A plan to cool the Earth

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United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted in New York 9 May 1992, opened for signing on June 1992 at the Rio World Conference and came into effect on 21 March 1994. It was ratified by 193 Parties.

Object and Challenges

Human activities have substantially increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This increase enhances the natural greenhouse effect and causes global warming, from which natural ecosystems and humankind could suffer. It is estimated, based on the current level of greenhouse gas emissions, that an additional warming between 1.5 degrees and 5.8 degrees and a sea-level increase from 9 to 88cm could occur between now and 2100. (1)

This risk was brought to light by scientists starting in the 1970s. On 6 December 1988, a Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly considered the climate change matter as a “common concern for mankind”. Created the same year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would confirm the threat of a climate change in the publication of his first report in 1990. It is in this context that on 9 May 1992 the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted.

The ultimate goal of the Convention is, according to Article 2, to « stabilise the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that prevents all dangerous anthropogenic disturbance of the climate system”. This level must be reached within a time frame sufficient enough for ecosystems to be able to naturally adapt to climate change, for food production to not be threatened and for economic development to be proceed in a sustainable manner.

Content

Industrialised countries contributing to the major part of GHG emissions, the Convention puts forth the principal of common but differentiated responsibility of country Parties. This principal can be interpreted as the distinction between the obligations the Parties are put under..

The Party States of Annex I (OECD countries newly industrialising countries) must take the initiative to modify the long-term trends of GHG emissions, by adopting policies and measures allowing their GHS emissions to be stabilized in 2000 at their 1990 level.

The country Parties in Annex II (meaning the only countries of the OECD) must also provide new additional financial resources to developing countries (not appearing in Annex 1), namely not only to ensure a transfer of technologies but also to cover the costs of obligations in accordance with the Convention.

Regarding the obligations shared between all Parties, the Convention includes the establishment and periodic update of a « national inventory », of emissions (anthropogenic by source) and an inventory of GHG absorption by sinks (sinks are the process, natural or artificial, that remove a GHG or an aerosol from the atmosphere). All the Parties must also implement “national programs” with the purpose of mitigating climate change, encouraging the intelligent management, the conservation and enhancement of GHG sinks and reservoirs (biomasses, forest, and other terrestrial ecosystems, coastal or marine). They must finally introduce appropriate programs in order to prepare themselves for the impact of climate change.

Effects and application

The Convention signed in 1992 includes commitments so vague that their restrictive nature could be legitimately suspected.

From the first Conference of Members convened in Berlin in 1995, the need to enforce the commitments taken in 1992 was acknowledged. The Conference of Members established then the “Berlin Mandate”, according to which negotiations must be entered into to adopt a Protocol. This must define the quantified objectives in terms of limitation and reduction of GHG, accompanied by a calendar and policies and measures that will allow them to be achieved.

The Framework Convention has however the merit of putting forth the principal of common but differentiated responsibility, by attributing a particular responsibility to developed Countries. By way of its implementation, provisions for compensatory measures (financial and technological) are thus made, to encourage the participation of developing countries. Moreover, the “mechanism of concerted implementation”, which gives developed countries the opportunity to fulfill in part their obligations by the measures taken in developing countries, merits highlighting. The idea underlying this mechanism is that the investment in a developing country rather than in an industrialized country can lead to much more significant GHG reduction as the cost per unit of reduction is lower than in the North. The final result is a gain for the global environment.

Implementation Evaluations

The Conference of Parties is the highest body of the Convention. It is namely responsible for periodically examining the Parties’ obligations, facilitating information exchanges, formulating recommendations… To do this, each of the Parties will have submitted its “national inventory” (emissions and absorptions), a general description of measures that it is taking or plans on taking to implement the Convention as well as any other useful information (Art 12).

Provisions are made for two other bodies in the Convention. Firstly, “the subsidiary body of scientific and technological advice”, which is responsible for providing information on the scientific and technological aspects of the Convention but also to evaluate all scientific information pertaining to climate changes and on the consequences of the measures taken by the Parties. Secondly, a “subsidiary body of implementation” was created, responsible for helping the COP to monitor and evaluate the effective implementation of the Convention.

For the international conference on climate change that was held in Accra (Ghana), the UNEP published a report on 26 August 2008 that calls for the removal of subsidies for fossil fuel energy, which would allow GHG to be reduced by 6% per year. Most of these subsidies are used to artificially reduce the real price of fuels like oil, coal, gas, etc.

In addition to the harmful effects to climate stability, financial mechanisms would favor the upper classes of society rather than the ones with lower incomes (for example India, where 1.7 billion dollars was invested in subsidies for LPG at the beginning of 2008 to facilitate access to fuels for poor households, an investment that had benefited higher income households. However, despite the inefficiency of the subsidy, the programme was extended until 2012.

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