed their commitment to a degree larger than the ‘hot air’ reductions as a result of economic transition in Russia, Ukraine and others.

Achieving these commitments – indeed, with substantial over-achievement in Europe – cost less than 0.1% of GDP for the European Union and an even lower fraction of Japan’s GDP. This is around one quarter to one tenth of what many experts at the time had estimated compliance would cost.

The Editorial argues that the efforts made by the EU, Japan and others demonstrate the extent to which international legal commitments matter, and discusses briefly the relationships between Kyoto and the Paris Agreement. The fact that participating countries fully complied with Kyoto’s targets is highly significant, and helps to raise expectations for full adherence to the Paris Agreement.

In addition to the source articles, a shortened form of the Editorial has been posted on Climate Home.

About the Author


Michael Grubb is Professor of International Energy and Climate Change Policy at the Institute for Sustainable Resources of University College London (UCL).