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UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol

Power linesClimate treaties At the core of international efforts to address climate change are the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol. These two treaties represent the international response so far to the compelling evidence, compiled and repeatedly confirmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that climate change is occurring, and that it is largely due to human activities.

The UNFCCC countries agreed on the Convention on 9 May 1992, and it entered into force on 21 March, 1994. But even as they adopted the Convention, however, governments were aware that its provisions would not be sufficient to adequately address climate change. At the first Conference of the Parties, held in Berlin, Germany in early 1995, a new round of talks was launched to discuss firmer, more detailed commitments.

Kyoto Protocol After two and a half years of intensive negotiations, a substantial extension to the Convention was adopted in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997. This Kyoto Protocol established legally binding emissions targets for industrialized countries, and created innovative mechanisms to assist these countries in meeting these targets. The Kyoto Protocol entered into force on 18 November 2004, after 55 Parties to the Convention had ratified it, including enough industrialized countries — who have specific targets — to encompass 55 per cent of that group’s carbon dioxide emissions in 1990.

An overall framework — The UNFCCC sets an overall framework for international efforts to tackle the challenge of climate change. It states that the Convention’s ultimate objective is to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at a level that would prevent harm to the climate system. The Convention enjoys near universal membership; as of June, 2007, 191 countries have ratified it. These countries are referred to as Parties to the Convention.

Reporting on emissions — Parties to the Convention agreed to a number of commitments to address climate change. All Parties must develop and periodically submit special reports called national communications. These national communications must contain information on the greenhouse gas emissions of that Party and describe the steps it has taken and plans to take to implement the Convention.

National programmes — The Convention requires all Parties to implement national programmes and measures to control greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Parties also agree to promote the development and use of climate-friendly technologies; education and public awareness of climate change and its impacts; sustainable management of forests and other ecosystems that can remove greenhouse gas from the atmosphere, and to cooperate with other Parties in these matters.

Industrialized country commitments — Industrialized countries, which are called Annex I Parties under the Convention, have additional commitments. These Parties initially agreed to undertake policies and measures with the specific aim of returning their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2000. Annex I Parties must also provide more frequent national communications and must separately provide yearly reports on their national greenhouse gas emissions.

Sharing technologies — The wealthier developed countries (called Annex II Parties) must also promote and facilitate the transfer of climate friendly technologies to developing countries and to countries with economies in transition. They must also provide financial resources to help developing countries implement their commitments through the Global Environment Facility, which serves as the Convention’s financial mechanism, and through bilateral or other multilateral channels.

Stabilizing greenhouse gases — The 1997 Kyoto Protocol shares the Convention’s ultimate objective to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at a level that will prevent dangerous interference with the climate system. In pursuit of this objective, the Kyoto Protocol builds upon and enhances many of the commitments already in place under the Convention. Only Parties to the Convention can become Parties to the Protocol.

Binding targets for developed countries — Although all Parties have agreed to further advance the implementation of their existing commitments under the Convention, only Annex I Parties took on new targets under the Protocol. Specifically, these Parties have agreed to binding emission targets over the 2008-2012 timeframe.

New tools to reduce emissions — To assist industrialized countries in meeting their binding targets, and to promote sustainable development in developing countries, the Kyoto Protocol adopted three innovative mechanisms--the clean development mechanism, joint implementation, and emissions trading.

Monitoring compliance — To support the implementation of these mechanisms, and promote compliance of Annex I Parties with their emission targets, the Kyoto Protocol strengthened the Convention’s reporting and review procedures and created a system of electronic databases, called national registries, to monitor transactions under the Kyoto mechanism. It also established a compliance committee, which has the authority to determine and apply consequences for non-compliance.

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