Maria Jos Sanz Ernst Detlef Schulze and Riccardo Valentini

Climate change is one of the most significant sustainable development challenges facing the international community. It has implications not only for the health and well-being of the Earth's ecosystems, but also for the economic enterprises and social livelihoods that we have built upon this base. Creative responses based on solid research, shared knowledge, and the engagement of people at all levels are required to meet the challenge posed by climate change. International agreements are one of the fundamental tools for effective action. To be effective, international agreements depend on scientific inputs built on a foundation of the best technology available.

International Policy Framework to Address Global Climate Change

Climate change was first recognized as a serious problem by a major intergovernmental meeting in February 1979. The First World Climate Conference, held in Geneva, was an important scientific event (WMO 1979). It issued a declaration calling on the world's governments "to foresee and prevent potential man-made changes in climate that might be adverse to the well-being of humanity."

A large number of international conferences on climate change have been convened since then: Attended by government policy makers, scientists, and environmental groups, they have addressed both scientific and policy issues (Table 24.1). The Second World Climate Conference, held in 1990 in Geneva, was a particularly crucial step toward a binding global convention on climate change. Some of these meetings have taken place under the auspices of the United Nations and its specialized agencies. Others have been held within regional and global forums such as the European Union, the Commonwealth, and the South Pacific Forum or have been convened by individual governments.

At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the international community adopted Agenda 21, an unprecedented global plan of action for sustainable development. The summit also agreed on the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, a set of principles defining the rights and obligations of nations, and on a Statement of Forest Principles to guide more sustainable management of the world's forests. Agenda 21 was a landmark achievement in integrating environmental, economic, and social concerns into a single policy framework. It contains over 2,500 wide-ranging recommendations for action, including detailed proposals for reducing wasteful consumption patterns, combating poverty, protecting the atmosphere, oceans, and biodiversity, and promoting sustainable agriculture. The proposals presented in Agenda 21 remain sound, and they have since been expanded and strengthened at several major United Nations conferences on population, social development, women, cities, and food security.

The 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the first binding international legal instrument to specifically address climate change. After 15 months of intensive negotiations, it was adopted in May 1992 within the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a Framework Convention on Climate Change (INC/FCCC). In June 1992 it was opened for signature in Rio de Janeiro at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The INC negotiators drew on the First Assessment Report (FAR) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body established jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). They were also influenced by the Ministerial Declaration issued by the Second World Climate Conference and by policy statements adopted by numerous other climate conferences.

The Convention provided a general framework for addressing the climate change issue. The Convention was signed by 154 states (including the United States and the European Union) during UNCED. Other states have signed since then, and some national legislatures have ratified. The FCCC entered into force after it was ratified by 50 states.

Even before the Convention was adopted, some countries had already taken unilateral action at the national level. Most member states of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have set national targets for stabilizing or reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases. In 1990 the Council of the European Communities (EC) adopted a policy that provides for stabilizing the emissions of carbon dioxide—the most significant greenhouse gas—at 1990 levels by the year 2000. A strategy to limit carbon dioxide emissions and to improve energy efficiency is currently being elaborated by the EC Commission.

In addition, two other international environmental treaties address climate change indirectly. The amended 1987 Montreal Protocol on Trace Gases that Deplete the Ozone Layer legally obliges its parties to phase out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) by the year 1996. Although inspired by concern over the destruction of the ozone layer, this

Table 24.1. Major conferences on global climate change



What Where


June 1988

The Changing Atmosphere (UNEP)

Toronto, Canada

May 1989

Forum on Global Change

Washington, DC

July 1989

Summit of the Arch (G-7)

Paris, France

Nov. 1989

Ministerial Conference

Noordwijk, Netherlands

May 1990

Interparliamentary Conference

Washington, DC

July 1990

Economic Summit (G-7)

Houston, TX

Nov. 1990

Second World Climate Conference

Geneva, Switzerland


INC negotiations: U.N. FCCC

New York, NY



June 1992

UNCED (Earth Summit)

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

(FCCC opened

March 1994

FCCC enters into force

for signature)


April 1995

COP-1, Berlin Mandate

Berlin, Germany

July 1996

COP-2, Ministerial Declaration

Geneva, Switzerland


Oct. 1997

"Challenge of Global Warming"

Washington, DC



Dec. 1997

COP-3, U.N. Kyoto Protocol text

Kyoto, Japan





Oct. 2000


The Hague, Netherlands

June 2001

COP-6bis, Bonn Agreement

Bonn, Germany

Nov. 2001

COP-7, Marrakech Accords

Marrakech, Morocco

Aug. -Sept.

World Submit on Sustainable

Johannesburg, South


Development (WSSD)


Oct. 2002


New Delhi, India

protocol is also significant for climate change, since CFCs are potent greenhouse gases (Prinn, Chapter 9, this volume). Similarly, the 1997 Geneva Convention on LongRange Trans-boundary Air Pollution and its protocols regulate the emission of noxious gases, some of which are precursors of greenhouse gases. These treaties, however, do not address the complex set of interrelated climate issues.

While the UNFCCC focused on voluntary actions to be taken by the year 2000 for long-term control of the total concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases, subsequent attention focused on regulating and reducing greenhouse gas emissions after the year 2000. As early as 1995, when UNFCCC parties were advised that it was unlikely that the voluntary goals of that treaty would be met, a Conference of Parties (COP) authorized under the FCCC began to consider legally binding measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and proposed to craft a protocol or some other legal instru ment that would be binding on the industrialized and developing countries. The Berlin Mandate, which was adopted at the first meeting of COP (COP-1) in 1995, proposed dealing with future climate change by strengthening existing commitments under the FCCC. It also, however, continued to exempt developing countries, which are parties, from any new binding commitments related to controls on greenhouse gas emissions. Shortly thereafter, in December 1995, the IPCC released its second assessment report on climate. Despite debate on its scientific findings, the United Nations endorsed the second assessment report as the basis and scientific guidelines for negotiations on further action to limit possible human alteration of the climate system. One of the main findings of the second assessment report—and one that has attracted considerable debate—was that "the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on the climate system" (Houghton et al. 1996: 4). At the conclusion of COP-1, a two-year analysis and assessment phase was undertaken to consider the possible elements of a regulatory instrument to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol

Successive negotiations by the Conference of Parties (COP) of the UNFCCC helped to forge a December 1997 accord, the UNFCCC Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that, if it enters into force, would implement the first legally binding reduction of greenhouse gas emissions with the aim of stabilizing (if not reducing) atmospheric concentrations of these pollutants at some point in the future.1 Different countries would be bound by different levels of responsibility and compliance under the Protocol, but the combined efforts required of industrialized countries alone would be expected to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases by approximately 5 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2012. The protocol (as yet unratified) tries to achieve a balance between technically and economically feasible ways to reduce the anthropogenic emissions and to increase storage of carbon in terrestrial ecosystems through legally binding commitments. The final aim is to reduce the concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. To enter into force, the Kyoto Protocol requires at least 55 parties of the UNFCCC to ratify, and it requires that ratifying countries account for at least 55 percent of the base year emissions (1990).

Fossil-fuel emissions were identified as the main source of greenhouse gases—especially CO2. The focus on CO2 immediately opened a debate on energy use in the industrialized world, and it initiated major efforts to invest in research and development in the field of alternative and renewable energy sources. The emission of fossil carbon as CO2 is part of a much larger, predominantly natural cycle of C assimilation (photosynthesis) and respiration. This natural cycle has been disturbed, however, not only by fossil-fuel emission, but also by land use changes (mainly deforestation and harvest of primary forest) (Prentice et al. 2001). The carbon cycle links biology with industrial and agricultural production, with the consequence that practically no group in society is unaffected by changes in the carbon cycle or its management. This is presumably why it has proved so difficult to turn an apparently simple request—to begin to adjust fossil-fUel emissions downward toward a rate that can be reabsorbed by natural processes—into action.

The Kyoto Protocol core elements can be summarized as follows (Schulze et al. 2002):

1. The industrialized countries and those with economies in transition (the 45 "Annex B" countries) commit themselves to a reduction in fossil-fuel emissions in the first commitment period (2008-2012) compared with emissions in the base year 1990 (Article 3.1). The reduction should be at least 5 percent when averaged across all Annex B countries. The specific commitment, however, varies among countries. This results in country-specific "assigned amounts" for fossil-fuel emissions in 2008. Some countries are allowed to increase emissions, such as Australia (+8 percent). Others have to make larger reductions. The EU (-8 percent) internally has a "burden sharing" agreement that requires some parties to carry out reductions whereas others can increase emissions. The extremes are 21 percent reductions for Denmark and Germany and a 30 percent increase for Greece. The accounting will take place according to specific rules in the first commitment period between 2008 and 2012. The year 1990 (or 1997) will be the baseline year for several definitions and actions.

2. Countries are allowed to create carbon sinks in order to offset emissions. This can be done by planting new forests (afforestation and reforestation), decreasing deforestation (Article 3.3: ARD), or applying new management approaches (Art. 3.4: Additional activities2) in forestry, agriculture, and grazing that can create new carbon pools. These new C pools can become tradable resources in their own right.

3. The protocol can be interpreted in ways that allow countries and the private sector to trade CO2 equivalent units from technological developments (e.g., improving power station efficiency) and from additional activities in forestry and agriculture. Carbon units can be traded between Annex B countries (Art 6: Joint implementations, JI) as well as between industrialized Annex B countries and developing nonAnnex B countries (Art. 12: Clean development mechanism, CDM).

Some possible ramifications and implications of the treaty were not fully considered at the time the protocol was written (1997). Only after the Kyoto Protocol was cast into legal text did it become apparent that many terms in the text were not clearly defined and that the language was sometimes ambiguous, allowing counterproductive interpretations (i.e., underaccounting of sources). These "unwanted" effects might, at worst, reverse the intention of the protocol (see IGBP 1998; WBGU 1998).

Sinks from ecosystem management have been among the most contentious features of the Kyoto Protocol. Objections to carbon sinks are based primarily on two arguments. First, sinks may allow developed nations to delay or avoid technological adjustments—the "loophole" argument. Second, technical and operational difficulties would reduce the value of sinks, allowing for inflated claims of carbon offsets—the "floodgates"

argument. Objections to carbon sink projects in non-Annex I countries concern "permanence" (will the stored carbon remain in storage?), "additionality" (is the carbon storage above and beyond that in the absence of direct management?), "leakage" (does carbon storage in one location increase release from another?), measurement, verification, and lack of technology transfer. Although contentious, well-designed forestry projects for mitigating global carbon emissions can provide significant environmental and socioeconomic benefits to host countries and local communities (Edmonds, Chapter 23, this volume). A well-designed regulatory framework, including adherence to international agreements on biodiversity, desertification, and wetlands, would strengthen sustainable development while also enhancing efforts to address climate change.

The Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA, a committee that gives advice to the member states) responded to the arguments on carbon sinks with a request that the IPCC clarify and define the terminology and make suggestions on procedural issues. This advice was compiled in the special report Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (SR-LULUCF) (Watson et al. 2000). The IPCC was asked to be politically relevant but not prescriptive. Decisions are to be made by policy makers on the basis of options to be provided by the IPCC. Based on this IPCC report and driven by the timing of the Kyoto Protocol itself, the sixth Conference of the Parties (COP 6) met in The Hague in 2000 to settle the unresolved issues and to prepare a legal document as a basis for ratification of the protocol by the signatory nations.

The Kyoto Protocol Concerns and Implications

A number of major ecological concerns still complicate the Kyoto Protocol and the following negotiations.


Even defining a "forest" is a problem because of different national circumstances. During the negotiations, it was agreed, for the first commitment period, that forests have a minimum area of 0.05 hectare (ha, i.e., 500 square meters [m2]), >10 percent crown cover, and plants more than 2 m high. One problem with this definition is that deforestation may (according to the Kyoto definitions) be preceded by degradation (with associated emissions), until 10 percent of the initial cover and the corresponding amount of C is reached. If the area is then deforested, only 10 percent of the initial C pool in biomass would be counted as emission. Similarly, a partial forest harvest before deforestation would reduce the accountable loss. In contrast to the activities that create a sink (afforestation, reforestation, revegetation), many land use activities that cause emissions remained undefined (degradation, conversion of forest types, harvest) or neglected by the protocol. The inclusion of the harvest cycle still remains a matter of discussion, although any change in C stocks is supposed to appear in national reports.

"Additional Human-Induced Activities since 1990" in Reference to Article 3.4

The wording of this article opens two issues: What is additional, and what is meant by "human-induced since 1990"? The basic idea of the Kyoto Protocol was to stimulate additional activities in natural carbon sequestration that exceed the pre-1990 activities. But the wording can be interpreted in many other ways and has led to major differences in philosophy and strategy in the subsequent negotiations.

Role of Old Forests and Plantations

Exploitation of primary forest results in large C losses, because of the harvesting of a very large C pool that will never again be reached in a future plantation (Nabuurs, Chapter 16, this volume). Thus, this is a permanent loss of C to the atmosphere. The average lifetime of wood products, currently estimated at 15 to 20 years (Harmon et al. 1996), is much shorter than the lifetime of wood in living trees. If only "human-induced" plantations can be accounted and if natural forests are assumed to be C-neutral, it becomes attractive in the context of the Kyoto Protocol to convert non-human-induced, unaccountable old-growth forest into plantations (the harvest may remain unaccounted as normal forest practice) and claim credit for stem growth of these plantations—even though the real effect of such action is to increase the amount of CO2 released to the atmosphere. In this context, primary forests are at maximum risk, and the Kyoto Protocol offers an incentive to accelerate their demise.

The negotiations started at a Conference of the Parties at The Hague (COP6) and continued in Bonn (COP6bis) and Marrakesh (COP7). The Bonn Agreement and the Marrakesh Accords represent major breakthroughs in the international efforts concerning climate change. Nevertheless, major ecological issues that emerged from the beginning of the negotiations remained untouched (Schulze et al. 2002). Afforestation and deforestation projects under the clean development mechanism are especially critical. These provisions are potentially susceptible to interpretations that create perverse incentives that lead to a loss of carbon and/or pristine forests in exchange for plantations (Schulze et al. 2003).

Many issues, it is hoped, will be resolved in the second commitment period. It is quite clear (Houghton et al. 2001) that CO2 stabilization in the atmosphere requires GHG emissions ultimately to be reduced far more drastically than anticipated in the Bonn Agreement. This might require additional tools that are not yet available in the toolbox of the Kyoto Protocol. Protecting actual stocks, that is, primary existing forest, has a potential even larger than the cumulative increase in emissions expected until 2050. Further, protecting existing stocks has important associated ancillary benefits (i.e., biodiversity conservation). Though there remains a long way to go to reach the modest goals of Kyoto, the protocol can become an important step in a critical process.


1. The legal text of the Kyoto Protocol is available at


2. Forest management, revegetation, cropland management, and grassland management.

Literature Cited

Harmon, M. E., J. M. Harmon, W. K. Ferrell, and D. Brooks. 1996. Modeling carbon stores in Oregon and Washington forest products: 1900—1992. Climate Change 33:521-550.

Houghton, J. T., L. G. Meira Filho, B. A. Callender, N. Harris, A. Kattenberg, and K. Maskell, eds. 1996. Climate change 1995: The science of climate change (Contribution of Working Group I to the second assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Houghton, J. T., Y. Ding, D. J. Griggs, M. Noguer, P J. van der Linden, and D. Xiaosu, eds. 2001. Climate change 2001: The scientific basis (Contribution of Working Group I to the third assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

IGBP (International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme). 1998. The terrestrial carbon cycle: Implications for the Kyoto Protocol. Science 280:1393-1394.

Prentice, I. C., G. D. Farquhar, M. J. R. Fasham, M. L. Goulden, M. Heimann, V. J. Jaramillo, H. S. Kheshgi, C. Le Quéré, R. J. Scholes, and D. W. R. Wallace. 2001. The carbon cycle and atmospheric carbon dioxide. Pp. 183-237 in Climate change2001: The scientific basis (Contribution ofWorking Group I to the third assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), edited by J. T. Houghton, Y. Ding, D. J. Griggs, M. Noguer, P. J. van der Linden, X. Dai, K. Maskell, and C. A. Johnson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schulze, E. D., R. Valentini, and M. J. Sanz. 2002. The long way from Kyoto to Marrakesh: Implications of the Kyoto Protocol negotiations for global ecology. Global Change Biology 8:505-518.

Schulze, E. D., D. Mollicone, F. Achard, G. Matteucci, S. Federici, H. D. Eva, and R. Valentini. 2003. Making deforestation pay under the Kyoto Protocol? Science 299:1669.

Watson, R. T., I. R. Noble, B. Bolin, N. H. Ravindranath, D. J. Verardo, and D. J.

Dokken, eds. 2000. Land use, land-use change, and forestry (Special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

WBGU (German Advisory Council on Global Change). 1998. Accounting of biological sources and sinks in the Kyoto Protocol. Special report to the government by the German Advisory Council on Global Change. Bremerhaven.

WMO (World Meteorological Organization). 1979. Proceedings of the World Climate Conference: A conference of experts on climate and mankind WMO-No.537. Geneva.

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