United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC] Peter E. Farrell Honors Seminar: Energy, Society & Climate Change Basic Presentation.
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United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC] Peter E. Farrell Honors Seminar: Energy, Society & Climate Change Basic Presentation
A Brief History of the Climate Change Process: In 1979 the first World Climate Change Conference recognized climate change as a serious problem & called on all governments to address it. Between 1980-1990 a number of intergovernmental conferences focusing on climate change were held. In 1990 the IPCC, estab. in 1988 by the UNEP & WMO, issued its First Assessment Report in which it confirmed the existing scientific evidence for global climate change. In Dec. 1990, the UN General Assembly approved the start of treaty negotiations on the UNFCCC & a deadline was set for the June 1992 Rio “Earth Summit”.
History (Continued) The UNFCCC was signed by 154 states at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit. More importantly, the convention entered into force on March 21 st 1994 In February 1995, the Conference of the Parties (COP) became the Convention’s ultimate authority/governing body.
What is the UNFCCC? In general terms, the UN Framework Convention provides an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to address climate change. More specifically, it establishes an objective & principles, commitments for different groups of countries, & a set of institutions all of which work to enable continued talks as well as future action to address global climate change.
The Basic Science Accepted by the UNFCCC First & foremost, the Convention recognizes that ever increasing amounts of anthropogenic (I.e. human produced) Greenhouse gas emissions are increasing the atmosphere’s ability to absorb infra-red radiation. As a result, a lot of energy that would normally be reflected back into space is being trapped within Earth’s atmosphere, which in turn increases the Earth’s surface temperature, keeping it warmer than it would otherwise be. More specifically, the IPCC projects that global mean surface temperatures to increase by 1.4-5.8 degrees Celsius by 2100, which is the fastest rate of change since the end of the last ice age (10,000 years ago). In addition, the IPCC expects global mean sea levels to rise by 9 – 88cm by 2100. So what?
Major Problems Associated with Global Climate Change Predicted changes in rainfall patterns will increase the threat of drought & floods in many regions. Melting glaciers & thermal expansion of sea water may raise sea levels, threatening low-lying coastal areas & worst of all small islands! Climate & agricultural zones may shirt towards the poles, which would result in reduced crop yields for mid-latitude countries such as the U.S. Ultimately, the Convention recognizes that climate change has the potential to produce “dramatic negative impacts on human health, food security, economic activity, water resources & physical infrastructure”. 1
UNFCCC’ Ultimate Objective According to Article 2, the ultimate objective of the Convention is “to achieve stabilization of atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at levels that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. 2 The Convention further stipulates that “such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, & to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.” 3
UNFCCC Principles First, the UNFCCC principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ responds to the fundamental issue of fairness, or lack thereof, in terms of addressing the climate change problem. Historically, industrialized countries have contributed the most to the climate change problem (mainly by way of ghg emissions). Moreover, industrialized countries have more resources to address the deleterious effects of climate change.
1. Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities Conversely, developing countries are both, more vulnerable to the predicted adverse effects of climate change* and significantly less able to respond to them (relative to countries like the U.S., Japan, Western Europe, etc.). Given this, the Convention responds in three ways:
1. Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (Cont.) 1: The convention puts the majority of the responsibility for battling climate change, as well as the majority of the bill, on the wealthy, industrialized countries*. 2. The Convention recognizes that poorer nations have a right to economic development. 3.The convention also allows for the “full consideration” 4 of the specific needs & circumstances of developing countries in any actions taken by the COP.
2. Precautionary Principle The Convention’s precautionary principle implies that “activities that threaten serious or irreversible damage can be restricted or even prohibited before there is absolute certainty about their effects” 5.* Indeed, under Article 3, the Convention calls for “precautionary measures” 6 to combat climate change even if there is a lack of “full scientific certainty” 7 regarding a cause & effect relationship.
3. Principle of Cost-Effectiveness In response to the concern, among industrialized countries, that the economic costs of mitigating climate change should be minimized, the Convention calls for all policies & measures that deal with climate change to be cost-effective.
4. Principle of Sustainable Development In response to the justified concerns of poorer developed countries regarding the significant expense of implementing UNFCCC objectives; the Convention, under Article 4, recognizes that “[T]he parties have a right to, and should, promote sustainable development” 8
Groups of Countries & Their Differentiated Commitments – Annex II (cont.) In addition, Annex II countries must “take all practicable steps” 9 to promote the development & transfer of environmentally friendly technologies to both EITs & developing countries.
Groups of Countries & Their Differentiated Commitments The Framework Convention divides countries into three main groups each assigned its own set of commitments. 1. Annex I countries 2. Annex II countries 3. Non-Annex I countries
Groups of Countries & Their Differentiated Commitments – Annex I Who’s in it? Annex I is composed of 41 industrialized countries, which includes all the 1992 members of OECD. In addition, 12 countries with EIT have been added to the list. What are their commitments? Annex I parties are subject to a specific commitment to adopt climate change policies & measures with the non-legally binding aim to return their GHG emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000.
Groups of Countries & Their Differentiated Commitments – Annex II Who’s in it? Only the OECD members of Annex I – not the EITs – are listed in Annex II of the Convention. What are their commitments? Annex II Parties are required to provide financial resources to enable developing countries to meet their obligations under the Convention.
Groups of Countries & Their Differentiated Commitments – Non-Annex I Who’s in it? All other countries not listed in Annex I – mostly developing countries – are known as non-Annex I countries. Who’s in it…(cont.) Within this group of developing countries there is a subgroup of 48 countries known as Least Developed Countries (LCDs).
Groups of Countries & Their Differentiated Commitments – All Parties to the Convention What are their commitments? All parties – meaning those signatores that have ratified the treaty – are subject to a set of general commitments. Under these commitments, all Parties must: 1. Prepare & regularly update national climate change mitigation & adaptation programs.
Groups of Countries & Their Differentiated Commitments – All Parties to the Convention (cont.) 2. All Parties must participate in climate research, systematic observation & information exchange, as well as promote education, training & public awareness relating to climate change. 10 3. Lastly, all parties must compile an inventory of their greenhouse gas emissions, and submit reports – known as “national communications” – on the action(s) they are taking to implement the Convention. 11*
Framework Convention Institutions/Mechanisms 1. Conference of the Parties (COP) 2. Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). 3. Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI). 4. Convention Secretariat 5. Global Environment Facility (GEF) 6. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Framework Convention Institutions/Mechanisms (cont.) 1. COP: Serves as the supreme decision-making body of the Convention. Is composed of all Parties to the Convention who have ratified the treaty as well as non-voting observers as are deemed appropriate. Meets yearly to review Convention implementation & to adopt amendments, protocols etc. 2. SBSTA: Is responsible for providing advice to the COP on scientific, technological & methodological issues. Helps individual countries prepare their national communications accurately & on time.
Framework Convention Institutions/Mechanisms (cont.) 3. SBI: Helps with the assessment & review of of the Convention’s implementation. Analyses the national communications submitted by the Parties. 4. Secretariat: Prepares background documents. Organizes negotiating sessions. Compiles emissions data.
Framework Convention Institutions/Mechanisms (cont.) 5. GEF: Is the Convention’s financial mechanism, which channels funds from Annex II countries, as well as other (private) sources, to developing countries on a grant basis. 6. IPCC: Submits regular comprehensive assessments on the state of climate change science every 5 years. Prepare shorter Special Reports & Technical Papers in response to COP requests. Plays an important role in the development of common guidelines for Parties to compile their inventories of GHG.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change…The “Key” to Understanding the Kyoto Protocol. UNFCCC Article 17, Paragraph 4: “Only Parties to the Convention may be Parties to a protocol” 12.