The Big Picture 

:International Climate Change Politics

The prominence of global warming as a political issue grew slowly in the 1970s and most of
the 1980s. By the end of the 1980s, concern was sufficient to create a demand for an
international agreement on global warming and a negotiation process was begun through the
UN to produce a treaty on climate change. This process led to the signing of the Framework
Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) by representatives of 165 governments at the
United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the "Earth Summit") in Rio de
Janeiro in 1992. The FCCC calls for the "stabilization of GHG concentrations in the
atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the
climate system." It stipulates that parties should be guided by a number of principles in
achieving this objective, including equity (specifically, that developed countries should "take
the lead" in climate change mitigation), the precautionary principle (when in doubt, to err on
the side of caution), cost-effectiveness, and sustainable development. The FCCC has now
been signed and ratified by more than 175 countries and legally entered into force in March

The FCCC suggests that industrialized countries aim to stabilize their emissions at 1990 levels
by the year 2000. Most countries do not anticipate achieving this goal. Furthermore,
stabilizing emissions of GHGs will not lead to a stabilization of atmospheric concentrations,
the goal of the convention; deeper cuts in emissions would be required to meet this goal. In
recognition of these shortcomings, representatives of over 150 governments signed the
Kyoto Protocol in 1997. If the protocol is ratified, it will require industrialized countries to
reduce aggregate emissions of six GHGs CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs, and SF6 (sulfur
hexafluoride) by about 5% relative to 1990 emission levels. This goal would be achieved
over the compliance period 20082012. Individual countries accepted different caps;
Australia, for example, would be allowed to increase emissions 8% above 1990 levels, while
the United States and the European Union would need to decrease emissions by 7% and
8%, respectively. The protocol envisions a system of emissions trading in which countries can
make deeper reductions than required and sell excess allowances or emit at rates above their
cap and buy allowances for the difference. The aim of such a system is to reduce the overall
costs of emission reductions. In principle, a country in which domestic reductions would be
expensive could reduce costs by "buying" (in other words, financing the achievement of)
cheaper reductions elsewhere. 


Houghton, J.T., Meira Filho, L.G., Callander, B.A., Harris, N., Kattenberg, A., and
Maskell, K., eds, 1996, Climate Change 1995: The Science of Climate Change, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Watson, R.T., Zinyowera, M.C., and Moss, R.H., eds, 1996, Climate Change 1995:
Impacts, Adaptations and Mitigation of Climate Change: Scientific-Technical Analyses,
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.


*Global Change                    Online Journal on climate Change and Ozone Depletion

*N.Y.Times Global Warming Archive

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