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Tip sheet: Kyoto Protocol

As the agreement takes effect, many questions remain

February 11, 2005

BOULDER—On February 16, the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will take effect. Negotiated in 1997 and ratified by more than 100 nations (although not the United States), the agreement is a coordinated effort to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for climate change. Nations that ratified the protocol commit to reducing emissions below 1990 levels by the period of 2008–2012, with higher-polluting nations facing more ambitious targets. The protocol also sets up a system of emissions trading to help nations meet their targets.


This image, generated by the NCAR-based Community Climate System Model, shows the extent to which global temperatures in 2099 are expected to exceed present-day temperatures (in degrees Celsius). Click here or on the image for a larger version.

The protocol raises a number of important science and policy issues. These include the potential impacts of our changing climate, the extent to which the protocol will minimize climate change, additional steps that nations can take to reduce emissions, and how emissions of greenhouse gases can be tracked.

NCAR researchers are on the forefront of climate change research. By using some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers and analyzing worldwide data, they estimate how natural factors and human-induced changes to the atmosphere are affecting our climate, as well as how agreements such as Kyoto may affect global warming. They also are important contributors to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which provides assessments of climate science for policy makers worldwide.

The NCAR scientists listed below are available to comment on the latest developments in climate research and how the protocol may affect future climate change.

Caspar Ammann, 303-497-1705

Specialties: As a member of NCAR’s paleoclimate team, Ammann studies how today’s warming temperatures compare with past climate patterns. He also contributes to a Web site managed by scientists,, that provides information on climate research for the media and the public.

William Collins, 303-497-1381

Specialties: Collins focuses on upgrades to the Community Climate System Model, an NCAR-based software system that is one of the world’s most powerful climate simulation tools. He is an expert on the strengths and limits of climate models, as well as the benefits of more powerful supercomputers for future research.

Michael Glantz, 303-497-8119

Specialties: A social scientist, Glantz works on international collaborations to minimize the societal impacts of environmental threats, including climate change and drought. He is an expert on El Niño and other patterns that have worldwide impacts on climate, and he has years of experience in working with developing countries.

Tim Killeen, 303-497-1111

Specialties: The director of NCAR and the president-elect of the American Geophysical Union, Killeen has a broad view of the importance of science in policy decisions. An expert on solar-terrestrial and space physics, he carefully monitors progress in climate change science.

Gerald Meehl, 303-497-1331

Specialties: Meehl, who uses powerful computer models to simulate global climate, is a convening lead author of the upcoming fourth IPCC assessment of climate change. He studies such issues as how much our climate will change in coming decades even if industrial emissions can be reduced.

Susanne Moser, 303-497-8132

Specialties: A geographer, Moser looks into the potential regional impacts of climate change, as well as the interactions between science and policy in adaptation decisions. She is an expert on coastlines and the possible impacts of rising sea levels.

Kevin Trenberth, 303-497-1318

Specialties: Trenberth is an expert on using observational data to estimate the extent to which climate is changing and the likely impacts of a warming world on drought, precipitation, and other climate patterns. He is a convening lead author of the upcoming IPCC assessment on climate change.

Tom Wigley, 303-497-2690

Specialties: Wigley has published studies on the potential effects of reducing emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. His research includes the detection of climate change in the atmosphere.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research and UCAR Office of Programs are operated by UCAR under the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation and other agencies. Opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any of UCAR's sponsors.

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