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A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE UN FRAMEWORK CONVENTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE (UNFCCC)

Summary: The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was negotiated from February 1991 to May 1992 and opened for signature at the June 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). Ninety days following receipt of the 50th ratification, the UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994.  The first meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the FCCC took place in Berlin from 28 March to 7 April 1995. Delegates there agreed that the Permanent Secretariat should be located in Bonn, Germany. One protocol to the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, has been drafted. Negotiators adopted the text at COP-3 in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan.  It will enter into force following 55 ratifications by Parties to the FCCC, provided those 55 countries incorporate Annex I Parties that account for at least 55% of the total carbon dioxide emissions for 1990.

Several subsidiary bodies advise the COP. The Subsidiary Body on Science and Technical Advice (SBSTA) links scientific, technical and technological assessments, the information provided by competent international bodies, and the policy-oriented needs of the COP. The Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) was created to develop recommendations to assist the COP in the review and assessment of the implementation of the Convention and in the preparation and implementation of its decisions. The SBSTA and SBI meet once or twice a year in back-to-back sessions. The open-ended Ad Hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate (AGBM) was created following COP-1 to consider the adequacy of commitments for the period beyond 2000, including the strengthening of the commitments of Annex I Parties through the adoption of a protocol or another legal instrument. This process culminated in December 1997 with the Kyoto Protocol. The Ad Hoc Group on Article 13 (AG13) was set up to consider the establishment of a multilateral consultative process (MCP) available to Parties to resolve questions on implementation. It first met in October 1995. Over the course of four subsequent meetings, delegates agreed that an MCP should be advisory rather than supervisory in nature and that AG13 should complete its work by COP-4, in November 1998.

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin has covered all COPs and meetings of the subsidiary bodies, plus one interim meeting prior to the first Conference of the Parties (see ENB UNFCCC Archives). The following discussion highlights decisions taken at the meetings of the COP and subsidiary bodies and the process leading up to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol.

Background to interest in climate change and negotiations on the UNFCCC: The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, as a result of their concern that anthropogenic increases of emissions enhance the natural greenhouse effect and would result, on average, in an additional warming of the Earth's surface. In 1990, the finalization and adoption of the IPCC report and the Second World Climate Conference focused further attention on climate change.

On 11 December 1990, the 45th session of the UN General Assembly adopted 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. During these meetings, participants from over 150 states discussed the issues of binding commitments, targets and timetables for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, financial mechanisms, technology transfer, and "common but differentiated" responsibilities of developed and developing countries. The INC sought to achieve a consensus that could be supported by a broad majority, rather than drafting a treaty that dealt with specific policies that might limit participation.

The UNFCCC contains two annexes.  Annex I lists most members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) plus the states of Central and Eastern Europe; they are committed to adopting policies and measures aimed at returning their greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000. Annex II lists the richest countries (essentially the OECD countries), who are to provide "new and additional financial resources" and facilitate technology transfer.  Following the adoption of the Convention and prior to its entry into force, the INC convened six additional meetings to discuss outstanding issues and prepare for the first Conference of the Parties. As of July 1998, 175 countries had ratified the UNFCCC.

Conferences of the Parties and Subsidiary Bodies to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change: The first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the FCCC (COP-1) took place in Berlin from 28 March - 7 April 1995. In addition to addressing a number of important issues related to the future of the Convention, delegates reached agreement on what many believed to be the central issue before COP-1 — adequacy of commitments, the "Berlin Mandate." The result was the establishment of an open-ended Ad Hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate (AGBM) to begin a process toward appropriate action for the period beyond 2000, including the strengthening of the commitments of Annex I Parties through the adoption of a protocol or another legal instrument.

COP-1 also requested the Secretariat to make arrangements for sessions of SBSTA and SBI, which were provided for in Articles 9 and 10 of the Convention.  SBSTA would serve as the link between scientific, technical and technological assessments, the information provided by competent international bodies, and the policy-oriented needs of the COP. SBI was created to develop recommendations to assist the COP in the review and assessment of the implementation of the Convention and in the preparation and implementation of its decisions. By June 1998, these two bodies had both convened eight times.

The AGBM met eight times between August 1995 and COP-3 in December 1997. During the first three sessions, delegates focused on analyzing and assessing possible policies and measures for the strengthening of the commitments of Annex I Parties, how Annex I countries might distribute or share new commitments, and whether commitments should take the form of an amendment or protocol. AGBM-4, which coincided with COP-2 in Geneva in July 1996, completed its in-depth analysis of the likely elements of a protocol and States appeared ready to prepare a negotiating text. Also at COP-2, delegates produced important political statements, including the "Geneva Declaration," which endorsed IPCC conclusions and called for legally binding objectives and significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

At AGBM-5, which met in December 1996, delegates recognized the need to decide whether or not to allow mechanisms that would provide Annex I Parties with flexibility in meeting quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives (QELROs).

As the Protocol was drafted during the sixth and seventh sessions of the AGBM, in March and August 1997, respectively, delegates "streamlined" a framework compilation text by merging or eliminating some overlapping provisions within the myriad of proposals. Much of the discussion centered on a proposal from the EU for a 15% cut in a "basket" of three greenhouse gases by the year 2010 compared to 1990 levels. In October 1997, as AGBM-8 began, US President Bill Clinton included a call for "meaningful participation" by developing countries in the negotiating position he announced in Washington. With those words, the debates that shaped agreement back in 1995 resurfaced, with an insistence on G-77/China involvement once again linked to the level of ambition acceptable by the US. In response, the G-77/China used every opportunity to distance itself from any attempts to draw developing countries into agreeing to anything that could be interpreted as new commitments.

The Third Conference of the Parties (COP-3) to the FCCC was held from 1 - 11 December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan. Over 10,000 participants, including representatives from governments, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs and the press, attended the Conference, which included a high-level segment featuring statements from over 125 ministers. Following a week and a half of intense formal and informal negotiations, including a session that began on the final evening and lasted into the following day, Parties to the FCCC adopted the Kyoto Protocol on 11 December.

In the Kyoto Protocol, Annex I Parties to the FCCC agreed to commitments with a view to reducing their overall emissions of six greenhouse gases (GHGs) by at least 5% below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. The Protocol also establishes emissions trading (see Article 17), "joint implementation" between developed countries (see Article 6.1), and a "clean development mechanism" (CDM; see Article 12.2) to encourage joint emissions reduction projects between developed and developing countries. As of September 1998, 55 countries had signed the Kyoto Protocol. Under Protocol Article 25, the Protocol will enter into force after it has been ratified by 55 Parties to the FCCC, incorporating Parties included in Annex I that account for at least 55% of the total carbon dioxide emissions for 1990.

The Ad Hoc Group on Article 13 (AG13) was set up to consider the establishment of a multilateral consultative process available to Parties to resolve questions on implementation. AG13-1, held from 30-31 October 1995 in Geneva, decided to request Parties, non-Parties, and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to make written submissions in response to a questionnaire on a multilateral consultative process (MCP). Delegates continued their discussion over the course of three meetings. At their fifth session, they agreed that the MCP should be advisory rather than supervisory in nature and AG13 should complete its work by COP-4.

The Fourth Conference of the Parties (COP-4) to the FCCC was held from 2-13 November 1998 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and was attended by over 5,000 participants. During the two-week meeting, delegates deliberated decisions for the COP during the ninth sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI-9) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA-9). Issues related to the Kyoto Protocol were considered in joint SBI/SBSTA sessions. A high-level segment, which heard statements from over 100 ministers and heads of delegation, was convened on Thursday, 12 November.

Following hours of high-level “closed door” negotiations and a final plenary session that concluded early Saturday morning, delegates adopted the Buenos Aires Plan of Action. Under the Plan of Action, the Parties declared their determination to strengthen the implementation of the Convention and prepare for the future entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol. The Plan contains the Parties’ resolution to demonstrate substantial progress on: the financial mechanism; the development and transfer of technology; the implementation of FCCC Articles 4.8 and 4.9, as well as Protocol Articles 2.3 and 3.14; activities implemented jointly (AIJ); the mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol; and the preparations for COP/MOP-1.

The UNFCCC Technical Workshop on Mechanisms under Articles 6, 12 and 17 of the Kyoto Protocol was held from 9-15 April 1999 at La Redoute in Bonn-Bad Godesberg, Germany. The workshop was designed to advance the discussion on technological and methodological aspects of Article 6 (joint implementation), Article 12 (clean development mechanism) and Article 17 (emissions trading) so that the Conference of the Parties can take decisions on all three mechanisms at its sixth session. The workshop was attended by approximately 100 invited participants, which included experts from Parties and representatives from governments, UN agencies, and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. Core topics at the workshop included reference case/baseline methodologies, additionality, verification and reporting in relation to the clean development mechanism (CDM) and Article 6 projects. Further issues addressed included the validation and funding of projects under the CDM and the adaptation component, and reporting, verification and accountability issues related to emissions trading. Participants also exchanged views on capacity building for developing country Parties.

The UNFCCC subsidiary bodies held their tenth sessions at the Maritim Hotel in Bonn, Germany, from 31 May - 11 June 1999, and began the process of fulfilling the Buenos Aires Plan of Action, which was adopted at the Fourth Conference of the Parties (COP-4) in November 1998. Under the Plan of Action, Parties set a two-year deadline for strengthening implementation of the FCCC and preparing for the future entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol. The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) considered topics such as Annex I communications, methodological issues and the development and transfer of technology. The Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) discussed, inter alia, administrative and financial matters and non-Annex I communications. SBI and SBSTA jointly considered the mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol, activities implemented jointly and compliance.

After a slow start, work at the subsidiary bodies picked up during the latter part of the second week. Delegates clarified their positions on the Kyoto Protocol mechanisms and agreed that a new synthesis document should be prepared. Progress was also made on compliance. Difficulties remained in a number of methodological debates and on proposals for an expanded biennium budget from the FCCC Executive Secretary. The sessions were punctuated by a series of three bomb scares resulting in evacuations from the Maritim Hotel.

The Alliance of Small Island States Workshop on the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol took place in Majuro, Republic of the Marshall Islands at the Outrigger Resort from 14-16 July 1999. The Workshop was organized and hosted by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. It had over 50 participants, including country representatives from the small island states in the South Pacific, Indian Ocean, South China Sea, Mediterranean and Caribbean, experts from various UN and regional organizations, a representative from an environmental NGO and special invitees from the Philippines, Mauritania, the US, UK, Australia, Norway, New Zealand and Switzerland. Participants discussed elements of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol including assessment of vulnerability and adaptation, use of renewable energy in the design of mitigation projects under the CDM, and capacity building for AOSIS member states. 

The participants adopted the Majuro Statement on Climate Change which will be brought to the attention inter alia, of the Fifth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-5) in Bonn, 25 October-5 November 1999. The Statement highlighted domestic action in achieving the Protocol commitments; noted the need for the CDM to be a credible and viable Protocol mechanism; stressed the need for special capacity building initiatives in the least developed states and small island developing states; underscored the importance of vulnerability assessment and adaptation to the members of the AOSIS; and resolved to work together to coordinate donor activities and domestic priorities to more effectively address capacity building and adaptation needs of small island developing states.

The informal exchange of views and information on compliance under the Kyoto Protocol to the FCCC was held from 6-7 October 1999 at the Diplomatische Akademie in Vienna, Austria. The informal exchange was designed to facilitate deliberations on the development of a compliance system under the Kyoto Protocol. The workshop was organized by the Austrian Government in cooperation with the FCCC Secretariat and the Co-Chairs of the Joint Working Group on Compliance (JWG). Ninety-seven participants attended the meeting, including experts, representatives from governments, UN agencies, and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. Participants met in several sessions over two days to hear presentations from experts and discuss various issues related to compliance, including: compliance regimes under the Montreal Protocol, the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) and its protocols, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO); institutional issues such as facilitative and enforcement functions, eligibility to raise issues and information gathering; and issues related to the consequences of non-compliance. The Co-Chairs of the JWG will prepare a non-paper on elements of a compliance system based on discussions held during the workshop to be presented to the Fifth Conference of the Parties to the FCCC.

The Fifth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-5) to the FCCC met in Bonn, Germany, from 25 October - 5 November 1999. With over 3000 participants in attendance and 165 Parties represented, delegates continued their work toward fulfilling the Buenos Aires Plan of Action (BAPA) adopted at the Fourth Conference of the Parties (COP-4) in November 1998. Under the BAPA, Parties set a two-year deadline for strengthening FCCC implementation and preparing for the future entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol. 

During the course of COP-5, the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) were assisted in their work by eight contact groups, a joint SBI/SBSTA working group and numerous informal consultations. During its last two days, COP-5 adopted 32 draft decisions and conclusions. on, inter alia, the review of the implementation of commitments and other FCCC provisions and preparations for the first session of the COP serving as the Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP/MOP-1). Ninety-three ministers and other heads of delegation addressed COP-5 during a high-level segment held from 2 - 3 November. Delegates completed their work ahead of schedule and generated an “unexpected mood of optimism” in the lead-up to COP-6. After a faltering COP in Buenos Aires, the process recovered vital momentum and began to gather determination and support for a self-imposed deadline for entry into force of the Protocol by 2002. 

The Workshop on Compliance under the Kyoto Protocol to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) was held from 1-3 March 2000 at the Wissenschaftszentrum, Bonn, Germany. The Workshop was designed to assist in the development of elements of procedures and mechanisms relating to a compliance system for in-depth consideration at forthcoming meetings of the Joint Working Group on Compliance (JWG). The workshop was organized by the FCCC Secretariat and the Co-Chairs of the JWG. Eighty-one participants attended the workshop, including representatives of governments, inter-governmental organizations (IGOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Two workshops on Article 4.8 and 4.9 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) were held from 9-11 and 13-15 March 2000 at the Internationales Kongresszentrum Bundehaus in Bonn, Germany. The FCCC Secretariat and the Chairs of the FCCC subsidiary bodies organized these workshops. Approximately 85 participants attended each workshop, including representatives of governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and academic institutions. The first workshop was held from 9-11 March to consider initial actions to meet the specific needs and concerns of developing country Parties and the specific needs and special situations of the least developed countries (LDCs) arising from the adverse effects of climate change. Participants heard presentations and engaged in discussions on the adverse effects of climate change on food security, water resources, economic activities, coastal zones and human health. They also considered initial actions related to funding, insurance and the transfer of technology to meet the needs and circumstances of developing countries. Other issues addressed included actions to: enhance capacity for monitoring, systematic observation and vulnerability assessment in developing countries; build capacity in environmental management and integrated assessment; and identify adaptation options and facilitate appropriate adaptation. The second workshop was held from 13-15 March to consider the impact of the implementation of response measures to climate change. Participants heard presentations and engaged in discussions on methodological approaches and what actions are necessary under the FCCC relating to the impact of implementation of response measures on, inter alia, terms of trade, international capital flows and developmental efforts, in accordance with FCCC Article 4.8 and 4.9 and in the light of matters related to Kyoto Protocol Article 3.14 (adverse effects). The outcome of these workshops will be a report from the Chairs of the FCCC subsidiary bodies that will provide an input for discussions on these issues at the twelfth and thirteenth sessions of the subsidiary bodies (SB-12 and SB-13), to be held in June and September 2000 respectively.

The Workshop on Best Practices in Policies and Measures under the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) was held from 11 - 13 April 2000 at Eigtveds Pakhus, Copenhagen, Denmark. This workshop sought to clarify the concept of best practices in policies and measures, identify the criteria used by countries to select, monitor and evaluate these practices, enable countries to improve their best practice policies and measures, and enhance reporting on policies and measures.

The Second European Forum for International Environmental Assessment (EFIEA) Climate Workshop, "From Kyoto to the Hague - European Perspectives on Making the Kyoto Protocol Work", took place 18-19 April 2000 at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences, Amsterdam. Sponsored by the Dutch National Research Programme on Global Air Pollution and Climate Change, this international workshop was attended by 100 participants, including scientists, policy makers, and industry and NGO representatives. The workshop aimed to bring together state-of-the-art scientific information from European research that is relevant for the European Union (EU) and its member states in preparing for the 6th Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-6) and to enhance the policy relevance of climate-related research in Europe.

The UNFCCC subsidiary bodies held their twelfth session  at the Maritim Hotel in Bonn, Germany, from 12 - 16 June 2000. Preceded by one week of informal meetings, delegates continued to work toward fulfilling the BAPA by focusing on a range of technical and political issues aimed at laying the foundation for negotiations on a comprehensive agreement to be completed at COP-6. They adopted 21 draft conclusions on various issues, including policies and measures, LULUCF, guidelines under Articles 5 (methodological issues), 7 (communication of information) and 8 (review of information) of the Protocol, technology transfer, and mechanisms. SB-12 also adopted the Report of the Joint Working Group on Compliance.

One hundred twenty-one representatives of governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), business and industry groups and academic institutions attended the workshop on land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF), which met from 10-13 July 2000 at the International Fair Center in Poznań, Poland. This workshop was organized by the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) in response to a request by the FCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) at its tenth session, held in June 1999. The SBSTA requested that a workshop be held between SBSTA-12 and the Sixth Conference of the Parties (COP-6) to analyze the Special Report on LULUCF prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The topics addressed during the workshop were: afforestation, reforestation and deforestation under Article 3.3 of the Kyoto Protocol; additional human-induced activities under Article 3.4 of the Protocol; project-based LULUCF activities; general accounting, verification and reporting issues; and linkages with other articles of the Protocol. Although there was no official outcome document, the workshop provided a forum to consider in-depth LULUCF issues in light of the IPCC Special Report. This could assist Parties in elaborating their positions in submissions on LULUCF under the Protocol, which are due by 1 August 2000, as requested by COP-5. Both the workshop and these submissions will provide input for negotiations on these issues at the thirteenth sessions of the FCCC subsidiary bodies (SB-13) in September 2000 and at COP-6, which will be held in The Hague from 13-24 November 2000. A draft decision on LULUCF under the Protocol is scheduled to be developed at COP-6 and to be adopted by the Conference of Parties serving as the first Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol (COP/MOP-1).

Last updated: 09/00