The Puny Success of the Kyoto Protocol

15 Pages Posted: 14 Aug 2020 Last revised: 13 Feb 2021

See all articles by Vasil Gechev

Vasil Gechev

University of National and World Economy, Bulgaria

Date Written: July 22, 2020


The Kyoto Protocol was agreed upon at the end of 1997 with the main goal of combating global warming by the reduction of the emissions of six greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and sulfur hexachloride (SH6). Like the Montreal Protocol (1987) – which was negotiated on the back of solid scientific evidence that the ozone layer is thinning dangerously, the grounds for the Kyoto Protocol were laid by solid scientific evidence about the negative side effects of global warming (rising sea levels, extreme weather, etc.) and the causal links with the above mentioned six gases. Back in the 1980s and 1990s the scientists correctly predicted that if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were left unchecked, our planet will continue to warm and humanity will have to face the consequences.

Whereas the Montreal Protocol so far has turned out to be a moderate success – NASA projects ozone recovery in the Arctic by 2025, and global averages and the Antarctic recovering by 2040, the success of the Kyoto Protocol is quite limited. Only the Annex I countries – as a group – have managed to achieve reductions of GHG emissions compared to 1990 (the base year) levels. Globally however, territorial CO2 emissions have increased from 22.7 Gt in 1990 to 36.6 Gt in 2018 – or about 60%. Therefore, the Kyoto Protocol’s main achievement seems to be playing the role of a limiting factor in a context of growing emissions. This paper examines the reasons behind the Protocol’s puny success and suggests that for all its limitations and shortcomings it has played an important role in the organized response to the challenge of global warming.

Keywords: Kyoto Protocol, global warming, climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide emissions, renewable energy

JEL Classification: Q50, Q51, Q53, Q54, Q55, Q56, Q58

Suggested Citation

Gechev, Vasil, The Puny Success of the Kyoto Protocol (July 22, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Vasil Gechev (Contact Author)

University of National and World Economy, Bulgaria ( email )

Sofia, 1700


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