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Monday, November 22, 2010

International Climate Change: A Negotiations Side-by-Side

Jane A. Leggett
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), signed in 1992, gather for their 16th annual meeting in Cancun, Mexico, from November 29 to December 10, 2010. Several formal and informal negotiating sessions in 2010, intended to resuscitate the global negotiations to address climate change beyond the year 2012, have followed the 2009 meeting in Copenhagen, with which many countries and observers were disappointed.

Under the UNFCCC, 194 governments, including the United States, have taken on obligations to address climate change through enhanced scientific and technological cooperation, assessment of sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and removals, and policies and measures to mitigate GHG and to promote adaptation to climate changes. By the time the UNFCCC entered into force in 1994, countries agreed that these obligations were inadequate to achieve the objective of “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” By 1995, a Berlin Mandate called for negotiation of a new agreement for deeper abatement, but with no new obligations for developing countries. The resulting Kyoto Protocol established emission reduction targets in aggregate of at least 5% below 1990 levels during 2008-2012 for the “Annex I” (developed) Parties. It also established GHG reduction targets (“assigned amounts”) for all Annex I Parties. For the European Union, Japan, and the United States, the assigned amounts were 8%, 7%, and 6%, respectively, below their 1990 levels of GHG emissions. The Kyoto Protocol allowed some credits for enhanced sequestration by forests, and for three new emissions trading mechanisms. President Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. In 2001, President George W. Bush indicated that the United States would not become a Party to that agreement, citing its omission of GHG commitments for all major emitters, and possible adverse effects on the U.S. economy. U.S. policy continues to reject becoming a Party to the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol had always been viewed as a first step toward deeper and longer term reductions of GHG emissions. In 2007, the Parties established an Ad Hoc Group on Further Commitments under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) to negotiate GHG reductions after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period ends. Also in 2007, Parties to the UNFCCC agreed to the Bali Action Plan, which set a mandate for negotiations among all Parties for future commitments on a “shared vision” for the long term, climate change mitigation, adaptation, technology, and financing. This second track, under the Ad Hoc Group on Long Term Cooperation (AWG-LCA), proceeds in parallel, with conflicting views among Parties as to how the two possible agreements may relate to each other or converge into one.

In 2009, many observers and Parties hoped that the hard-negotiated Copenhagen Accord might serve as the vehicle to bridge deep divides between the two negotiating tracks and various regional and economic groupings of countries. During formal and informal meetings in 2010, some Parties seemed to back away from their pledges under the Copenhagen Accord, although some progress was made on several technical issues. Some Parties seek to codify that progress in decisions by the Cancun Conference of the Parties. Others, including the United States, insist that all major issues be resolved in a “balanced package” of agreement(s).

Few expect much progress at the Cancun talks, although many seek a decision to extend the negotiating mandates with a deadline of 2011 for comprehensive, legally binding agreements on further GHG mitigation, financing, technology cooperation, and adaptation.

Date of Report: November 18, 2010
Number of Pages: 23
Order Number: R41494
Price: $29.95

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