Earth Summit Rio June 1992

The United States along with most of the UN states came together in Rio in 1992 for the historic United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED). A centerpiece of this conference was to be the signing of the FCCC. The United States "managed to dictate the terms of the agreement as a condition for observing it," and thus "the document sets no specific goals or timetables for reducing carbon dioxide."185 However, neither the binding targets nor the South-North debate ended when the compromise was reached on the FCCC. At Rio, Germany pressed for a European declaration to go beyond the weak FCCC, and the United States, in an attempt to avoid this embarrassment, pressured Holland, Austria, and Switzerland to avoid joining Germany in rebuking the U.S. climate change stance. Of course, "Asked at a press conference if reports of heavy-handed tactics were true, Deputy Undersecretary of State Michael Young replied, tongue in cheek, 'The US never puts pressure on anybody.'"186

On the South-North front, UNCED represented a chance for the South to air its complaints with the FCCC as well as development concerns in general. One of the major concerns was the control of development assistance funds for the FCCC and other environmental agreements. Kamal Nath, India's environment minister, disputed the North's right to dictate the use of funds designated for environmental projects. He argued, "I don't think you can shove the environment down anybody's throat."187 In the FCCC, the contentious issue of control over funds ended up being put off for future meetings of the parties. The FCCC itself states only that:

1. A mechanism for the provision of financial resources on a grant or concessional basis, including the transfer of technology, is hereby defined. It shall function under the guidance of and be accountable to the Conference of the Parties, which shall decide on its policies, programme priorities and eligibility criteria related to the Convention. Its operation shall be entrusted to one or more existing international entities.

2. The financial mechanism shall have an equitable and balanced representation of all Parties within a transparent system of governance.188

While not all that the South had hoped for (or even close to what it hoped for), given the recalcitrant stance of the United States in these negotiations the commitment to development assistance is noteworthy. The North did, in the end, agree to "provide new and additional financial resources to meet the agreed full costs incurred by developing country Parties in complying with their obligations . . . ,"189 and the FCCC was clear that Southern action was contingent upon funding.190

In the end, the United States prevailed by steadfastly sticking to its positions of no binding targets and utilizing strategies that presupposed universal participation. The FCCC reflects these U.S. positions in a mirror-like fashion. The FCCC, stressing common but differentiated responsibilities, did commit all parties (both North and South) to take actions, though the actions revolved around reporting national inventories of greenhouse gases, constructing national climate change plans, and taking actions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, the last of these commitments is nonbinding without a hard target, and it only applies to Northern parties.191 The FCCC matched U.S. objectives in the negotiations:

1. Achieve a convention "including participation by as many countries as possible."

2. Take a comprehensive approach (address all sources and sinks).

3. Create a proactive treaty, but "one without targets or timetables for emission reductions."

4. Ensure increased scientific understanding.

5. Create a treaty that calls for national plans, but also national decisions.192

Driven by adherence to the notion of universal participation, as well as scientific skepticism/economic concerns, the United States and the international community shaped a treaty that put South-North concerns at the top of the agenda, pledged to pay the South for their participation, and agreed to a convention that had no legally binding commitments to substantively address the problem of climate change.

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