ON CLIMATE CHANGE
ORIGINS AND BACKGROUND
The need for a treaty on climate change stems from the realization that human activities are changing the way energy from the sun interacts with and escapes from our planets atmosphere. There is a growing scientifically sustained opinion that the global climate is being altered. In response to this threat, the 45th session of the UN General Assembly adopted on 11 December 1990 a resolution that established the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a Framework Convention on Climate Change (INC/FCCC). Supported by UNEP and WMO, the mandate of the INC/FCCC was to prepare an effective framework convention on climate change. The INC held five sessions between February 1991 and May 1992.
The Framework Convention on Climate Change was opened for signature on 4 June 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development and entered into force on 21 March 1994. As of 14 June 1999, the convention had received 179 instruments of ratification or accession from governments and the European Union.
The ultimate objective of the convention is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (man-made) interference with the climate system.
The convention contains general commitments for all Parties relating to inventories of greenhouse gases, national mitigation and adaptation plans, technology, policy integration, science, education and information exchange. It also contains specific commitments for developed country Parties requiring them, first to adopt policies and measures to limit their emissions and to report thereon, and second, to provide new and additional financial resources to meet certain costs of developing country Parties.
The convention reflects a precautionary approach to climate change, based on present scientific knowledge. It supports the strengthening of scientific capabilities and programmes and includes reporting and review mechanisms to enable the Parties to monitor progress. The convention is a framework that envisages the strengthening and further development of its provisions in light of new information.
Bodies of the Convention
The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the supreme body of the convention. Its primary functions are to keep under regular review and promote effective implementation of the convention. In carrying out these functions the COP examines the adequacy of commitments; facilitates the coordination of national measures; and makes recommendations on any other matter necessary for achievement of the goals and implementation of the convention. The COP meets annually. Its first session was held in 1995 in Berlin (Germany), and as of end-1999 it had met five times.
A Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and a Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) are established by the convention to provide the COP with timely information and advice on scientific and technological matters, and to assist the COP in assessment and review of effective implementation of the convention, respectively.
Additional subsidiary bodies may be established by the COP: two such bodies were established at COP 1. The Ad Hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate (AGBM) conducted negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol and concluded its work in Kyoto (Japan) in December 1997. The Ad Hoc Group on Article 13 (AG13) was set up to consider Article 13 of the convention on how to assist governments to overcome difficulties they may experience in meeting their commitments.
The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on
Adopted by consensus at the third session of the Conference of the
Parties (COP-3), held in Kyoto (Japan) in December 1997, the protocol
contains new emissions targets for Annex I (developed) countries for the
post-2000 period. By arresting and reversing the upward trend in
greenhouse gas emissions that started in these countries 150 years ago,
the protocol promises to move the international community one step closer
to achieving the convention's ultimate objective of preventing dangerous
anthropogenic (man-made) interference with the climate system.
The developed countries commit themselves to reducing their collective emissions of six key greenhouse gases by at least 5%. This group target will be achieved through cuts of 8% by Switzerland, most Central and East European states, and the European Union (the EU will meet its target by distributing different rates to its member states); 7% by the United States; and 6% by Canada, Hungary, Japan, and Poland. Russia, New Zealand and Ukraine are to stabilize their emissions, while Norway may increase emissions by up to 1%, Australia by up to 8%, and Iceland 10%. The six gases are to be combined in a basket, with reductions in individual gases translated into CO2 equivalents that are then added up to produce a single figure.
Each countrys emissions target must be achieved by the period 2008-2012. It will be calculated as an average over the five years. Demonstrable progress must be made by 2005. Cuts in the three most important gases--carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O)--will be measured against a base year of 1990 (with exceptions for some countries with economies in transition). Cuts in three long-lived industrial gases--hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6)--can be measured against either a 1990 or 1995 baseline.
Countries will have a certain degree of flexibility in how they make
and measure their emissions reductions. In particular, an international emissions
regime will be established allowing industrialized countries to buy and
sell emissions credits among themselves. They will also be able to acquire
reduction units by financing certain kinds of projects in other
developed countries. In addition, a clean
development mechanism will enable industrialized countries to finance
emissions-reduction projects in developing countries and receive credit
for doing so. The operational guidelines for these various schemes must
still be further elaborated. They will pursue emissions cuts in a wide
range of economic sectors. The protocol encourages governments to
cooperate with one another and to improve energy efficiency, reform energy
and transportation sectors, promote renewable forms of energy, phase out
inappropriate fiscal measures and market imperfections, limit methane
emissions from waste management and energy systems, and protect forests
and other carbon sinks.
At its fourth session, held in Buenos Aires (Argentina), the COP adopted the two-year Buenos Aires Plan of Action. The plan of action establishes deadlines for finalizing outstanding details of the Kyoto Protocol so that the agreement will be fully operational when it enters into force sometime after the year 2000. In addition to the protocols mechanisms, it addresses work on compliance issues and on policies and measures. It also boosts work on transferring climate-friendly technologies to developing countries and addresses the special needs and concerns of countries affected by global warming and by the economic implications of response measures.
The protocol was opened for signature from 16 March 1998 to 15 March 1999. As at 5 October 1999, 84 Parties had signed the protocol and 15 countries had ratified or acceded to it. The protocol will enter into force 90 days after it has been ratified by at least 55 Parties to the convention, including developed countries representing at least 55% of the total 1990 carbon dioxide emissions from this group.
At its first session, the COP decided that the convention secretariat would be institutionally linked to the United Nations, while not being fully integrated in the work programme and management structure of any particular programme. It also requested the Secretary-General to appoint, after consultation with the COP through its bureau, the head of the convention secretariat for a three-year term of office starting 1 January 1996. Executive Secretary of the secretariat, Michael Zammit Cutajar, is in his second term of office. It was further decided to accept the offer of the government of Germany to host the convention secretariat in Bonn.
The secretariat is responsible for coordinating the convention process. This includes organizing the meetings, often attended by thousands of participants. The secretariat drafts the documentation, supports the president of the COP and provides other services. Work takes place with and in between meetings, including the review and compilation of information provided by Parties about their efforts to carry out their treaty commitments, and cooperation with partner organizations to provide financial and technical assistance to countries wishing to implement the convention.
In addition to the official documentation, the secretariat also produces various information materials on the convention, the negotiating process, and related issues. These materials are distributed to interested institutions and individuals as printed publications, on CD-ROM, and through electronic networks, such as the UNFCCC website (www.unfccc.de).
Information materials available:
-- Text of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
-- Text of the Kyoto Protocol
-- Information brochure
-- CD ROM
-- Who is Who in the UNFCCC Process, 2nd edition
Sessions of the convention bodies are the usual forum where NGOs involved in climate change issues may exchange information and views with other actors of the negotiating process. Over 360 NGOs are participating in the sessions of the convention bodies.
Admittance of organizations as observers to the UNFCCC bodies is
governed by Article 7, paragraph 6 of the convention. It provides, inter
alia, that any
body or agency, whether national or international, governmental or
non-governmental, which is qualified in matters covered by the Convention,
and which has informed the secretariat of its wish to be represented at a
session of the Conference of the Parties as an observer, may be so
admitted unless at least one third of the Parties present object.
Applications should be sent to the secretariat of the convention at least three months before the date of the session of the Conference of the Parties in order to process them in time to be submitted to the Parties.
During the sessions of the convention bodies, accredited observer organizations may also hold exhibits or special events. The corresponding form and conditions are available on the secretariat website.
Barbara Black, NGO Liaison Officer, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, PO Box 260 124, D-53153 Bonn, Germany, telephone +49-228/815 1000, fax +49-228/815 1999, e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>, website (www.unfccc.de).