The International community is dealing with global climatic issues on two levels – stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and understanding the mechanisms of climate change. Different approaches are taken to address these two core issues, and each is managed by a separate United Nations organisation.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
Stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations calls for political motivation. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) encourages intergovernmental efforts to address climate change. The Convention, which is currently ratified by 186 countries (the “Parties”), calls on its members to work towards “stabilising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at a level that would prevent human-induced actions from leading to dangerous interference with the climate system”. Member countries meet annually at the Conference of the Parties (COP). They have formulated an environmental agreement – the Kyoto Protocol, which, unlike the Convention, obligates all rich countries that have ratified the Protocol, to limit their greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2010.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Understanding the mechanisms of climate change, its potential impacts and developing answers, requires international scientific cooperation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) brings together researchers from all over the world, organized into three working groups. Their task is to assess the huge volume of climate change related material published in the scientific literature and condense it into comprehensive and objective reports, detailing the current state of knowledge. To provide a balanced view, participants in the process are drawn from a broad range of organizations, including universities, public and private research laboratories, industry and non-governmental organizations. All suitably qualified researchers, from any relevant discipline, are eligible to contribute to the process. Almost all countries are members of the IPCC, which meets once a year to approve the reports and determine future directions. Each member country has one vote – the United States has as much say as Tajikistan. Much of the material in this publication is based on the findings presented in the Third Assessment Report (TAR) on Climate Change completed in 2001. The next full assessment report is due to be published in 2007. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established the IPCC in 1988, at the urging of the seven leading industrial nations.
Setting the limits – The Kyoto Protocol In 1997 world leaders adopted the Kyoto Protocol requiring rich countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 5.2% below the 1990 level, calculated as an average over the period 2008-2012. Under the Kyoto Protocol the rich countries have different targets, that in sum adds up to a reduction of 5.2%. For example, the European Union aims for an 8% cut in total, Germany committed to a 21% cut and the United Kingdom to 12.5%, while Greece is allowed to increase their emissions by 25% and Spain an increase by 15%.
For the treaty to take effect, it had to be ratified by developed countries whose carbon dioxide emissions represented 55% of the 1990 total. Late in 2004, Russia decided to ratify it, and it will now enter into force in 2005. Some countries, including Australia and the United States have not ratified the Protocol.
However, a large number of climate specialists believe that even if the 5.2% Kyoto reduction target is reached, it will not have a great impact on global warming. But the Kyoto Protocol is a very important first step for the world in fighting climate change. In 2005, the climate change negotiators will have to start talking about what will happen after the first Kyoto period.
Emissions’ trading has started
Under the Kyoto Protocol developed countries will have some flexibility in how they make their emission reductions. In particular, an international emission-trading regime will be established allowing industrialised countries to buy and sell emissions credits amongst themselves. They will also be able to acquire emission reduction units through the Joint Implementation (JI) mechanism by financing certain kinds of projects in other developed countries like the former Eastern European countries. In addition, a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) for promoting sustainable development will enable industrialised countries to finance emission-reduction projects in developing countries and to receive credit for doing so.
Built on the mechanisms set up under the Kyoto Protocol the European Union (EU) has developed the largest company- level scheme for trading in CO2 emissions, it includes 12,000 installations, accounting for around 45% of EU’s total CO2 emissions. The Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) started in the 25 EU member states on 1 January 2005.
The ETS allows companies to use credits from Joint Implementation (JI) and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to help them comply with their obligations under the scheme. The ETS allows the EU to achieve its Kyoto target at a cost between € 2.9 and € 3.7 billion annually. This is less than 0.1% of the EU’s GDP. Without the scheme, compliance costs could reach up to € 6.8 billion a year.
First CDM projects approved
In early 2005, two CDM projects, one in Brazil and the other in Honduras, were approved. The project in Honduras produces power, which is sold to the national power utility in a run-off-river hydroelectric plant. The expected certified emission reductions from the project are projected by the developers to be approximately 178,000t of CO2 equivalent over a crediting period of ten years.
The objective of the Brazilian project is to avoid methane emissions by collecting these emissions from landfills and produce electricity. It is expected to reduce emissions of 14,072 million tonnes CO2 equivalents, over a 21-year credit period.
The use of these three flexible mechanisms is to be supplemental to domestic action. By 2005 each party included in Annex 1 shall have made demonstrable progress in achieving its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.