Emissions Baseline

THE emission BAsELINE represents the starting point or reference level from which increases and decreases in emissions are measured. The intergovernmental action through which national governments have coordinated their response to the threat of human-induced climate change is based on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), adopted in 1992, and its Kyoto Protocol, negotiated since December 1997. In 2001, the so-called Marrakech Accords marked the shift from negotiation of an intergovernmental framework to cope with climate to a phase of implementation. Setting a baseline for greenhouse gases emissions is part of this shift towards implementation.

Under the terms of the UNFCCC, all signatory countries have common, but differentiated, responsibility to reduce their greenhouse emissions. Yet, only the Annex I Parties were subject to a specific commitment to adopt policies and measures with the aim of returning their emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2000. This was not a legally-binding emissions target; the commitment of Annex I Parties was simply to aim to return their emissions to 1990 levels by 2000, not necessarily to achieve that goal. In addition, the approach of the UNFCCC, stressing as it does the common, but differentiated, responsibility among the signatories, takes into account national diversity in addressing climate change. The UNFCCC calls for special consideration for least-developed countries (LDC) and economies in transition (EIT) and has granted them a certain degree of flexibility in implementing its targets. Several EITs have taken advantage of this flexibility by choosing a baseline earlier than 1990, prior to the economic collapse that led to dramatic cuts in their emissions.

During the first Conference of parties, the signatories launched the AIJ (Activities Implemented Jointly) phase whereby parties could implement emission mitigation projects in the territories of other Parties, including developing countries, but without gaining credit for the emissions reduced.

Emissions Baseline
An emission baseline represents the starting point from which increases and decreases in emissions are measured.

Many of the projects during the AIJ pilot phase were concerned with the establishment of baselines and their results have contributed to negotiations on the rules for the project-based flexibility mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol, such as the Clean Development Mechanism and joint implementation with EITs. Unlike the AIJ phase, these mechanisms allow crediting.

The negotiations among the parties of the UNFCCC led to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol. Article 3.1 of the document sets a collective emission reduction target for all Annex I Parties of at least 5 per cent by 2008-2012, from the baseline 1990. In the same vein of differentiated responsibility that also characterized the Framework, the Protocol divides this collective target among the Annex I Parties, giving each of them an individual commitment listed in Annex B. Each Annex I Party chose its individual emission targets in Kyoto. The Protocol's targets deal with the six main greenhouse gases: CO2, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluoro-carbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). Article 3.8 allows parties to use a baseline of 1995 for the latter three gases, in recognition of their increased use since 1990. Article 4 of the Protocol contains the so-called bubble provisions. According to this article, the European Union (EU) is permitted to redistribute its 8 per cent reduction target as it wishes among its member states. An important difference between the targets of the UNFCCC and those of the Protocol is that the Protocol's ones are legally-binding. The Protocol clearly states that Annex I Parties "shall ensure" that they do not exceed their targets, indicating obligation to achieve the targets, not just attempting to meet them.

During the negotiations, ambitious emission reductions were proposed, such as minus 15 per cent by 2010 by the EU and -20 per cent by 2005 by The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). Yet, in the end, more modest targets were adopted. These do not represent a sufficient measure to stabilize the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a safe level. Yet, the Kyoto Protocol's legally-binding emission baselines represent a landmark reversal of the persistent upward trend in emissions. In most of the industrialized world, this trend has been developing since the industrial revolution. The emissions of many industrialized countries continued to rise since the adoption of the UNFCCC and meeting their own Kyoto Protocol targets will require them to make considerable efforts. The targets of the Russian Federation and Ukraine to simply stabilize emissions at 1990 levels are widely considered as extremely generous, since their emissions declined dramatically in the early 1990s: by over 35 per cent from 1990 to 1998 in the case of the Russian Federation sEE ALso: Emissions, Cement Industry; Emissions, Trading; Kyoto Protocol; Montreal Protocol.

BIBLIoGRApHY. Anthony Owen and Nick Hanley, eds. The Economics of Climate Change (Routledge, 2004); Michael A. Toman and Brent Sohngen, Climate Change (Ashgate Publishing, 2004); Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories (IPCC CD-ROM; v.3, ch. 2.2, 2007).

LUCA PRONO University of Nottingham

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