UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
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The Creation of the Convention
In the early 1980s, scientists were beginning to raise concerns about climate change.
In 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meterological Organization (WMO) to assess the scientific knowledge on global warming. Its first major report in 1990 showed that there was broad international consensus that climate change was human-induced.
That report led way to an international convention for climate change. This became the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), signed by over 150 countries at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. (By the middle of 2000, over 180 countries had signed and ratified it).
The Convention took effect in 1994. By 1995 negotiations had started on a protocol — an international agreement linked to the existing treaty, but standing on its own. This led to the Kyoto Protocol, adopted unanimously in 1997. The main purposes of this protocol was to
- Provide mandatory targets on greenhouse-gas emissions for the world's leading economies all of whom accepted it at the time;
- Provide flexibility in how countries meet their targets;
- Further recognize that commitments under the Protocol would vary from country to country.
Recognizing Rich Countries Have More Obligation to Emission Reduction
As a general principle, it was also recognized that most of the greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change come from the industrialized
Northern countries, that have been developing since the Industrial Revolution, as such emissions remain in the atmosphere a long time. In addition, they have been developing for longer than the Third World, so action to address this must proportionally be with those industrialized nations. The following summarizes this well:
This difference was recognized as a principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.
The Framework is a starting point
While the Convention was weakened due to US threats to not attend Rio if there were binding commitments to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions, it is still a useful framework. The Convention provides a framework to tackle a number of issues and had some objectives set, including the following:
- Recognize that a problem exists (earlier in the 1980s and beginning of 1990s there was a huge amount of skepticism that human-induced climate change exists, because there are also natural cycles in the change of the climate that occurs over hundreds of years. However, now, the body of research indicates that humans are a factor in the current climate changes.)
- As a result, the ultimate objective, as described in Article 2, is to achieve
stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.
- Continued scientific research is encouraged because the climate is a very complex issue and patterns are likely to continue changing.
- The Convention recognizes that the current developed and industrialized nations have the largest current and historic emissions and that they should therefore take the lead and burden of helping reduce harmful effects and cut down emissions.
- See Article 4 of the Convention for more detail.
- This is significant, as it recognizes the right for developing countries to develop economically.
- During the Kyoto summit, this was hotly contested by the United States, which is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world — for just about four percent of the world's population, they emit over a quarter of the world’s emission. Per capita, this is far, far higher than any other nation as well. For more about the Kyoto protocol, and the US positions etc, visit this section’s page on Kyoto.
- Note though that most debate has been on reduction of emissions. While that is good, what is often left out is the fact that those developing countries already facing problems, or are about to, are left without much help in adapting, as a part of this report points out.
- The Convention also recognized that it is likely that the poorer nations will suffer the most, as there are less resources and capabilities to adapt to sudden changes of this magnitude.
- It is also recognized that a more sustainable economy is needed as current consumptive patterns could be destructive. (For more about over-consumption etc., visit this site’s sections on Behind Consumerism and Consumption and on Population.)
The following table is from a report from PANOS called Just a lot of hot air?, looking at the issues leading up to the climate conference in Hague 2000. It summarizes the major steps toward action on the issue of Climate Change. (Some minor updates added since recent events after Hague.)
|Event||Date and place||Principal achievements|
|Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - First report||1990||Broad international scientific consensus that human actions are influencing the climate|
|UN Framework Convention on Climate Change||1992, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Entered into force 1994)|
|IPCC - Second report||1995|
|Conference of Parties (COP) 1||1995, Berlin, Germany|
|Conference of Parties (COP) 2||1996, Geneva, Switzerland|
|Conference of Parties (COP) 3||1997, Kyoto, Japan||Agreed the Kyoto Protocol, with targets for industrialized country greenhouse gas reductions|
|Conference of Parties (COP) 4||1998, Buenos Aires, Argentina||Agreed a "Plan of Action" for following up on the Kyoto Protocol, including processes for stimulating technology transfer|
|Conference of Parties (COP) 5||1999, Bonn, Germany||Further progress on implementing the Kyoto Protocol|
|Conference of Parties (COP) 6||2000, The Hague, The Netherlands||See main body of [PANOS report]|
|IPCC - Third report||2000/2001|
Rio plus TenEarth Summit
|2002||Many people hope the Kyoto Protocol will be ratified and will enter into force by this the time. [This didn’t happen. It will now come into force February 2005]|
|Negotiations begin for a second round of emissions reductions||2005||This is the target date to start negotiations for the second period of the Kyoto Protocol|
|Agreed cuts in greenhouse gases||2008-2012||This is the period in which emissions cuts agreed in the Kyoto Protocol have to be achieved and measured|
Obstacles and Slow Progress
Many of the objectives highlighted above have still not been recognized. For example, the industrialized countries have not provided much help in many areas such as effective emission reductions and stalling on developing country commitments, or opposing the Kyoto protocol itself.
These issues are now explored, in the next page on this site.
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