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UN Framework Convention

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The Framework Convention

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was negotiated under United Nations auspices to deal with the impacts of human activities on the global climate system. The agreement came into force on 21 March 1994.

The ultimate objective of the Convention is:

... stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow 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.

Developed countries which are parties to the UNFCCC (called "Annex 1 countries in the wording) agree to limit carbon dioxide and other human – induced greenhouse gas emissions, and to protect and enhance greenhouse gas sinks and reservoirs.. Parties also agree to promote and cooperate in research, systematic observation and development of data archives related to the climate system, to share information, and to cooperate in education and training related to climate change. Annex 1 parties are required to report periodically on the measures they are undertaking to address the objective of the convention, and on their projected emissions and sinks of greenhouse gases. There are also commitments to assist developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to adverse effects of climate change, with costs of adapting to adverse effects, and to facilitate transfer of environmentally sound technologies to developing countries.

The UNFCCC itself contained no legally binding targets or timetables, but the general interpretation was that developed countries should reduce their emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000.

The UN Climate Change Conference 2007 in Bali resulted in the adoption of the “Bali road map”. Included in the “Bali road map” is the “Bali action plan”, which charts the course for a new negotiating process designed to tackle climate change, with the aim of completing this by 2009.

More information on the UN Climate Change Conference 2007 (Bali) 

The Bail road map also included the AWG-KP negotiations and their 2009 deadline, the launch of the Adaptation Fund, the scope and content of the Article 9 review of the Kyoto Protocol, as well as decisions on technology transfer and on reducing emissions from deforestation.

The Kyoto Protocol

At the first Conference of the Parties to the Convention, in April 1995, it was decided that existing commitments in the UNFCCC were inadequate to achieve the objective of avoiding dangerous human-induced interference with the climate system. Further negotiations led to the Kyoto Protocol, which was agreed to in December 1997. The Kyoto Protocol shall enter into force "on the ninetieth day after the date on which not less than 55 Parties to the Convention, incorporating Annex I Parties which accounted in total for at least 55% of the total carbon dioxide emissions for 1990 from that group, have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession".

This is a legally binding protocol, under which industrialized countries will reduce their collective emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2%. The 5.2% reduction in total developed country emissions will be realized through national reductions of 8% by Switzerland, many Central and East European states, and the European Union (the EU will achieve its target by distributing differing reduction rates to its member states); 7% by the US; and 6% by Canada, Hungary, Japan, and Poland. Russia, New Zealand, and Ukraine are to stabilize their emissions, while Norway may increase emissions by up to 1%, Australia by up to 8%, and Iceland 10%.

The agreement grants countries a certain degree of flexibility in how they make and measure their emissions reductions. In particular, a "clean development mechanism" will enable industrialized countries to finance emissions-reduction projects in developing countries and receive credit for doing so. An international "emissions trading" regime will be established allowing industrialized countries to buy and sell excess emissions credits amongst themselves. The operational details for these schemes must still be elaborated.

The agreement aims to lower overall emissions from a group of six greenhouse gases by 2008-12, calculated as an average over these five years. Cuts in the three most important gases – carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N20) – will be measured against a base year of 1990. Cuts in three long-lived industrial gases - hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) – can be measured against either a 1990 or 1995 baseline.

If compared to expected emissions levels for the year 2000, the total reductions required by the Protocol will actually be about 10%; this is because many industrialized countries have not succeeded in meeting their earlier non-binding aim of returning their emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000, and their emissions have in fact risen since 1990. Compared to the emissions levels that would be expected by 2010 without emissions-control measures, the Protocol target represents a 30% cut.

More information

The full text of the Convention and the full text of the Kyoto Protocol are available from the official website of the UNFCCC.

Visit the UNFCCC website 

The Climate Pages on the Ministry for the Environment website contain some documents on New Zealand activities and policy development relevant to the UNFCC. The Ministry for the Environment has also published New Zealand's first(1994) and second (June 1997) national communications under the UNFCCC (in paper form).

Visit the MfE website 

Prepared by David Wratt