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United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UN FCCC) was signed during the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Climate change was introduced as an area that required special attention warranting a separate convention during the preparations to the Earth Summit. The UN FCCC was a first attempt to create a way to deal with climate change resulting from human activity. The states acknowledged that carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses do not recognize national borders, thus states need to cooperate to address climate change. Because the consensus on global warming due to human activity was not yet achieved among the expert communities and state parties, the convention was precautionary rather than proactive. The differential impact of advanced industrialized countries on bringing about this environmental problem was also recognized by the convention, giving more responsibility to the industrialized nations of the North. Eventually, 189 countries ratified the convention, which went into effect March 1994.
The Conference of Parties (COP) is the governing body of the UN FCCC. The COP meets every year to discuss climate change and develop new measures to deal with the evolving issue of global warming. The states in the convention have kept negotiations alive by working on the Kyoto Protocol of UN FCCC in 1997. This Protocol, using the same mechanisms included within the convention, assigns states legally binding targets to reduce or limit emissions.
Keeping in spirit with the differential responsibility of pollution, the convention separates countries into different categories. The Annex 1 countries include advanced industrialized countries, such as the United States and those of Western Europe, and countries in economic transition, mostly Eastern and central European countries. These are also the largest polluters in the world and are required to cut emissions on average at least 5.2 percent from their 1990 levels by 2008-12. Developing countries and the least-developed countries, on the other hand, are expected adopt environmental policies that will limit the increase in emission from a base of 1995 levels.
In accordance with the terms of the implementation of the agreement, the Protocol would take effect when more than 55 parties to the convention, who accounted for 55 percent of the total carbon dioxide emission based on 1990 figures, signed and ratified the treaty. This occurred in 2005 and the Protocol formally took effect at that time. The United States never ratified the Kyoto Protocol and withdrew from it in 2001. Since the United States was the largest carbon emitter in 1990 with 36.1 percent of the share of the world, every other large emitter had to ratify the Protocol in order for it take effect. The nations of the European Union (24.2 percent of total global emissions) and Japan (8.5 percent) had ratified the treaty in 2002 and with Russia (17.4 percent) joining the treaty in 2004, the treaty went into effect in February 2005.
The Protocol identifies the human sources of greenhouse gases such as energy consumption, fuel combustion, manufacturing, construction and other industries, transport, and production of minerals, metals, halocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. The Protocol allows for states to “trade” six greenhouse gasses: Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride, thus creating some flexibility in emissions.
The Convention is funded by financial mechanisms that ask the economically affluent countries to contribute to make compliance to the treaty possible by all parties. The Global Environmental Facility (GEF), a fund run by World Bank jointly with UN Environment Programme (UNEP) review, is also involved in funding for making progress toward meeting the treaty goals. Although the Kyoto Protocol represents progress in terms of strengthening international cooperation, most scientists believe that the limits set on greenhouse gasses by the Protocol are not sufficient to address global warming.
- Seth Dunn, Reading the Weathervane: Climate Policy from Rio to Johannesburg, Worldwatch Paper 160 (State of the World Library, 2002);
- Seth Dunn and Christopher Flavin, Moving Climate Change Agenda Forward (State of the World Library, 2002);
- EarthSummit+5, “Special Session of the General Assembly to Review and Appraise the Implementation of Agenda 21, New York, June 23-27, 1997,” www.un.org.