The agreement in Kyoto emerged on 11 December 1997 after 10 tough days of negotiations involving 160 countries. When ratified, the treaty would set a historic precedent in the worldwide commitment to limit emissions of thegases implicated in global warming.
Under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, industrialised countries would reduce their collective emissions of greenhouse gases mainly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels by 5 per cent of their 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.
The reductions, however, would vary from one developed country to another, according to the existing level of emissions. European countries, for instance, would reduce carbon emissions by 8 per cent, the United States by 7 per cent and Canada, Russia and Japan by 6 per cent each.
Some developed countries, including Iceland and Australia, would even be allowed to increase their carbon emissions. All developing countries, including China and India, would be exempt from the treaty's curbs on emissions.
In addition to CO 2, which is produced mostly by power stations and cars, the protocol covered five other greenhouse gases, including methane, produced by decaying matter, and industrial gases such as the hydrofluorocarbons.
The Kyoto agreement came out of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which established the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed by President George Bush Snr on behalf of the US. The convention recognised the importance of a global agreement given that scientists had linked rising CO 2 levels with climate change.
However, in the aftermath of Kyoto, the American right has argued that the deal is not in its national interests because of the restrictions it would impose on the economy and industrial output. Without the treaty, CO 2 emissions in the US are projected to increase by 34 per cent of their 1990 levels by 2012.
James Sensenbrenner, a Republican, said that Al Gore, the Vice-President at the time, "came to Kyoto wanting a deal very badly, and America got a very bad deal". Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think-tank, said Kyoto would stifle the energy-hungry economy and cost two million jobs by 2010.
Michael Zammit Cutajar, the leader of the secretariat of the climate change convention, said America had to take the lead on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, given that it is responsible for a quarter of the world's pollution.
Each person in the developing world produces about two tons of CO 2 a year from fuel combustion, compared with 12 tons for every European and 20 tons for every American. "Fairness suggests that the latter countries act first to limit emissions," Mr Cutajar said.
Eighty four countries have signed the treaty and 33 have ratified it with legislation. The Kyoto Protocol will enter force as an international treaty 90 days after it has been ratified by 55 countries, of which 55 per cent must be industrialised.
The only industrialised country to have ratified the protocol so far is Romania. Without America, the prospects of a working treaty appear doomed.