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Brief Overview

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an intergovernmental treaty developed to address the problem of climate change. The Convention, which sets out an agreed framework for dealing with the issue, was negotiated from February 1991 to May 1992 and opened for signature at the June 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) — also known as the Rio Earth Summit. The UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994, ninety days after the 50th country’s ratification had been received. By December 2007, it had been ratified by 192 countries.

Parties to the Convention continue to meet regularly to take stock of progress in implementing their obligations under the treaty, and to consider further actions to address the climate change threat. They have also negotiated a protocol to the Convention. The Kyoto Protocol was first agreed in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, although ongoing discussions were needed between 1998 and 2004 to finalize the “fine print” of the agreement. The Protocol obliges industrialized countries and countries of the former Soviet bloc (known collectively as “Annex I Parties”) to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases by an average of about 5% for the period 2008-2012 compared with 1990 levels. However, under the terms agreed in Kyoto, the Protocol only enters into force following ratification by 55 Parties to the UNFCCC, and if these 55 countries included a sufficient number of Annex I Parties that at least 55% of that group’s total carbon dioxide emissions for 1990 were represented. Although the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the United States, rejected the Kyoto Treaty in 2001 after the election of President George W. Bush, a majority of other Annex I Parties, including Canada, Japan, and the countries of the European Union ratified the treaty. In November 2004, the Russian Federation also ratified the Protocol, thus reaching the 55% threshold. The Protocol finally entered into force as a legally-binding document on 16 February 2005. By December 2007, the Protocol had been ratified by 177 countries, including Annex I parties representing 63.7% of Annex I greenhouse gas emissions in 1990.

With the immediate future of the Kyoto Protocol secured by Russia’s ratification, an increasing focus of discussions since 2005 has been on the multilateral response to climate change post-2012, when the Protocol’s first commitment period expires. At the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali in December 2007, delegates agreed on a “roadmap” for 2008 and 2009 designed to bring about an agreement by December 2009.
The UNFCCC

Conference of the Parties: Parties to the UNFCCC continue to adopt decisions, review progress and consider further action through regular meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP). The Conference of Parties is the highest-decision making body of the Convention, and usually meets annually.

Secretariat: The Conference of Parties and the Convention goals are supported by various bodies and organizations. This includes a Permanent Secretariat with various duties set out under Article 8 of the UNFCCC. Since 1996, the Secretariat has been based in Bonn, Germany, after an offer to host it was accepted by Parties to the first meeting of the COP in 1995.

Subsidiary Bodies: A number of subsidiary bodies also advise the COP. The Subsidiary Body on Scientific 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 reviewing and assessing implementation of the Convention and in preparing and implementing its decisions. The SBSTA and SBI usually meet twice each year, at the same time and venue. One of these two yearly meetings generally takes place in parallel with the COP.

More recently, two additional bodies have been established. In late 2005, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol was established. In late 2007, the COP decided to establish the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action, under the COP. For more information on these bodies, see the sections on “COP 11” and “Post-2012 Issues” (below).

Financing and the Global Environment Facility: The UNFCCC includes provision under Article 10 for a financial mechanism to support developing countries and countries with economies in transition to a market economy in implementing the Convention. Parties to the UNFCCC decided that the Global Environment Facility (GEF) should act as the financial mechanism, given its expertise in this area.

Other financial resources for implementing the Convention are also available through the Special Climate Change Fund, the Least Developed Countries Fund, and the Adaptation Fund, as well as through donor countries and agencies.

Expert Groups and Other Constituted Bodies: The Convention is also supported by a number of expert groups and other constituted bodies. These include the Consultative Group of Experts (CGE) on national communications from “non-Annex I” Parties (a group composed mostly of developing countries). Other bodies include the Least Developed Country Expert Group (LEG), the Expert Group on Technology Transfer, and the Executive Board of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation Supervisory Committee.

The Conference of the Parties also cooperates with, and is supported by, numerous other international organizations and other groups, including scientific bodies, UN agencies, and other conventions. These include the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which publishes comprehensive reviews on climate change science every five to six years, as well as other technical reports and papers.

Another group, the open-ended Ad Hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate (AGBM), which was created following COP-1 and was instrumental in securing the agreement on the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, no longer convenes.
A History of Climate Change Negotiations

The UNFCCC has now been in existence for many years. The Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) has reported from every COP and meeting of the subsidiary bodies, as well as one interim meeting prior to the first Conference of the Parties (for more detailed information, see ENB UNFCCC Archives). The following section charts the history and development of climate change negotiations from the early 1990s to the end of 2007, with links to more detailed information contained in the Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

Negotiation of the UNFCCC: The international political response to climate change began with the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992. The UNFCCC sets out a framework for action aimed at stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference” with the climate system. Controlled gases include methane, nitrous oxide and, in particular, carbon dioxide. The UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994, and now has 192 parties.

Kyoto Protocol: However, in light of increasing scientific evidence about the risks of climate change, it soon became evident to policy makers that a further negotiated agreement might be necessary. In December 1997, delegates at COP 3 in Kyoto, Japan, agreed to a Protocol to the UNFCCC that commits developed countries and countries in transition to a market economy to achieve quantified emission reduction targets. These countries, known under the UNFCCC as Annex I parties, agreed to reduce their overall emissions of six greenhouse gases by an average of 5% below 1990 levels between 2008-2012 (the first commitment period), with specific targets varying from country to country. The Protocol also established three flexible mechanisms to assist Annex I parties in meeting their national targets cost-effectively: an emissions trading system; joint implementation (JI) of emission reduction projects between Annex I parties; and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which allows for emission reduction projects to be implemented in non-Annex I parties (developing countries). Following COP 3, parties began negotiating many of the rules and operational details governing how countries will implement and measure their emission reductions. To date, the Kyoto Protocol has been ratified by 177 countries, including Annex I parties representing 63.7% of Annex I greenhouse gas emissions in 1990. The Kyoto Protocol entered into force on 16 February 2005.

Buenos Aires Plan of Action: In November 1998, COP 4 agreed on the process for finalizing the rules and operational details of the Protocol in a document known as the Buenos Aires Plan of Action (BAPA). The BAPA set COP 6 as the deadline for finalizing these details and strengthening implementation of the UNFCCC. In November 2000, parties met at COP 6 in The Hague, the Netherlands, to complete these negotiations. They were not successful, and COP 6 was suspended until July 2001, when it reconvened in Bonn, Germany. After further talks, parties adopted the Bonn Agreements, a decision that provided high-level political direction on the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. But delegates were still unable to finalize text on some issues, and agreed to forward all the draft decisions to COP 7 for final resolution.

Marrakesh Accords: In November 2001 at COP 7 in Marrakesh, Morocco, delegates reached agreement on the outstanding matters in the Marrakesh Accords. These Accords consisted of a package of draft decisions on many of the details of the Kyoto Protocol, including the flexible mechanisms, reporting and methodologies, land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF), and compliance. The Marrakesh Accords also addressed issues such as capacity building, technology transfer, responding to the adverse effects of climate change, and the establishment of three funds: the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Fund, Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF), and Adaptation Fund.

Delegates built on the Marrakesh Accords at COP 8 and COP 9, elaborating on various technical rules and procedures. At COP 10 parties also agreed on two new agenda items focused on adaptation and mitigation, and began informal negotiations on the complex and sensitive issue of how parties might engage on commitments to combat climate change in the post-2012 period.

Montreal Conference – COP 11 and COP/MOP 1: COP 11 and COP/MOP 1 took place in Montreal, Canada, from 28 November to 10 December 2005. COP/MOP 1 took decisions on the outstanding operational details of the Kyoto Protocol, and formally adopted the Marrakesh Accords. The meetings also engaged in negotiations on longer-term international cooperation on climate change. COP/MOP 1 addressed possible processes to discuss post-2012 commitments and decided to establish a new subsidiary body, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG).

After lengthy negotiations, COP 11 also agreed to consider long-term cooperation under the UNFCCC “without prejudice to any future negotiations, commitments, process, framework or mandate under the Convention.” This would take place through a series of four workshops constituting a “Dialogue” on the matter through to COP 13.

Protocol AWG and Convention Dialogue: The AWG and Convention Dialogue convened four times: at SB 24 (Bonn, Germany, May 2006); COP 12 and COP/MOP 2 (Nairobi, Kenya, November 2006); SB 26 (Bonn, May 2007); and the “Vienna Climate Change Talks” (Vienna, Austria, August 2007).

The AWG began by considering the focus of its future work. At its second session in November 2006, the AWG agreed on a work programme focusing on: mitigation potentials and ranges of emission reductions; possible means to achieve mitigation objectives; and consideration of further commitments by Annex I parties. At its third session in May 2007, the AWG adopted conclusions on the analysis of mitigation potentials and agreed to develop a timetable to complete its work so as to avoid a gap between the first and second commitment periods. The fourth session of the AWG started in Vienna in August 2007 and concluded in Bali during COP/MOP 3. In Vienna, delegates focused on mitigation potentials and possible ranges of emission reductions for Annex I parties. The AWG adopted conclusions referring to some key findings by Working Group III of the IPCC, including that global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak in the next ten to fifteen years and then be reduced to well below half of 2000 levels by the middle of the 21st century in order to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at the lowest levels assessed by the IPCC. The AWG’s conclusions also recognize that to achieve the lowest stabilization level, Annex I parties as a group would be required to reduce emissions by a range of 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020.

The Convention Dialogue workshops began with an initial exchange of views on the four thematic areas identified at COP 11: advancing development goals in a sustainable way; addressing action on adaptation; realizing the full potential of technology; and realizing the full potential of market-based opportunities. The second and third workshops involved an exchange of views on the four areas, while the fourth focused on bringing together ideas from the previous workshops and addressing overarching and cross-cutting issues, including financing. The final two workshops also considered the next steps after the Dialogue’s four scheduled meetings had come to an end. As well as the AWG and Convention Dialogue, recent UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol meetings have also addressed long-term issues in other settings, including a first review of the Protocol required under Article 9, and a proposal by the Russian Federation on “voluntary commitments.”

UN Climate Change Conference in Bali – COP 13 and COP/MOP 3: The “United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali” was held from 3-15 December 2007. These meetings resulted in the adoption of 15 COP decisions and 13 COP/MOP decisions and the approval of a number of conclusions by the subsidiary bodies. These outcomes covered a wide range of topics, including finalizing the Adaptation Fund under the Protocol, a decision on reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries, and outcomes on technology transfer, capacity building, the Kyoto Protocol’s flexible mechanisms, the adverse effects of combating climate change, national communications, financial and administrative matters, and various methodological issues.

The main focus in Bali, however, was on long-term cooperation and the post-2012 period, when the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period expires. Negotiators spent much of their time seeking to agree on a two-year process – or “Bali roadmap” – to finalize a post-2012 regime by December 2009. Negotiations were conducted in a number of groups under the aegis of both the Convention and the Protocol. Under the Convention, the discussions focused on how to follow up on the “Dialogue on long-term cooperative action to address climate change by enhancing implementation of the Convention.” Under the Protocol, the AWG considered a timetable for determining Annex I commitments for the post-2012 period. Delegates also outlined a preparatory process for the second review of the Protocol under Article 9, and held discussions on the “Russian proposal” on voluntary commitments.

Negotiations on these issues were only completed on Saturday afternoon, 15 December, 24 hours after the conference’s scheduled conclusion, when ministers and other high-level officials agreed to a series of outcomes that together comprise the “Bali roadmap.” These decisions provide guidance and direction for a series of meetings over the next two years under both the Convention and Protocol, with the aim of concluding a comprehensive framework for the post-2012 period at COP 15 and COP/MOP 5 in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009.

Post-Bali Talks: Following Bali, three negotiations were held during 2008 in the lead-up to the next COP. The first session of the AWG-LCA and fifth session of the AWG-KP took place from 31 March to 4 April 2008, in Bangkok, Thailand. Further sessions were held in June 2008 in Bonn, Germany and in August 2008 in Accra, Ghana.

The main focus of AWG-LCA 1 in Bangkok was on developing its work programme for 2008. The work programme, adopted at the end of the meeting, aims to further discussions on all elements of the Bali Action Plan at every session of the AWG-LCA in a “coherent, integrated and transparent manner.” It establishes a detailed work programme, including a timetable for eight in-session workshops to be held during 2008. The AWG-KP convened an in-session workshop on analyzing the means for Annex I parties to reach their emission reduction targets. In its conclusions, AWG-KP 5 indicated that the flexible mechanisms under the Protocol should continue in the post-2012 period, and be supplemental to domestic actions in Annex I countries.

During the first two weeks of June 2008, delegates convened in Bonn, Germany, to participate in four meetings as part of ongoing negotiations under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol – AWG-LCA 2, AWG-KP 5 (Part II), SBI 28 and SBSTA 28. At this meeting, the AWG-LCA shifted its focus towards more substantive topics, with three workshops to help delegates consider adaptation, finance, and technology. Parties also started discussions on a “shared vision for long-term cooperative action,” climate change mitigation, and the AWG-LCA’s work programme for 2009. The fifth session of the AWG-KP focused on the means for Annex I countries to reach emission reduction targets, with delegates addressing four specific issues: the flexible mechanisms; land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF); greenhouse gases, sectors and source categories; and possible approaches targeting sectoral emissions. Parties also considered relevant methodological issues. The SBI and SBSTA took up a range of issues, some related to their regular, ongoing work under the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol, and some more closely connected to the post-2012 discussions. The SBI examined subjects such as capacity building, technology transfer and preparations for the second review of the Protocol under Article 9. SBSTA’s agenda included items on technology transfer and reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries.

Delegates next convened in Accra, Ghana, from 21-27 August 2008 for AWG-LCA 3 and AWG-KP 6. The main focus of AWG-LCA 3 was to continue to exchange ideas and clarify key elements of the Bali Action Plan (decision 1/CP.13), including a “shared vision for long-term cooperative action,” mitigation, adaptation, technology and finance. Two in-session workshops were held on: cooperative sectoral approaches and sector-specific actions, and policy approaches; and on policy incentives on issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD), and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries. The AWG-KP focused on the means for Annex I countries to reach emission reduction targets, with delegates addressing the flexible mechanisms and land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF).
Further Reading on the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol

Uniting on Climate (A Guide to the Climate Convention and Kyoto Protocol), UNFCCC Secretariat, 2007
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Handbook, UNFCCC Secretariat, 2006
Other UNFCCC publications
UNFCCC
Introduction
ENB Archives

Montreal Protocol
Introduction
ENB Archives
 
Relevant Links
UNFCCC Secretariat
Ozone Secretariat
IISD Climate Change Knowledge Base
IISD South-North Knowledge Network
Climate Ark - Climate Change & Renewable Energy Portal
Other resources
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