The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC

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Adopted on 9 May 1992, the UNFCCC represents a landmark international agreement acknowledging the urgent need for the international community to address the growing risk of climate change. The UNFCCC establishes as

50 In the UK, the Royal Commission into Transport which recommended, inter alia, improving the fuel efficiency of UK cars by 40 per cent by 2005. Hamer 1994, 6.

51 The European Car Manufacturers promised to cut their CO2 emissions from new models by 25 per cent. This voluntary agreement negotiated with the European Commission means that by 2008, cars will have to emit an average of 140 grams of CO2 per kilometre, compared with 186 grams for cars at the end of the decade. Anon 1998, 5.

52 Henderson 1998, 18-19.

53 Directive 2006/32/EC of the European Parliament.

54 Bower 1991, 37.

55 UNDSD. 1993. Paragraphs 9.12(l).

56 Cordes 2000, 10-11.

its ultimate objective the '(...) stabilization of GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system'.57 Further, the Convention states that such stabilization should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to the changing climate, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to allow economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.

The UNFCCC sets forth a series of principles for achieving the Convention's objective. These principles have not only guided implementation of the UNFCCC but have also influenced subsequent negotiations and agreements on climate change. The principles are highlighted below:

• It recognizes the '(...) common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (...)'58 of countries to address climate change, and it called upon the developed countries to take the lead in combating climate change.59

• It highlights the specific needs and special circumstances of developing countries, especially those that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change and climate change mitigation.60 This includes those countries that could face the brunt of the adverse public health and environmental impacts of climate variability, including island countries and countries in low lying areas. The Convention also draws attention to those countries that could face adverse economic impacts from the implementation of GHG mitigation measures, as may be the case for developing countries heavily dependent on oil revenues.

• It expressly adopts the precautionary principle for public policy action in the face of uncertainty: 'Where there are threats of serious and irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reasons for taking precautionary measures to combat climate change.'61

• It recognizes the right of a country to sustainable development.62 Thus, policies and measures to combat climate change should be integrated with national development programmes, while recognizing that economic development is essential for adapting to climate change.

59 Ibid.

• It directs the parties to cooperate to promote a supportive and open international economic system that would lead to sustainable economic development and growth for all parties. It further admonishes the parties that measures to combat climate change should not be used as a means for arbitrary or unjustifiable restraints on international trade.63

Consistent with the principle of differentiated responsibilities, the UN framework calls upon industrialized countries and EIT, referred to as Annex I Countries, to make non-binding voluntary commitments to stabilize GHGs emissions levels at 1990 levels by the year 2000.64 It then leaves it to the individual countries to select the policies and measures to reach that goal, subject to national priorities, individual country circumstances.

By 2008, 192 countries were parties to the UNFCCC. The parties meet annually at the COP to monitor implementation of the UNFCCC and evaluate new strategies for addressing climate change. The COP has established two subsidiary bodies that meet at least bi-annually to carry out preparatory work for the COP meetings. They are the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advise (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI). The climate change secretariat supports the COP and the two subsidiary bodies by preparing background documents, providing technical advice, compiling data and helping with other matters as requested by the COP, SBSTA and SBI.

Policies and measures to implement energy efficiency are not addressed directly in the UNFCCC, except in passing in the preamble.65 Nonetheless, indirectly the UNFCCC could serve as a driver for energy efficiency. While

64 The countries making this commitment are listed in Annex I to the Convention and are therefore commonly referred to as 'Annex I Countries'. EIT's, which are listed among the Annex I countries, are granted additional flexibility in establishing a baseline.

65 The 22nd paragraph to the UNFCCC's preamble states:

Recognizing that all countries, especially developing countries, need access to resources required to achieve sustainable social and economic development and that, in order for developing countries to progress towards that goal, their energy consumption will need to grow taking into account the possibilities for achieving greater energy efficiency and for controlling greenhouse gases in general, including through the application of new technologies on terms which make such application economically and socially beneficial. (UNFCCC 2003, 6)

not obligated to do so, a country could decide to implement domestic policies and measures aimed at improving energy efficiency in furtherance of the treaty, if it decides such measures are consistent with its national priorities. The parties are obligated to report on the policies and measures that are implemented, but they are not required to demonstrate that the steps taken are sufficient to meet the UNFCCC's goal of stabilizing GHG emissions.

The UNFCCC also states that Annex I parties '(...) may implement such policies and measures jointly with other parties to the Convention'.66 This provision for activities implemented jointly (AIJ) is a precursor to the flexibility mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol. An Annex I country may undertake a project in an EIT or developing country, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and forestry projects, in furtherance ofthe objectives of the Convention, but it may not count the emissions reduction offsets towards its goal of stabilizing GHG emission at 1990 levels. The Annex I parties then report on their AIJ activities to the UNFCCC secretariat, who synthesizes the information in an annual report.

The objective and principles established by the UNFCCC continue to play an important role in shaping international environmental law on climate policy. Nonetheless, it became evident to many that the Convention's voluntary commitments to stabilize emissions at the 1990 levels would be insufficient to reach its ultimate objective of stabilizing GHG emissions. During the summer of 1995, the COP issued the Berlin Mandate acknowledging that further action would be required on stabilizing GHG emissions. This led to new rounds of negotiations and the subsequent adoption by COP of the Kyoto Protocol in December 1997.

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