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Global Climate Change Digest

A Guide to Information on Greenhouse Gases and Ozone Depletion
Published July 1988 through June 1999

FROM VOLUME 11, NUMBER 12, DECEMBER 1998

COP-4 SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT

INTRODUCTION

During the 1970s and 1980s, the scientific community expressed concern that the alteration of the trace-gas levels in the Earth’s atmosphere by industrial society would have a collective impact on climate (both regional and global), on the oceans (in terms of sea level and circulation), on the environment, and on the human population (in terms of health, sustainable agriculture, and socioeconomic measures). A number of scientific conferences issued calls for the topic to be studied and for an international treaty that would address the perceived problem.

As one response, the United Nations General Assembly set up in 1990 the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a Framework Convention on Climate Change. That committee was to draft a document and related legal instruments to respond to the international problems posed by greenhouse-gas-related climate change. To guide the negotiation of that document, the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme jointly established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It was chartered to assess the available scientific information on climate change, to assess the potential effects of climate change, and to formulate possible response strategies. With input from the IPCC, the Negotiating Committee (which was made up of delegates from more than 150 countries) developed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and adopted it in May of 1992. That Convention was presented at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Rio “Earth Summit”) in June of 1992. At that meeting, 155 countries agreed to submit the Convention to their governing bodies for ratification. By the end of 1993, more than 50 countries had ratified the Convention, and it entered into force on March 21, 1994. The ratifying states made up the Conference of the Parties (COP), which then took over the responsibility for implementing the Convention.

Between 1992 and 1998, the COP met three times. In Berlin in 1995, COP-1 addressed questions about the adequacy of the commitments being made by the different countries and what might be the appropriate action for the period after 2000. At that meeting, several subsidiary bodies were established to review scientific, technical, and technological assessments of the problem; to map out how the intents of the Convention could be achieved; to provide means for the parties to the Convention to discuss and resolve their questions on implementation; and to assess how signatories to the Convention that have indicated an intent to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emission levels might formalize their commitments and cooperate with others in producing those reductions.

In Geneva in 1996, COP-2 recognized the need for flexible methods for the signatories to achieve their emission reductions. At the same time, two proposals complicated the deliberations. The first, from the European Union, suggested a 15% cut in emissions of three GHGs (lumped together) between 1990 and 2010. The other, from the United States, called for “meaningful participation” (i.e., commitments to reduce GHG emissions) by developing countries and the establishment of a linkage between their involvement in the negotiations and their commitment to contribute to the solution. Discussion of the two proposals was inconclusive.

In Kyoto in 1997, COP-3 adopted the Kyoto Protocol by which signatories agreed to reduce their overall emissions of six GHGs to at least 5% below their 1990 levels by 2012. The Protocol also specifically endorses emissions trading, joint implementation between developed countries, and a clean development mechanism (CDM) that allows developed and developing countries to act together to reduce emissions (with the credit accruing to the country that funds the activity). Follow-up meetings dealt with cooperation with international organizations, technical and accounting methods, education and training, financing, and communications.

COP-4

Initial Plenary Session

The fourth COP meeting was held in Buenos Aires on Nov. 2-13, 1998, and began with a plenary session at which the stated the purpose of the Conference was declared to be the development of an action plan that had ambitious and politically firm deadlines. That introductory plenary session dealt largely with organizational, procedural, and motivational matters. Afterwards, the attendees dispersed to meetings of the Conference as a whole and subsidiary bodies at which the agenda items were addressed. Concurrently, interested parties exhibited displays and made presentations on topics related to global climate change, including model results, analyses of climate-change impacts, descriptions of historic climate data, and strategies for dealing with climate-change impacts. At the end of the first week, a plenary mid-meeting session was held to review progress and to exchange ideas. As the various groups completed their assigned discussions, they reported their conclusions to the plenary body for finalization and adoption. A presidential ceremony was held near the end of the Conference, and the Conference itself ended with a closing plenary session. The activities, discussions, and decisions of the Conference will be discussed by topic here.

Voluntary Commitments

Argentina brought up the subject of developing countries being given the opportunity to make voluntary commitments to reduce GHG emissions in addition to the reductions they were committed to by the treaty. The developing countries reacted by pointing out that this topic had been discussed at length with no consensus; that the debate at Kyoto had specifically rejected the idea of voluntary commitments; that developing countries needed to be able to release emissions in order for their fragile economies to survive; that the Convention recognized that the burden of emission reduction has to be shared among nations according to the ability of each to bear the burden; that the developing countries were making much better progress in meeting their commitments than the developed countries were in meeting theirs; and that, if voluntary commitments were allowed, developed countries might withhold financial aid and technical assistance from those that did not make “voluntary” commitments. More developed countries argued that developed countries alone could not fulfill the goals of the Convention; that the failure to discuss voluntary commitments kept several topics from being discussed, including how to establish baselines for measurement, how to develop targets for success, and eligibility for CDM projects; and that the emissions from developing countries would outstrip those from developed countries in less that two decades. Suggestions that the Conference President personally intervene were stiffly opposed, and the question went unresolved, and the topic was omitted from the agenda and the final recommendations.

Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry

The discussion of land use, land-use change, and forestry centered not so much on the use of forests and soils as sinks for carbon and the benefits of these sinks for sustainable agriculture as on the uncertainties associated with the measurement of carbon uptake and sequestration. A recent workshop on data availability on these subjects and the upcoming release of an IPCC expert-panel report on these topics were discussed. A decision was made to organize a second workshop on data availability, focused specifically on methods, uncertainties, and research and data needs and to put off work related to these subjects until the IPCC report is available.

Impacts of Single Projects on Emissions

Iceland suggested the adoption of a proposal that would exclude from the national total GHG emissions those emissions that result from large, single-project, industrial processes that came into operation after 1990. This proposal was made because of the large proportional impact that such a project can have in a small economy. The United States said that such differentiation in the approved amounts of GHG emissions would allow for differences in national economic circumstances and would be within the spirit and letter of the Kyoto Protocol. Several countries, including Antigua, the Marshall Islands, and Brazil, opposed such an exception to the Protocol and said that such an action amounts to special dispensations that would undermine the integrity of the Protocol and encourage developed countries to increase their GHG emissions. It was agreed that the matter needed further study and that a decision on it would be deferred until a later meeting.

Research and Systematic Observation

The panel heard a report from the Global Climate Observing System (of the World Meteorological Organization; U.N. Environmental Programme; U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation; and International Council of Scientific Unions) that recommended that countries draw up plans for recording weather data and that they exchange such data. Several delegations urged the focusing of research and observational efforts on developing countries. It was agreed to develop an action plan, to have the Secretariat list the Convention’s priorities for global observations, to actively support “national meteorological and atmospheric observing systems, including measurement of greenhouse gases,” and to prepare a report on the links between protecting the stratospheric ozone layer and protecting the global climate system. The last decision was objected to by the Russian Federation because the IPCC is preparing a report that might provide the same information, but the chair overruled the objection and stated that there would be two reports.

Methodological Issues for GHG Inventories

A report on methodologic issues was reviewed, and the United States asked that these issues be resolved so they could be used to develop guidelines and measurement systems that could be ratified at COP-6. A workshop was scheduled for December for resolving the issues involving GHG inventories. Switzerland and the European Union noted that both the Kyoto and Montreal protocols deal with reducing the emission of some of the same trace atmospheric gases and suggested compiling a list of technologies available to reduce those emissions. The United States and Australia encouraged cooperation with the bodies overseeing the implementation of the Montreal protocol but cautioned that the implications for industry that a phaseout of these substances would have should also be considered. The Chair proposed having consultations on this matter, and the IPCC will be consulted about a comprehensive joint plan for inventorying GHGs. Brazil suggested allocating responsibilities among countries on the basis of rise in global temperatures rather than on emissions. The United States felt that such a move would overlook important socioeconomic factors. The delegates decided to study the proposal further and requested that Brazil make a fuller report at the next session of the subsidiary body.

Development and Transfer of Technology

Argentina said that adaptation needed to be considered in technology transfer as well as mitigation and advocated the use of international organizations to effect the transfer. China, the Republic of Korea, and Granada said that such transfer should be carried out on noncommercial and preferential terms, should not be linked to the Kyoto Protocol, should entail existing rather than untried technologies, and should be carried out by national governments. But Canada and Australia countered that technology transfer should be carried out by the private sector. The United States suggested the drafting of a report on technology transfer by the Secretariat, encouraged the use of consultations to develop consensus on the subject, urged that technology transfer be targeted at country-specific needs, and suggested that studies focus on successful programs. China suggested the establishment of a formal Technology Transfer Mechanism and sketched out the attributes of such a mechanism, but the United States opposed the proposal because of its inclusion of its reliance on “noncommercial, preferential terms,” which had been previously rejected in negotiations of the Convention. After much discussion of the terms of the Chinese and U.S. positions, the chair suggested that the technology-transfer aspects of the two proposals and of a parallel proposal from the European Union be integrated into a document that could later be discussed further. In the end, it was agreed to have a panel draw up a list of outstanding issues and questions and to give recommendations for resolving those questions so “meaningful and effective action” on technology transfer could be achieved under the Convention.

Adverse Effects

After some procedural wrangling, a draft statement from the cochairs was considered. It called for identifying the adverse effects; determining the impacts on developing countries of implementation actions; identifying developing countries’ specific needs and concerns about adverse effects; and determining outstanding issues related to insurance, funding, and technology transfer in regard to developing countries. It called for an expert workshop, further discussion in subsidiary bodies, and the identification of information gaps. The seeming consensus on the contents of the report, which had resulted from the discussions of a group of delegates, was called into question by China, the United States, and Saudi Arabia, each of which pointed out areas that needed further discussion. After several amendments were made to the text and the language was finalized, the document was adopted, and it focused on obtaining and compiling information on adverse effects, analyzing adverse effects, and setting a work plan for future actions.

National Communications: Annex I Parties

Annex I parties (countries that have made a commitment to return to 1990 levels by the end of the decade) were twice required to report on GHG emissions within their national borders, the second time being at COP-4. The Secretariat compiled and synthesized these second national communications, and the delegates reviewed the documentation and discussed gaps in the data and reporting. China and the developing countries were concerned about the increased emissions from the Annex II countries (those countries that have agreed to fund developing-country inventories and reports; fund the incremental costs of agreed mitigation measures; provide assistance for adaptation; and facilitate, promote, and finance technology transfer) that were evident in the data. They also called attention to concerns they had about the provision of financial resources, technology transfer, slowness in developing policies and measures, and gaps in reporting by Annex I countries. The delegates agreed that the third national communications should be due on Nov. 30, 2001; that subsequent communications be scheduled for every three to five years; that reporting countries be asked to improve the completeness, consistency, and comparability of the data and information in their reports; that the review process needed to be evaluated and refined. China asked for and got an amendment that stressed that many Annex I countries would not be successful in reducing GHG emissions to 1990 levels; this request was made because the information was pertinent to the Convention’s provisions on the adequacy of commitments.

National Communications: Non-Annex I Countries

As they are able, the developing countries are communicating to the Secretariat the results of their inventorying of GHG sources and sinks within their national borders. Many are still in the preparatory stages (referred to as capacity building) of preparing such inventories. China, Togo, and the Central African Republic commented on the need of developing and least-developed countries for financial assistance to produce these inventories, assessments of vulnerability, and mitigation strategies. Several countries reported on the progress they were making in the preparation of these reports, and the group that accepts these communications affirmed its intention to continue accepting and reviewing these documents. The group also raised questions about the need for evaluation of these reports, about the need for compilation and synthesis of these documents, and about the need for workshops to aid the preparation of these publications.

Global Environment Facility

In the discussions of financial mechanisms for the support of Convention-related activities, several countries suggested that the Global Environmental Facility (GEF; a pilot project started in 1990 by the World Bank, the U.N. Environment Program, and the U.N. Development Program to help developing countries address problems associated with climate change, the pollution of international waters, the destruction of biodiversity, and the depletion of stratospheric ozone) be designated the Convention’s financial entity. Along this line, China and the developing countries offered proposals to alter the status of the GEF and to provide guidance to it. The delegates agreed that the GEF should be restructured, that it should serve as the financial mechanism for the Convention, that it should provide new and additional funds for addressing climate change, and that it should provide funding for adaptation measures and means to access information. They also agreed on meeting the full costs for national communications from Non- Annex I countries.

Adequacy of Commitments

The delegates were in consensus that the current commitments for GHG-emission reductions were inadequate to achieve the goals of the Convention. China and the developing countries said that the developed countries were shirking their duties and that new levels of commitment should be set. Several developed countries voiced the opinion that what was needed was a broader framework that would allow a broader range of commitments. China voiced the opinion that this stance was an attempt to burden developing countries with commitments that their economies could ill afford. The United States and Australia countered that the IPCC data indicated that the developed countries alone could not meet the level of reduction needed. At that point, five proposals were on the table, and all five were sent to the plenary session of the COP for debate. There, the president declared that no resolution seemed possible, so no debate was held on the topic, and no resolution of the problem was arrived at.

Flexibility Mechanisms

Three mechanisms for lending flexibility to the means of achieving GHG-emission reductions were discussed: emission-reduction units, the clean-development mechanism (CDM), and emissions trading. A group of African delegates asked that the use of flexible mechanisms be limited because the main objective of the Convention was to encourage domestic, not transborder, action. The European Union stressed that the mechanisms should be developed and employed in parallel, in a coordinated fashion. Australia said that the attributes it sought were openness, transparency, market-based, cost-effectiveness, fungibility, and equity. Several countries pointed out the need for a work plan to resolve the remaining issues. China and the developing countries asked that the CDM be given priority status, but the United States pushed for parallel progress on all the identified mechanisms. The delegates finally agreed that the CDM should receive priority, that final decisions on the three mechanisms should be made at COP-6, and that developing countries receive assistance to participate in the CDM. A work program was set up that listed tasks and issues in several categories: general (including principles of operation, capacity building, adaptation, and compliance); CDM (transparency, nondiscrimination, nondistortion of competition, supplementing domestic actions, fungibility, sink projects, and grandfathering of extant projects); and issues related to Articles 6 and 17 (including the lack of authority to treat adaptation, the rights and entitlements to emissions, and the bases for emissions trading).

Activities Implemented Jointly

Joint implementation involves parties in two or more countries working together to reduce or sequester GHG emissions for the benefit of all involved but with no credits for reducing emissions accruing to a developed country. Currently, 95 of these activities implemented jointly are being carried out under the Convention in a pilot-phase. The Secretariat reported on these projects and the issues they have raised. China and the developing countries stated that representation in these projects was limited to a small number of countries, that not enough details were available to judge success, and that the pilot program should be extended to lay the groundwork for Protocol mechanisms. A number of developed countries suggested a review of all the pilot-phase projects to date and a report of the results at COP-5. The delegates decided to continue the pilot program, to invite participants to submit descriptions of their projects, and to establish a program of review to support a decision about the efficacy of such projects.

Preparations for the First Meeting of the Parties

A draft agenda for the First Meeting of the Parties of the Kyoto Protocol (MOP-1, which will be held as the next COP) was discussed and adopted. The final document lists the tasks that must be accomplished before that meeting, allocates work to the subsidiary bodies, and lists the tasks assigned to the Conference of Parties.

Ending Sessions

During the second week of the Conference, a presidential ceremony afforded the representative of the U.N. Secretary-General and the president of the host country an opportunity to address the delegates. They also heard presentations from interested intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations. The COP-4 president also announced the appointment of teams of friends of the president to catalyze resolution of some of the outstanding issues. High-level sessions allowed ministers from the party countries to address the Conference with messages from their governments. Several countries, including the United States, announced their signing of the Kyoto Protocol. Also notable was the announcement by Argentine President Carlos Menem that his nation, which is not an Annex 1 country, will make a commitment at COP-5 to lower its GHG emissions.

In the closing plenary session, Jordan’s offer to host COP-5 was accepted; the president announced that no progress had been made on the rules of procedure and that the draft rules would continue to be used; delegates adopted ten decisions on the topics listed above and a plan of action; and issues still outstanding included the financial mechanism, technology transfer, adverse effects, activities implemented jointly, the mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol, and preparations for MOP-1.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Guide to Publishers
  • Index of Abbreviations

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