The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) said today that a Compliance Committee for the Kyoto Protocol, the environmental treaty aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, has begun operations, with an enforcement branch dealing with countries having difficulties meeting their commitments.

“A strong and effective compliance mechanism is key to the success of the implementation of the treaty,” said Richard Kinley, acting head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat in Bonn.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), also welcomed the launch of the compliance system, saying it provided the Protocol with “teeth.”

“With today’s announcement, the Protocol also has teeth, as befits a legally binding treaty. This in turn adds to the integrity of Kyoto and its provisions, in particular the credibility of the emissions trading markets,” Mr. Toepfer said.

The enforcement wing of the Protocol’s Compliance Committee had the power to determine the consequences for countries that do not meet commitments, while the facilitative branch of the Committee was designed to provide advice and assistance to States in order to promote compliance, according to UNFCCC Ambassador Ra�l Estrada Oyuela of Argentina, Chair of the Enforcement Branch, called the Kyoto Protocol compliance system “groundbreaking” and pointed out that it was “designed to ensure the environmental integrity of the agreement and to contribute to the credibility of the carbon market created by the Protocol.”

Hironori Hamanaka of Japan was elected Chair of the committee’s Facilitative Branch. Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, 35 industrialized countries and the European Community are required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions below levels specified for each of them. Overall, this should amount to reductions of at least 5 percent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012 and now the 20-member Compliance Committee will deal with cases of non-compliance with these and other obligations of the Protocol.

“The signs of climate change are all around us, from the melting of the Arctic and the glaciers up to extreme weather events and the migration of species,” said Mr. Toepfer. “I sincerely believe that the world is no longer in any doubt that climate change is real and that the targets set under Kyoto are modest and doable – that few if any will be bothering Ambassador Estrada or Mr. Hamanaka over the next six years.”