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Climate Change Negotiations

Brief Historical Background

Earth Summit

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit , Rio Summit, Rio Conference, and Earth Summit, was a major United Nations conference held in Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June 1992.

In 2012, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development was also held in Rio, and is also commonly called Rio+20 or Rio Earth Summit 2012. It was held from 13 to 22 June.

Rio Declaration

The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, often shortened to Rio Declaration, was a short document produced at the 1992 United Nations “Conference on Environment and Development” (UNCED), informally known as the Earth Summit.


Agenda 21 is a non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan of the United Nations with regard to sustainable development. It is a product of the Earth Summit (UN Conference on Environment and Development) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992.

Forest Principles

The forest principles came as non-legally binding document that makes several recommendations for conservation and sustainable development forestry

Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international legally-binding treaty with three main goals: conservation of biodiversity; sustainable use of biodiversity; fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is an international environmental treaty adopted on May 9, 1992 and opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June 1992.


In 1992, countries joined an international treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, as a framework for international cooperation to combat climate change by limiting average global temperature increases and the resulting climate change, and coping with impacts that were, by then, inevitable.

By 1995, countries launched negotiations to strengthen the global response to climate change, and, two years later, adopted the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol legally binds developed country Parties to emission reduction targets. The Protocol’s first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012. The second commitment period began on 1 January 2013 and will end in 2020. There are now 197 Parties to the Convention and 192 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference are yearly conferences held in the framework of the UNFCC. They serve as the formal meeting of the UNFCC Parties (Conferences of the Parties) (COP) to assess progress in dealing with climate change, and beginning in the mid-1990s, to negotiate the Kyoto Protocol to establish legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. From 2005 the Conferences have also served as the Meetings of Parties of the Kyoto Protocol (CMP). Also parties to the Convention that are not parties to the Protocol can participate in Protocol-related meetings as observers. The first conference (COP1) was held in 1995 in Berlin. The 3rd conference (COP3) was held in Kyoto and resulted in the Kyoto protocol, which was amended during the 2012 Doha Conference (COP18, CMP 8). The latest Conference (COP21, CMP11) was held in Paris and resulted in adoption of the Paris Agreement. Negotiations for the Paris Agreement took place during COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco. The twenty-third COP will be held by Fiji and will take place in Bonn, Germany.

Classification of Parties and their commitments

Parties to the UNFCCC are classified as:

  1. Annex I: There are 43 Parties to the UNFCCC listed in Annex I of the Convention, including the European Union. These Parties are classified as industrialized (developed) countries and “economies in transition” (EITs). The 14 EITs are the former centrally-planned (Soviet) economies of Russia and Eastern Europe.
  2. Annex II: Of the Parties listed in Annex I of the Convention, 24 are also listed in Annex II of the Convention, including the European Union. These Parties are made up of members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Annex II Parties are required to provide financial and technical support to the EITs and developing countries to assist them in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions (climate change mitigation) and manage the impacts of climate change (climate change adaptation).
  3. Annex B: Parties listed in Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol are Annex I Parties with first- or second-round Kyoto greenhouse gas emissions targets. The first-round targets apply over the years 2008–2012. As part of the 2012 Doha climate change talks, an amendment to Annex B was agreed upon containing with a list of Annex I Parties who have second-round Kyoto targets, which apply from 2013–2020. The amendments have not entered into force.
  4. Least-developed countries (LDCs): 47 Parties are LDCs, and are given special status under the treaty in view of their limited capacity to adapt to the effects of climate change.
  5. Non-Annex I: Parties to the UNFCCC not listed in Annex I of the Convention are mostly low-income developing countries. Developing countries may volunteer to become Annex I countries when they are sufficiently developed.

Kyoto Protocol

             The text of the Kyoto Protocol was adopted unanimously in 1997; it entered into force on 16 February 2005.
            The Protocol’s major feature is that it has mandatory targets on greenhouse-gas emissions for the world’s leading economies which have accepted it. These targets range from -8 per cent to +10 per cent of the countries’ individual 1990 emissions levels “with a view to reducing their overall emissions of such gases by at least 5 per cent below existing 1990 levels in the commitment period 2008 to 2012.” In almost all cases — even those set at +10 per cent of 1990 levels — the limits call for significant reductions in currently projected emissions. Future mandatory targets are expected to be established for “commitment periods” after 2012. These are to be negotiated well in advance of the periods concerned.Commitments under the Protocol vary from nation to nation. The overall 5 per cent target for developed countries is to be met through cuts (from 1990 levels) of 8 per cent in the European Union, Switzerland, and most Central and East European states; 6 per cent in Canada; 7 per cent in the United States (although the US has since withdrawn its support for the Protocol); and 6 per cent in Hungary, Japan, and Poland. New Zealand, Russia, and Ukraine are to stabilize their emissions, while Norway may increase emissions by up to 1 per cent, Australia by up to 8 per cent (subsequently withdrew its support for the Protocol), and Iceland by 10 per cent. The EU has made its own internal agrement to meet its 8 per cent target by distributing different rates to its member states. These targets range from a 28 per cent reduction by Luxembourg and 21 per cent cuts by Denmark and Germany to a 25 per cent increase by Greece and a 27 per cent increase by Portugal.

To compensate for the sting of “binding targets,” as they are called, the agreement offers flexibility in how countries may meet their targets. For example, they may partially compensate for their emissions by increasing “sinks” — forests, which remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That may be accomplished either on their own territories or in other countries. Or they may pay for foreign projects that result in greenhouse-gas cuts. Several mechanisms have been set up for this purpose.

There is a delicate balance to international treaties. Those appealing enough to gain widespread support often aren’t strong enough to solve the problems they focus

Some mechanisms of the Protocol had enough support that they were set up in advance of the Protocol’s entry into force. The Clean Development Mechanism, for example — through which industrialized countries can partly meet their binding emissions targets through “credits” earned by sponsoring greenhouse-gas-reducing projects in developing countries — already had an executive board before the Kyoto Protocol entered into force on 16 February 2005.

Emission Trading

Parties with commitments under the Kyoto Protocol (Annex B Parties) have accepted targets for limiting or reducing emissions. These targets are expressed as levels of allowed emissions, or “assigned amounts,” over the 2008-2012 commitment period. The allowed emissions are divided into “assigned amount units” (AAUs).

Emissions trading, as set out in Article 17 of the Kyoto Protocol, allows countries that have emission units to spare – emissions permitted them but not “used” – to sell this excess capacity to countries that are over their targets. Thus, a new commodity was created in the form of emission reductions or removals. Since carbon dioxide is the principal greenhouse gas, people speak simply of trading in carbon. Carbon is now tracked and traded like any other commodity. This is known as the “carbon market.”

Joint Implementation

“Joint implementation” is a programme under the Kyoto Protocol that allows industrialized countries to meet part of their required cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions by paying for projects that reduce emissions in other industrialized countries. In practice, this will likely mean facilities built in the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union — the “transition economies” — paid for by Western European and North American countries.

The sponsoring governments will receive credits that may be applied to their emissions targets; the recipient nations will gain foreign investment and advanced technology (but not credit toward meeting their own emissions caps; they have to do that themselves). The system has advantages of flexibility and efficiency. It often is cheaper to carry out energy-efficiency work in the transition countries, and to realize greater cuts in emissions by doing so. The atmosphere benefits wherever these reductions occur.

The operation of the joint implementation mechanism is similar to that of the “clean development mechanism” (see related sub-chapter) — and similarly complicated. To go ahead with joint implementation projects, industralized countries must meet requirements under the Protocol for accurate inventories of greenhouse-gas emissions and for detailed registries of emissions “units” and “credits” (steps that also are required for the international trading of emissions on the “carbon market”). If these requirements are met, countries may carry out projects and receive credits beginning in 2008. A pilot phase begun in 1995 allowed countries to gain experience in cooperating and in sharing technology. Most of the numerous pilot projects carried out will not be translated into credits under the Protocol, but schemes begun after 1 January 2002 which meet all requirements may be registered under the joint implementation programme.

Clean Development Mechanism

The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is one of the Flexible Mechanisms defined in the Kyoto Protocol (IPCC, 2007) that provides for emissions reduction projects which generate Certified Emission Reduction units (CERs) which may be traded in emissions trading schemes.

Extension of Kyoto Protocol Beyond 2012

Almost 200 nations yesterday have extended a weakened UN plan to fight global warming until 2020, averting a new setback to two decades of UN efforts that have failed to halt growing global greenhouse gas emissions. The eight-year extension of the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 keeps it alive as the sole legally binding plan for combating global warming. But the agreement was sapped by the withdrawal of Russia, Japan and Canada, so its signatories now account for only 15 per cent of global emissions. Russia wanted less stringent limits on unused carbon emissions permits.

The summit established for the first time that rich nations should move towards compensating poor nations for losses due to climate change. Developing nations hailed it as a breakthrough, but condemned the gulf between the science of climate change and political attempts to tackle it. It is the only legally-binding plan for combating global warming. The deal covers Europe and Australia, whose share of world greenhouse gas emissions is less than 15%.

But the conference also cleared the way for the Kyoto protocol to be replaced by a new treaty binding all rich and poor nations together by 2015 to tackle climate change. The final text “encourages” rich nations to mobilise at least $10bn (£6bn) a year up to 2020, when the new global climate agreement is due to kick in.

The island states accepted the agreement because for them it is better than nothing. Other diplomats will point to the immense complexity of the UN process, which is attempting to move away from the old Kyoto Protocol into a new phase binding rich and poor nations together in the task of tackling climate change. The proposed new Loss and Damage mechanism is held up as an example of the success of the diplomatic process.

Paris Agreement on Climate Change

On 12 December 2015, the Paris Agreement was adopted as an agreement within the UNFCCC framework. As of January 2016, this agreement is not in force. It is to replace the Kyoto Protocol after its second commitment period ends on 31 January 2020.

Objectives of Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.

To reach these ambitious goals, appropriate financial flows, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity building framework will be put in place, thus supporting action by developing countries and the most vulnerable countries, in line with their own national objectives. The Agreement also provides for enhanced transparency of action and support through a more robust transparency framework. Further information on key aspects of the Agreement can be found here

The Paris Agreement requires all Parties to put forward their best efforts through “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) and to strengthen these efforts in the years ahead. This includes requirements that all Parties report regularly on their emissions and on their implementation efforts.

Emission Reduction Action

Governments agreed to:

  1. a long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels;
  2. to aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C, since this would significantly reduce risks and the impacts of climate change;
  3. on the need for global emissions to peak as soon as possible, recognising that this will take longer for developing countries;
  4. to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with the best available science.

Before and during the Paris conference, countries submitted comprehensive national climate action plans (INDCs). These are not yet enough to keep global warming below 2°C, but the agreement traces the way to achieving this target.

Climate Finance

The contribution of countries to climate change, and their capacity to prevent and cope with its consequences, varies enormously. The Convention and the Protocol therefore foresee financial assistance from Parties with more resources to those less endowed and more vulnerable. Developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties in implementing the Convention. To facilitate this, the Convention established a Financial Mechanism to provide funds to developing country Parties.

The Convention, states that the operation of the Financial Mechanism is entrusted to one or more existing international entities. The operation of the Financial Mechanism is partly entrusted to the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

The Kyoto Protocol also recognizes, under its Article 11, the need for the Financial Mechanism to fund activities by developing country Parties. In addition to providing guidance to the GEF, Parties have established four special funds: the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF), the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF), both managed by the GEF, and the GCF under the Convention; and the Adaptation Fund (AF) under the Kyoto Protocol.

At COP 16 Parties decided to establish the Standing Committee on Finance to assist the COP in exercising its functions in relation to the Financial Mechanism of the Convention.

Review Mechanism

The critical dynamic underlying the 2015 Accord, willfully ignored by its advocates, is that major developing countries offered “commitments” for emissions reduction that only mirrored their economies’ existing trajectories. Thus, for instance, China committed to reaching peak emissions by 2030 — in line with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s prior analysis.

India committed to improving its emissions per unit of GDP — at a rate slower than that metric was already improving.

Technology Mechanism

A technology framework is established to provide overarching guidance to the work of the Technology Mechanism in promoting and facilitating enhanced action on technology development and transfer in order to support the implementation of this Agreement, in pursuit of the long-term vision.

Market mechanism

Under Article 6.2, emissions reductions occurring outside of the geographic jurisdiction of a Party to the Agreement can be counted toward achieving that Party’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) via Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMOs).  This enables both the formation of “clubs” or other types of coalitions, as well as bottom-up heterogeneous linkage.  Such linkage among Parties to the Agreement would provide for exchanges between compliance entities within the jurisdictions of two different Parties, not simply the government-to-government trading (of Assigned Amounts or AAUs), as was the case with the Kyoto Protocol’s Article 17.


The backbone of the Paris Agreement will be the Transparency Mechanism laid out in Article 13. Due to the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), Parties’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) contain a vast amount of variance, not only in ambition but also in format. This presents a nightmare for transparency and accounting. Eventually, the goal is for all states to report in a common format. The new transparency mechanism is to be negotiated by 2018, and adopted in 2020 – codified in time to inform the next round of NDCs (moving forward, what were formerly called INDCs become referenced as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs). The Paris Committee in Capacity Building (PCCB) should capitalize on the next 2 years to search out effective models to train carbon accountants.There is still time.

Loss and Damage

The Paris Agreement addresses the new and evolving issue of “loss and damage” that had previously been treated as a subcategory of adaptation. The concept springs from the reality that there are some climate change impacts that cannot be adapted to—impacts that are so severe that they leave in their wake permanent or significantly damaging effects.

Loss and damage of this kind can arise from extreme weather events—such as the loss of lives and property in a cyclone—as well as from slow onset events, like the extinction of species that result from ecosystem shifts, the loss of arable land to desertification, or the complete disappearance of low-lying island nations. Given the current impacts of climate change that are already hitting vulnerable communities hard and are likely to intensify, constructive approaches to addressing loss and damage are needed.

Maintaining the difference between developing and developed countries:

Many people fail to realize is that global warming is the consequence of the stock of greenhouse gas emissions, chiefly CO2, which has accumulated in the Earth’s atmosphere as a result of fossil fuel based industrial activity in the industrialized countries of the world. This is the reason why the UN recognizes the historical responsibility of the developed countries in causing global warming even though current industrial activity in major developing countries such as China and, to a much lesser extent, India is adding incrementally to that stock.

If developed countries do not make significant and absolute reductions in their emissions there will be a progressively smaller carbon space available to accommodate the development needs of developing countries. There is a difference between the emissions of developing countries which are “survival” emissions and those of developed countries which are in the nature of “lifestyle” emissions. They do not belong to the same category and cannot be treated on a par.

To blur this distinction is to accept the argument that because “we got here first, so we get to keep what we have, while those who come later must stay where they are for the sake of the saving the planet from the threat of climate change.” Far from accepting their historical responsibility developed countries are instead trying to shift the burden on to the shoulders of developing countries. This they have been doing by keeping attention focused on current emissions while ignoring the source of the stock of emissions in the atmosphere. A sustainable and effective climate change regime cannot be built on the basis of such inequity.

In a densely interconnected and globalised world, it will be impossible to maintain islands of prosperity in an ocean of poverty and deprivation. It is not that developing countries are claiming the right to spew as much carbon as possible into the atmosphere without regard to the health of the planet. As the main victims of climate change– the impacts of which they are already suffering – they have a much bigger stake in dealing with this challenge. They are, in fact, doing much more than most developed countries, to adopt energy frugal methods of growth, conserving energy, promoting renewable power and limiting waste within the limits of their own resources.

Climate negotiations have become less about meeting an elemental challenge to human survival and more about safeguarding narrowly conceived economic self interests of nations.

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