Greenhouse-induced climate change has been referred to as the only common problem of humanity. This is a debatable assertion but certainly the threat of climatic change does have serious ecological, social, economic, cultural, political and technological ramifications and it has become a major international environmental issue.
Although some international policy negotiation with respect to the greenhouse problem has taken place, the regime formation process is still in its infancy. Most importantly, targets and timetables for limiting emissions of greenhouse gases by industrialized countries have not been agreed. A current project in the Climatic Impacts Centre focuses on the environmental beliefs and values espoused in the regime negotiation process. Aspects of the process are examined with the idea of identifying attitudes of some of the participants in the process. In addition, the negotiations that preceded the drafting of the Framework Convention on Climate Change have been reviewed.
The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) for the Framework Convention on Climate Change was established to negotiate the Convention, and two working groups were set up within it. Working Group I's mandate included all types of commitments and the requirement that it should prepare a text dealing with:
*appropriate commitments for limiting and reducing net emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions;
*additional financial resources to enable developing countries to fulfill their obligations under the convention;
*technology transfers; and
*the special needs of developing countries: in support of measures to counter the adverse effects of climate change, taking into account that contributions should be equitably differentiated according to countries' responsibilities and level of development.
Working Group II's mandate was to consider the legal and institutional mechanisms for the Convention including:
*entry into force, withdrawal, compliance with, assessment of, and review of the convention;
*scientific cooperation, monitoring and information; and
*adequate and additional financial resources and technological needs and co-operation, as well as technology transfer to developing countries corresponding to the commitments agreed to in Working Group I.
During the negotiating sessions, two basic options were debated in both of the INC Working Groups. The first option was to adopt a framework convention modelled on the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer '...establishing general obligations concerning such matters as scientific research and cooperation, as well as a skeletal legal and institutional framework for future action' (Podansky 1992). Emission control measures along with implementation measures would then be developed by the Conference of Parties in the form of Protocols (similar to the Montreal Protocol). This has been an often used approach in the international environmental policy arena, although it has been referred to as a "slippery slope" strategy which commits states to broad arrangements but to few obligations. The second option was to draft a more substantive convention incorporating specific commitments' and implementation measures.
The oil-producing developing nations, the most vocal of whom were Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran, favoured the skeletal framework convention option as it posed little threat to their vested interests. The United States also, with a view to protecting economic interests, supported a process-oriented convention: a framework convention on the commitments side, but establishing quite elaborate implementation mechanisms, including advisory committees on science and implementation.
Other developed nations and the small island states favoured a substantive convention with detailed commitments and mechanisms including a requirement for developed countries to stabilise emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000. Developing countries apart from the oil producers were willing to support a substantive convention as long as developing nations were differentially handled with regard to commitments. The Eastern Europeans, with economies in transition, held a similar position to the developing nations in that they were concerned about restrictions on their economic growth.
A process-oriented text for the convention, as had been advocated by the US, was finally agreed on by consensus by 156 states on the 9 May 1992. This was notwithstanding the fact that most developed nations were unhappy with the text not containing detailed commitments, targets or timetables to cut CO2 emissions. Ultimately, however, they agreed to the process-oriented text with the compromise that developed nations be required to prepare national emission inventories and to report periodically on their programmes to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Robert Van Lierop, Vanuatu's Permanent Representative to the UN in New York and Chair of INC's Working Group 2 has said "I don't think we could have gotten any better--because the commitment to specific commitments was just not in the United States, and without them, there is no point in having a convention'. Developed nations and the small island states were not prepared to go ahead with a convention that the US would not sign.
The Climate Change Convention will come into force 90 days after 50 nations have ratified it and this is expected to happen relatively quickly, that is, by mid-1994. In the interim, signatory nations are obliged to refrain from acts which would defeat the objects and purpose of the Convention.
The Convention's ultimate objective as stated in Article 2 is to achieve:
...stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a timeframe sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner. [emphasis not in original]
This is extremely important in its ecological intent as well as being significant as sustainable development is advocated as a goal. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of Article 3 also state sustainable development principles.
The Parties have a right to, and should, promote sustainable development. Policies and measures to protect the climate system against human-induced change should be appropriate for the specific conditions of each Party and should be integrated with national development programmes, taking into account that economic development is essential for adopting measures to address climate change.
The Parties should cooperate to promote a supportive and open international economic system that would lead to sustainable economic growth and development in all Parties, particularly developing country Parties, thus enabling them better to address the problems of climate change. Measures taken to combat climate change, including unilateral ones, should not constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination or a disguised restriction on international trade. [emphasis not in original]
Inclusion of the precautionary principle as stated in Article 3.3 is also very significant in that it is an important environmental management guide in a situation of scientific uncertainty.
The Parties should take precautionary measures to anticipate, prevent or minimize the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse effects. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing such measures, taking into account that policies and measures to deal with climate change should be cost-effective so as to ensure global benefits at the lowest possible cost... [emphasis not in original]
Also, the reporting process subparagraphs of Article 4.2, which are a compromise which was sought from the US, although weak legally are politically interesting in that they signal that developed countries must make commitments to stabilise emissions by the end of the century aiming at 1990 levels and have these commitments reviewed by the Conference of the Parties periodically.
Overall the Climate Change Convention should be seen as an evolutionary document. The ultimate effectiveness of the Convention now lies in the strength of the protocols yet to be formulated. Interestingly, Bodansky of the University of Washington School of Law has said that many of the Convention concepts are at the cutting edge of international environmental law and reflect a 'growing sophistication' in the arena.
Some perspective on the attitudes of the governments participating in the Climate Change Convention negotiations can be gained by looking at the two pervading negotiating problems they faced. One problem was that the climate change issue is associated with extremely long time periods, that is over several generations, and from an international negotiation or political decision making perspective this type of long perspective is a virtually untrammelled field. The second problem was that the various uncertainties associated with greenhouse predictions including scientific, economic and social uncertainties could not be resolved by the scientific and bureaucratic community before the UNCED Conference deadline. Given these two difficulties, Governments fell back on debating national interests and economic concerns rather than a strong treaty. Only occasionally were attitudes on the environmental future of the planet expressed. The global view of the ramifications of the greenhouse effect on the Earth's ecological future has, therefore, yet to be given full attention.
The Climatic Impacts Centre will continue to pursue this research strand which puts modelling and impacts-related global change research into a policy, and political, context.