International legal framework
By Anne Eckstein | Monday 07 December 2009
The Copenhagen conference will bring together 193 countries, parties to the United Nations Climate Convention and the Kyoto Protocol. While countless meetings have taken place in other bodies – G8, G20 and Major Economies Forum (MEF), to mention only the most important – the Copenhagen conference, under the auspices of the UN, remains the privileged locus, or even the only one with authority to define a new international framework to fight climate change on the basis of these two fundamental texts. The United States tried to short-circuit this UN framework, particularly through the MEF, but it was quickly forced to row back under pressure from the other parties.
Adopted in December 1992 at the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) entered into force on 21 March 1994 and brings together 193 states and/or organisations, including the European Union and the United States. It establishes a global framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the effects of climate change. The aim is to stabilise concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere at a level that prevents any dangerous anthropic disruption to the climate system. In accordance with the convention, governments collect and share information on GHG emissions, national policies and best practice; launch national strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to expected impacts, including financial and technical support to developing countries; and cooperate to prepare adaptation to climate change impact.
The UNFCCC distinguishes three groups of parties to the convention:
1. industrialised countries (Annexes I and II to the convention): these are Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) members
2. transition countries (listed in Annex I to the convention but not in Annex II): these are the countries of Eastern Europe and the former USSR
3. developing countries (not listed in Annex I to the convention): this distinction is important because it determines the operating terms of the Kyoto Protocol, particularly targets set by the industrialised and transition countries for reducing GHG emissions and flexibility mechanisms.
Adopted on 11 December 1997, the protocol entered into force on 16 February 2005: 192 countries are parties, including EU member states and the Union itself, but not the United States, which decided, in 2001, not to ratify the protocol. This text of barely 24 pages sets targets and lays down a number of principles. Its implementing arrangements were adopted in 2001, in Marrakesh.
Objectives:The protocol commits the 37 industrialised countries (Annex 1) to reduce their GHG emissions – carbon dioxide (CO
2), methane (CH
4), nitrogen oxide (N
2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), perfluorocarbons (PFC) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF
6) – by 5.2% overall from 1990 levels by 2012. Each country is assigned an average emissions reduction target for a five-year commitment period (2008-2012). Developing countries have no obligations.
Mechanisms: The Kyoto Protocol does not establish a mandatory international mechanism to replace national policies, but to help countries respect their commitments it authorises the use of three ‘flexible’ mechanisms:
1. Emissions trading: a system that allocates quotas to companies for the GHG emissions in terms of national targets; it enables them to exceed their emissions level by buying quotas from companies that do not use up their full quota
2. Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) allows a company from a developed country to receive emissions allowances resulting from ‘green’ investments in a developing country
3. Joint Implementation (JI): the same principle as CDM, but based on ‘green’ investments in another developed country, mainly in the transition economies.
Financing:The protocol established an Adaptation Fund to finance adaptation measures in the developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of climate change. It is financed by a levy equivalent to 2% of certified emissions reductions generated by the CDM (although the least developed countries do not have to contribute) and by “other voluntary sources”. The fund did not become operational until December 2008 (Poznan conference).
Control:Unlike the Climate Convention, the protocol is a legally binding instrument that comprises a follow-up and monitoring mechanism, which establishes an annual reporting obligation for the parties and sanctions for countries that do not reach their targets.
While countless meetings have taken place in other bodies, the Copenhagen conference remains the privileged locus
Main Kyoto targets
Industrialised countries: - 5.2%
EU15: - 8% (a ‘bubble’ within which the member states are assigned individual targets; the other 12 countries that were not then EU members were given an individual target)
United States: -7%