Since it was first adopted in 1997 by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol has been the single largest accord among nations to take measures to stop global warming. More than a dozen years later, the Kyoto Protocol still offers many benefits, but it has significant drawbacks as well.
One of the biggest advantages of the Kyoto Protocol is its broad participation. As of 2010, the vast majority of nations had ratified the accord, including all of Europe and most of Asia. This broad support allows the United Nations (U.N.) to maintain its position that global warming is a worldwide, rather than a regional, issue. The broad participation also forces all nations, whether party to the Kyoto Protocol or not, to take it more seriously.
The United States is one of the few nations not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and the only nation to formally declare that it has no intention of signing on. As the largest producer of CO2 emissions for decades, U.S. actions have far-reaching environmental consequences. Independent from the Kyoto Protocol, American lawmakers have been able to set their own targets for reducing carbon emissions that are not always in line with the goals maintained by the U.N. and protocol member nations.
Another advantage of the Kyoto Protocol is its ambitious set of goals. The central tenet of the protocol is a reduction in global CO2 emissions to pre-1990 levels. Compared with targets set within the United States, this is a bold proposal with a relatively short time frame, as it is expected to be achieved by 2012.
One of the major criticisms levied against the Kyoto Protocol is its handling of economic inequalities around the world. According to Harvard Magazine, by setting 1990 as the target date, the Kyoto Protocol favours European nations. This is because, in 1990, most of Europe was fully industrialised, whereas nations such as China and India have made major advancements in development since 1990 and would be effectively asked to discard much of that progress.
One final advantage of the Kyoto Protocol is its legally binding status. Unlike other international agreements, nations that ratify the Kyoto Protocol are required to meet certain targets for reducing carbon emissions. If they fail to do so, the U.N. is legally authorised to set even more burdensome goals for that nation, while also not allowing it to participate in an emissions trading program in the future.