The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement which is intended to lower the greenhouse gas emissions of the industrialized world by 2012. Ideally, the end result of the Kyoto Protocol should be a reduction of these emissions to below 1990 levels. The agreement also addresses the issue of the developing world, which is rapidly industrializing and therefore producing a large volume of greenhouse gases.
The roots of the Kyoto Protocol can be found in the first World Climate Conference, held in 1979. The Conference was held to address the issue of human impact on climate change, and the result of the conference was a commitment to more study and the development of an ultimate plan to address the issue. The next step was the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international treaty adopted in 1992. The UNFCCC was a response to over 10 years of discussion and research on climate change.
Under the terms of the UNFCCC, participating nations agreed to gather and share information about greenhouse gas emissions. These nations were also supposed to reduce their emissions by 2000, and to participate in a global action plan to keep greenhouse gas emissions from rising. The agreement was not legally binding, but many nations saw that it was a necessary step, and they committed to taking action. By 1995, concerns had arisen that the plan was not working, so in 1997, a conference to discuss the matter was held in Kyoto, Japan.
The result of this conference was the Kyoto Protocol, which amended the UNFCCC with legally binding pledges to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexaflouride, hydro fluoro compounds (HFCs), and perfluorocarbons (PFCs). According to the terms of the agreement, participating nations had to reduce their emissions between 2008 and 2012 through a variety of means. The Kyoto Protocol encourages green development and emissions trading, allowing nations which meet their quotas to sell credits to nations who are encountering difficulties.
While most people can agree that climate change is a serious issue, the Kyoto Protocol has met with some serious opposition from a number of nations, including the United States. As of 2007, the United States Senate had refused to ratify the protocol, primarily in a dispute over allowed emissions levels for developing nations like China. Opponents of the Kyoto Protocol take issue with certain terms in the agreement, arguing that it restricts economic development and that it may be too strict. Supporters believe that the issue of global warming is so important that Draconian measures will be worth it in the long run.