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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A U.S.-centric Chronology of the International Climate Change Negotiations

Jane A. Leggett
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

Under the 2007 "Bali Action Plan," countries around the globe sought to reach a "Copenhagen agreement" in December 2009 on effective, feasible, and fair actions beyond 2012 to address risks of climate change driven by human-related emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). The Copenhagen conference was beset by strong differences among countries, however, and (beyond technical decisions) achieved only mandates to continue negotiating toward the next Conference of the Parties (COP) to be held in Mexico City in December 2010. The COP also "took note of" (not adopting) a "Copenhagen Accord," agreed among the United States and additional countries (notably including China), which reflects compromises on some key actions. 

As background to the ongoing negotiations, this document provides a U.S.-centric chronology of the international policy deliberations to address climate change from 1979-2009. It begins before agreement on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992, and proceeds through the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the Marrakesh Accords of 2001, the Bali Action Plan of 2007, and the Copenhagen conference in 2009. The Bali Action Plan mandated the Copenhagen negotiations on commitments for the period beyond 2012, when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends. This chronology identifies selected external events and major multilateral meetings that have influenced the current legal and institutional arrangements, as well as contentious issues for further cooperation. 

Negotiations underway since 2007 have run on two tracks: one under the Kyoto Protocol (which is subsidiary to the Convention), to extend commitments of developed, Annex I, Parties beyond 2012. This track excludes the United States, which is not a Party to the Kyoto Protocol and has said it will not join the Protocol. The second track proceeds directly under the Convention under the Bali Action Plan and focuses on five primary elements: a "shared vision" for reducing global GHG emissions by around 2050; mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions; adaptation to impacts of climate change; financial assistance to low income countries; and technology development and diffusion. Among the most difficult issues have been provisions for mutual assurance of compliance among Parties through measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) of GHG emissions and removals, nationally appropriate mitigation actions, and financial and technical support from the wealthiest countries for adaptation, technology, and capacity-building. Some progress has been made on arrangements to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD-plus). However, Parties did not reach consensus in Copenhagen on any of these elements, and the mandates for negotiation on the two tracks have been extended into 2010. The Copenhagen Accord may represent a supplemental or alternative track. Currently, the way forward remains unclear. 

Many in the U.S. Congress are concerned with the goals and obligations that a treaty or other form of agreement might embody. A particular concern regards parity of actions and trade competitiveness effects among countries. For U.S. legislators, additional issues include the compatibility of any international agreement with U.S. domestic policies and laws; the adequacy of appropriations, fiscal measures, and programs to achieve any commitments under the agreement; and the desirable form of the agreement and related requirements, with a view toward potential Senate ratification of the agreement and federal legislation to assure that U.S. commitments are met.

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Date of Report: March 30, 2010
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: R40001
Price: $29.95

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