Bonn Conference (2001)

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Bonn Conference (2001)


In July 2001, at the Bonn Conference, 178 countries agreed to revisions to the Kyoto Protocol. Several participating nations claimed the changes made the protocol more workable, ending nearly four years of limbo following its initial drafting. The Bonn Conference set in motion the process leading to the Kyoto Protocol's implementation in February 2005.

Historical Background and Scientific Foundations

Prior to the Bonn Conference, the Kyoto Protocol established binding targets for reductions in six key greenhouse gases. Initially drafted in December 1997, the landmark agreement formalized the principles of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and was later signed by most

nations at the Earth Summit of 1992. Kyoto marked the culmination of several years of intense international negotiations.

Without the participation of the United States, which rejected the Kyoto Protocol mainly due to the lack of including developing countries in the process, along with a lack of specified means and costs for the United States to comply, many observers considered the Kyoto agreement essentially dead. The Bonn Conference was arranged to reach accord among the countries agreeing to the Kyoto Protocol, so that it could proceed with its schedule of implementation.

Impacts and Issues

At the Bonn Conference in Germany, two climate change funds, including one for “least developed countries,” were established to assist in the switch to cleaner technologies. More money was earmarked for the training of researchers to monitor emissions, and also to encourage OPEC countries to diversify their fossil fuel centered economies.

Among the most contentious developments were new reduction mechanisms. The amendments permitted emissions trading, enabling countries to sell spare greenhouse-gas emission allotments to other signatory countries. Although limitations on trading were placed on most countries, significantly, neither Russia nor Ukraine were party to such restrictions. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, both countries witnessed a collapse in carbon emissions compared to their 1990 benchmarks, giving each a vast—although likely temporary—surplus. Financial incentives offered by emissions trading promised to open the way for both countries to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

The joint implementation program was also controversial at the Bonn Conference. Under this program, participating countries bound to reduce emissions were permitted to claim credit for investment in clean technology projects in developing countries. An international U.N. regulatory panel was established to assess qualifying projects as they were implemented.

Heavily forested countries such as Russia and Canada wanted to use their carbon sinks as an offset against reduction measures—essentially claiming credit for the absorption of carbon through trees in dense forests. The European Union (EU) nations opposed an amendment allowing consideration of carbon sinks. A compromise was reached by which countries were allowed to take credit for forestry management schemes, but with limitations.

Penalties were also put in place for those countries that failed to meet their Kyoto or amended Bonn emissions-reduction targets. For every ton of carbon a country emits over its limit, it will be obliged to reduce an additional 1.3 tons after 2012 while also suffering a ban from emissions trading.


CARBON SINKS: Carbon reservoirs such as forests or oceans that take in and store more carbon (carbon sequestration) than they release. Carbon sinks can serve to partially offset greenhouse-gas emissions.

FOSSIL FUELS: Fuels formed by biological processes and transformed into solid or fluid minerals over geological time. Fossil fuels include coal, petroleum, and natural gas. Fossil fuels are non-renewable on the timescale of human civilization, because their natural replenishment would take many millions of years.

GREENHOUSE GASES: Gases that cause Earth to retain more thermal energy by absorbing infrared light emitted by Earth's surface. The most important greenhouse gases are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and various artificial chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons. All but the latter are naturally occurring, but human activity over the last several centuries has significantly increased the amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide in Earth's atmosphere, causing global warming and global climate change.

JOINT IMPLEMENTATION: Type of greenhouse mitigation project defined by the Kyoto Protocol (1997). In a joint implementation project, one developed country can finance a project in another developed country to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The goal, as with the other “flexible mechanisms” specified by Kyoto, is to reduce total greenhouse emissions.

KYOTO PROTOCOL: Extension in 1997 of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international treaty signed by almost all countries with the goal of mitigating climate change. The United States, as of early 2008, was the only industrialized country to have not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, which is due to be replaced by an improved and updated agreement starting in 2012.

LEAST DEVELOPED COUNTRIES: The world's poorest countries. The United Nations classifies a country as a Least Developed Country if per-capita income is less than $750 for three years running and if the country has low health and literacy rates. As of 2007, there were 48 Least Developed Countries, of which 33 were in Africa.

Bonn also served as final recognition that the United States would never ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Other developed nations, especially those of the European Union, and leading international environmental groups criticized U.S. policy on climate change. The U.S. rejection of Kyoto was largely unpopular in international public opinion, especially in Europe and South America. America's chief delegate, Paula Dobriansky, was jeered by observers in the public gallery at the conference's closing ceremony when she said that “the Bush administration takes the issue of climate change very seriously.” However, the United States was not the only developed nation and leading emitter of greenhouse gases to fail to ratify; Australia also rejected Kyoto at that time.

The Bonn Agreement reaffirmed many of the goals of the Kyoto Protocol. But while hailed by many environmental groups and participating nations as a breakthrough, the Bonn agreement was still subject to heavy criticism. In particular, under Kyoto industrialized countries were to reduce greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2% below their 1990 level by 2012; under the Bonn Agreement, this target was reduced to about 2%.

See Also Berlin Mandate; Kyoto Protocol; United States: Climate Policy.



Giles, Jim. “Political Fix Saves Kyoto from Collapse.” Nature 412 (2001): 365.

Web Sites

Lynas, Mark. “Kyoto Could Make Things Even Worse.” The Guardian, July 27, 2001. <,,528315,00.html> (accessed November 21, 2007).

Official Website of the Sixth Conference of Parties: July 16–27, 2001. <> (accessed November 21, 2007).

“Q & A: The U.S. and Climate Change.” BBC News, February 14, 2002. <> (accessed November 21, 2007).

James Corbett

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Bonn Conference (2001)

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