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A comparison between the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord


A comparison between the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord

Willemien Viljoen, tralac Researcher, comments on the differences between the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (7-18 December 2009 in Copenhagen) set out to deliver an agreement on certain essential areas: medium-term emission cuts by industrialised nations, action by developing countries to limit the growth of their emissions, and financial commitments for mitigation and adaptation. Although the talks were not successful in reaching a full agreement, Yvo de Boer (Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)) identified three key outcomes of the negotiations: it raised climate change to the highest level of government; the Copenhagen Accord shows a political consensus on the long-term; global response to climate change; and negotiations resulted in almost full decisions to implement rapid climate change action.

In comparing the Copenhagen Accord with the Kyoto Protocol the following differences in these documents can be identified:


The obligations of the Kyoto Protocol are mostly applicable to parties included in Annex I to the UNFCCC. These are industrialised countries which were members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 1992 and emerging market economies of central and eastern Europe.

The Accord is applicable to Annex I and non-Annex I parties. Non-Annex I parties are mostly developing countries, including emerging economies of the south, like South Africa and Brazil. In the Accord reference is also made to least developed countries. These are 49 countries which are given special consideration by the United Nations due to their limited capacity for adaptation and mitigation.

Legal status

The Kyoto Protocol is an international binding agreement requiring 37 industrialised countries and the European Community to make emission cuts. The Protocol entered into force in 1994 and has been ratified by 192 nations. The Copenhagen Accord is a high level political understanding and letter of intent that offers to reduce national carbon emissions.

Emissions Targets

The Protocol commits industrialised countries to reduce overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on average by 5 percent below 1990 levels in 2008-2012. Individual countries set their country-specific emission targets according to the determined aggregate required reductions. These individual emission targets are also legally binding.

The Accord does not indicate specific targets of GHG reductions for participating countries or aggregate emission reductions by 2020, but places a cap on the rise in global temperature of below 2 degrees Celsius. Pledges made by developed, developing and least developed countries regarding national mitigation action are voluntary and not legally binding. The obligations of Annex I and non Annex I parties are specified within the Accord. Annex I countries commit to quantified economy-wide emission targets for 2020, while non-Annex I counties will implement national mitigation actions. Least developed countries and Small Island States have no mandatory emission reductions, but may undertake voluntary domestic actions. The Accord has also abandoned the comparison of emission reductions with the 1990 base year, allowing countries to establish their own base year as a reference point for GHG reductions.

Implementation and monitoring

The Protocol provides three market-based mechanisms for industrialised countries to meet their emissions targets. These are emissions trading, the Clean Development Mechanism and joint implementation. All transactions regarding these mechanisms must be accounted for in the countries’ national registry and the international transaction log held by the UNFCCC Secretariat. Reporting is done by the parties through submissions of annual emission inventories and national reports at regular intervals. The Protocol contains a comprehensive and rigorous system of compliance to ensure parties are meeting their commitments with each type of non-compliance requiring a specific course of action.

The Accord, on the other hand, lacks definitive implementation and compliance mechanisms. The obligations of industrialised countries are measured, reported and verified in accordance with internationally agreed-to guidelines, while actions by non-Annex I countries are subject to domestic measurement, reporting and verification with the results reported through national communications every two years. The implementation of the Accord must be assessed by 2015, including the consideration of capping the increase in global temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Finance and Technology Transfer

The Protocol is designed to assist developing countries to adapt to the adverse affects of climate change through facilitating the development, access, transfer and finance of environmentally sound technologies. However, the specific annual financial contributions to developing countries are not identified within the Protocol.

The Accord obliges developed countries to provide financial resources, technology and capacity building for developing countries to implement adaptation actions. Developed countries have committed to provide US$ 30 billion from 2010-2012 for adaptation and mitigation. Priority will be given to least developed countries, small island States and Africa. Developed countries have also committed to the goal of jointly assembling US$ 100 billion a year by 2020 for developing countries.




Kyoto Protocol;

Copenhagen Accord.


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