United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

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The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) considers what can be done to reduce global warming and to cope with whatever temperature increases are inevitable. Recently, a number of nations have approved an addition to the treaty: the Kyoto Protocol, which has more powerful (and legally binding) measures. The UNFCCC secretariat supports the institutions involved in the climate change process, particularly the Convention of the Parties, the subsidiary bodies and their Bureau.

The Convention on Climate Change sets an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change. It recognizes that the climate system is a shared resource whose stability can be affected by industrial and other emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The Convention has near universal membership, with 189 countries having ratified. It entered into force on 21 March 1994.

Under the Convention, governments: - gather and share information on greenhouse gas emissions, national policies and best practices - launch national strategies for addressing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to expected impacts, including the provision of financial and technological support to developing countries and - cooperate in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change.

Kyoto Protocol The 1997 Kyoto Protocol shares the Convention’s objective, principles and institutions, but significantly strengthens the Convention by committing Annex I Parties to individual, legally-binding targets to limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Only Parties to the Convention that have also become Parties to the Protocol (i.e by ratifying, accepting, approving, or acceding to it) will be bound by the Protocol’s commitments. 171 Parties have ratified the Protocol to date.

Of these, 35 countries and the EEC are required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions below levels specified for each of them in the treaty. The individual targets for Annex I Parties are listed in the Kyoto Protocol’s Annex B. These add up to a total cut in greenhouse-gas emissions of at least 5% from 1990 levels in the commitment period 2008-2012. After two and a half years of intense negotiations, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted at COP 3 in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997. The Kyoto Protocol entered into force on 16 February 2005.

The complexity of the negotiations, however, meant that considerable “unfinished business” remained even after the Kyoto Protocol itself was adopted. The Protocol sketched out the basic features of its “mechanisms” and compliance system, for example, but did not explain the all-important rules of how they would operate. Although 84 countries signed the Protocol, indicating that they intended to ratify, many were reluctant to ratify and bring the Protocol into force before having a clearer picture of the treaty’s rulebook.

A new round of negotiations was therefore launched to flesh out the Kyoto Protocol’s rulebook, conducted in parallel with negotiations on ongoing issues under the Convention. This round finally culminated at COP 7 with the adoption of the Marrakesh Accords, setting out detailed rules for the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol up to 2012.

Further Negotiations The third session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG) will be held from 14-18 May. The third workshop under the Dialogue on long-term cooperative action to address climate change by enhancing implementation of the Convention took place from 16-17 May 2007, and deals with the period after 2012.

References: Website for the UNFCC http://unfccc.int/2860.php