Framework Convention on Climate Change Essay

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The Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), which became effective in 1994, is a voluntary and nonbinding declaration of standards, goals, and objectives that represents international cooperation to reduce human-made greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change (known also as “anthropogenic emissions”). This convention-modeled after the Vienna Convention on Protection of the Ozone Layer-established a general framework for emissions reductions.

The text begins with a series of declarations. The first states that “Parties” (participating countries) in the FCCC, “Acknowledge that change in the Earth’s climate and its adverse effects are a common concern of humankind.” The FCCC document is comprised of 26 Articles, ranging in issues from defining terms to the financial mechanism to requirements for the entry of the FCCC into force.

The objective of the framework is found in Article 2, which requires parties to “achieve stabilization of the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” This Article is intended to be the standard by which the parties’ commitments under the climate regime are measured. It also states that “stabilization” should be pursued in an appropriate time frame for “ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”

Articles 4, 10, and 12 address more specific commitments of the parties, based on “common but differentiated responsibilities.” Article 4(2) of the FCCC text distinguishes between three groupings of parties to the convention, based on present levels of industrialization: Annex I Parties (all industrialized countries), Annex II Parties (all industrialized countries except those of the former Soviet bloc in the process of economic transition to market economies), and all Parties (including developing countries). Furthermore, Article 4(2)b notes that the aim for the Annex I countries is to return to 1990 levels of anthropogenic emissions. Articles 10 and 12 outline the rules by which Annex I Parties must “adopt national policies and take corresponding measures on the mitigation of climate change, by limiting anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and protecting and enhancing greenhouse gas sinks and reservoirs.” Moreover, Article 4 (3-5) notes that developed countries shall assist developing countries in reaching anthropogenic emissions reductions goals through technology transfer as well as various forms of financial assistance.

The text of the convention was adopted at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York on May 9, 1992. It was then opened for signature by leaders at the June 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a conference commonly referred to as the Rio Conference or Earth Summit. Overall, 154 countries signed the FCCC. The United States, led by President George H.W. Bush, was one of the signatories, and the U.S. Senate ratified it on October 15, 1992. The FCCC entered into force on March 21, 1994.

The entry into force of the FCCC set forth future Conference of Parties (COPs) meetings to delineate more specifics of the treaty. Most prominent is the third conference of parties (COP3) that took place in Kyoto, Japan, and produced the Kyoto Protocol. This protocol outlines more specific targets and timetables for Annex I/II Parties to reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. To date, the Kyoto Protocol has been signed by 140 countries, and, despite U.S. nonratification, entered into force in February of 2005.

Scrutiny of the FССС

The FCCC has endured much scrutiny. First, critics charge that the few specific obligations to curb anthropogenic climate change have allowed for considerable discretion in application. Second, the proposed emissions reductions are deemed to be merely symbolic as they do not significantly mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Third, legacies of colonialism shaping contemporary inequality and associated levels of greenhouse gas emissions are underemphasized in this FCCC country-level emissions reductions approach, and rhetorical acknowledgments (such as the Berlin Mandate in 1995) have proven insufficient. Fourth, since the entry into force of the FCCC, there has been increasingly politicized discussion and debate over the precise meaning behind the statement in Article 2. Contestation has centered on what level of greenhouse gas concentrations constitutes “dangerous anthropogenic interference.” Many climate scientists assert that this threshold has already been surpassed. For instance, as of 2006, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have risen to approximately 381 parts per million (ppm), marking a 36 percent increase in emissions from preindustrial levels of approximately 280 ppm, and a level not reached in the last 650,000 years. However, proponents counter that this approach is a productive first step that encourages parties to be involved in the process, before then potentially signing on to binding agreements that follow.


  1. Michael H. Glantz, Climate Affairs: A Primer (Island Press, 2003);
  2. David Hunter, James Salzman, and Durwood Zaelke, International Environmental Law and Policy (Foundation Press, 2001);
  3. Jeremy Leggett, The Carbon War: Global Warming and the End of the Oil Era (Routledge, 2001);
  4. Jane Roberts, Environmental Policy (Routledge, 2004).

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