The Kyoto Protocol was adopted on 10 December 1997. It aims to reduce the effects of climate change by reducing the emissions of six greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), perfluorocarbons (PFC), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).
This protocol is an international agreement among industrialized countries as well as countries in transition to a market economy (mainly in eastern Europe). Developed countries that are parties to the protocol are legally bound to reduce their collective emissions of greenhouse gases by at least 5% below 1990 levels during the treaty’s ‘first commitment period’ (2008–2012).
South Africa acceded to the Kyoto Protocol in 2002 but, as a developing country, it is not currently required to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. However, during the second commitment period, which begins in 2012, South Africa may need to make commitments to cut back.
The Kyoto Protocol also establishes an emissions trading regime and a "clean development mechanism" (CDM). Currently, responsibilities in terms of the UNFCCC are largely limited to the reporting of South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions on a sectoral basis and the formulation of adaptation plans.
The Kyoto Protocol came into force on 16 February 2005. As of September 2005, a total of 157 countries (representing 67% of total global anthropogenic emissions) have ratified the agreement. Notable exceptions are Australia and the United States of America.