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United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Objectives: “stabilize
greenhouse gas
concentrations in the
atmosphere at a level
that would prevent
interference with the
climate system”

The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) is an
international environmental treaty having an objective to stabilize greenhouse
gas concentrations in the atmosphere. After being postponed in 2020 due to
the COVID-19 pandemic, the UNFCCC in 2021 took place from November 1st to
November 12th in Glasgow. It was the 26th session for the Conference of Parties
(thus called “COP 26”). ( The 2022 UNFCCC (COP27)
will be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in November 2022.

Further reading:
UNFCCC – 20 Years of Effort and Achievement

United Nations held the Earth Summit
in Rio de Janeiro in 1992

20,000 people

from 178 nations
and 100 heads of
state met to
discuss and
endorse the UN
Convention on
Climate Change

One of the earliest signatories was President George H. W. Bush:
“The words spoken here into concrete action to protect the planet”
Three months later, Bush submitted the Framework Convention to the US Senate,
which approved it by unanimous consent.

The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 was the starting point for the

creation of UNFCCC. George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the

United States from 1989 to 1993, submitted the Framework Convention to the

US Senate, and it was approved by unanimous consent!

Submitting the Framework Convention to the

Senate was one of George Bush Senior’s last

acts as president.

The convention distinguished between industrialized

nations (Annex 1 countries) and everyone else.

• The convention recognized that developed countries are principally
responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere

as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity:

• The principle is known as “common but differentiated responsibilities”.
• Article 4, paragraph 2, the expected compliance instructs Annex 1 countries,

which includes the United States, Canada, Japan, and the nations of Europe

to “aim” to return their emissions to 1990 levels.

UNFCCC’s principle mentioned in the previous slide is based on the historical
cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases. As we saw in a previous lecture, even
though China has currently been the No.1 CO2 emitter in the world, US and EU
have emitted far more CO2 in the atmosphere throughout modern history.

• Annex 1 countries “agreed” to reduce its greenhouse
gas emissions.

• The rest of the countries agreed to take steps to
“mitigate” climate change.

No binding limits!

The framework did not set binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions for
individual countries and contained no enforcement mechanisms.

Bill Clinton reaffirmed U.S. support of the

convention on Earth Day 1993

The nation was committed to reducing

its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels

by the year 2000

“Unless we act now, we face a future

in which the sun may scorch us, not

warm us; where the change of

seasons may take on a dreadful new

meaning; and where our children’s

children will inherit a planet far less

hospitable than the world in which

we came of age”

President Clinton 1993

Levels as of 1990: 5.8 Gt of carbon dioxide

After President G.H.W. Bush, President Clinton took office and announced strong
U.S. support for the convention on Earth Day in 1993.

Meanwhile emissions continued to go up….

(Emissions increased 15% by the year 2000!)

Total historical relative cumulative emissions of CO2
by country/region

As of 2020, developed nations account for 82% of total global cumulative emissions
– (not counting China, India, Russia and the rest)


Several rounds of often bitter negotiations followed…

UNFCCC Berlin in 1995 (COP1)

UNFCCC Geneva in 1996 (COP2)

UNFCCC Kyoto in 1997 (COP3)

Kyoto Protocol
(The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change)

• The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11
December 1997 (COP3) and entered into force on 16 February
2005. Same goal as the convention: Avoiding DAI (Dangerous
Anthropogenic Interference with the climate system).

• But instead of vague exhortations like “aim”: now Mandatory

• Its first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012.
During the first commitment period, 37 industrialized countries
and the European Community committed to reduce GHG

emissions to an average of 5% below 1990 levels.
• During the second commitment period, Parties committed to

reduce GHG emissions by at least 18% below 1990 levels in the
eight-year period from 2013 to 2020

• The nations of the European Union: have to reduce
their greenhouse emissions 8% below 1990 levels and to
do so by 2012

• United States: 7% reduction below 1990
• Japan: 6% reduction below 1990
• These nations can meet their targets, in part, by buying and

selling emission “credits” and by investing in “clean
development” projects in non Annex 1 nations.

UNFCCC Annex I Countries – (Developed Nations and Nations with
Economies in Transition (EIT)
The non-annex I countries are the developing countries

While Kyoto was being negotiated; the treaty was

facing opposition from many senators who had voted in

favor of the original Framework Convention…

Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska
Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat West


Introduced a “sense of the Senate” resolution publicly warning the Clinton administration

against the direction of the UNFCCC:

The so-called Byrd-Hagel Resolution stated that the United States should reject any

agreement that committed it to reducing emissions unless concomitant obligations were

imposed on developing countries as well. Resolution approved by a vote 95-0.

• The Global Climate Coalition (1989-2001):
A group that was sponsored by Chevron, Chrysler, Exxon,
Ford Motor, General Motors, Mobil, Shell, and Texaco,
spent some $13 million on an anti-Kyoto Protocol
Advertising campaign.

Does the Senate resolution represent an honorable,
respectable, righteous position?

• Suppose that total anthropogenic CO2 that can be emitted into the atmosphere
was a big cake. If the aim is to keep global concentration below 500 ppm, then
roughly half that cake has already been consumed, over 80% by industrialized

• To insist that all countries cut their emissions simultaneously to the amounts that
industrialized nations are allocated most of the remaining slices and ultimately
that one of us or a European citizen can continue using the same amount of
energy as 99 Bangladeshis use combined.

Unfortunately, this logic was only followed in the United States.

Is the logic of Byrd-Hagel unscrupulously self serving?

Rest of Annex 1 Countries thought of Kyoto as an

adequate – if imperfect – solution to an otherwise

intractable problem

Pieter Van Geel

Dutch Environmental Secretary


“We cannot say, ‘Well, we have our wealth, based

on the use of fossil fuels for the last 300 years,

and, now that your countries are growing, you

may not grow at this rate, because we have a

climate change problem’. We should show moral

leadership by giving the example. That’s the only

way we can ask something of these other


• During the 2000 election campaign, George W. Bush repeatedly asserted that he
was deeply concerned about climate change, calling it : “An issue that we need to
take very seriously”. He promised that, if elected, he would impose federal
regulations limiting CO2 emissions.

Soon after his inauguration….

• President Bush announced that not only was he withdrawing the United States
from the ongoing negotiations over Kyoto – but also that he had changed his mind
about federal curbs on carbon dioxide.

• Explaining his reversal, Bush asserted that he no longer thought CO2 limits were
justified, owing to the “state of scientific knowledge of the causes of, and solutions
to, climate change”, which he labeled “incomplete”.

Copenhagen 2009 (COP 15 and CMP 5)
The United Nations Climate Change Conference, Copenhagen 2009, was hosted
by the Government of Denmark. It was comprised of the following sessions:
• Fifteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15)
• Fifth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the

Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 5)
• Thirty-first session of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 31)
• Thirty-first session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological

Advice (SBSTA 31)
• Tenth session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for

Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP 10)
• Eighth session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative

Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA 8)

In November 2009, the servers at the University of East Anglia in the UK were illegally
hacked and emails were stolen. When a selection of emails between climate scientists
were published on the internet, a few suggestive quotes were seized upon by many
claiming global warming was all just a conspiracy.
– Recall such distraction tactics were repeatedly used in the climate/environmental
debate covered in the documentary “Climate of Doubt”.

Then Climatogate happened… What is Climatogate?

More readings: Nature journal

What is the status as of 2012
• Europe total 6% reduction, but not driven by all industrialized nations:

1. Netherlands 12% increase above 1990
2. Luxemburg 8% increase
3. Germany 12% reduction
4. Sweden 11% reduction
5. Austria 17% increase
6. Switzerland no change
7. Norway 16% increase
8. United Kingdom 20% reduction
9. France no change
10. United States: 11% increase above 1990
11. Canada: 15% increase above 1990
12. Japan: 17% increase above 1990
13. Russia: 13% reduction below 1990

Developing countries:
• India 70% increase above 1990
• China 74% increase above 1990

Overall, industrialized countries are on track to surpass the Kyoto goal with a
reduction of some 7%, but this is largely due to the demise of the Soviet Union
and its inefficient factories, as well as to the industrial slump caused by the recent
economic crisis, which is starting to reverse.

The United States, the developed world’s largest greenhouse-gas producer, never
ratified the protocol and increased its greenhouse-gas output by 11% between
1990 and 2010.

In the meantime, developing countries (China and India mostly) more than
doubled their emissions, increasing their share of the global total from 29% to

Total carbon emissions

• Only in 2013, emissions increased by 5% relative to the previous year!
• 20 Gigatons of CO2 were emitted in 1990.
• In 2012 30 Gt of CO2 were emitted.

(50% increase from 1990 or 34% larger emissions today than in 1990).

Meanwhile, cumulative emissions keep rising CO2 at
unprecedented rates

Paris 2015 (COP 21 and CMP 11)

At COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015, Parties to the UNFCCC reached a landmark

agreement to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and

investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. The Paris Agreement builds upon

the convention and – for the first time – brings all nations into a common cause to
undertake take ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with

enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. As such, it charts a new course

in the global climate effort.

What is Paris Agreement?


More readings:

Is the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change destined to succeed or doomed to fail?
• If all the pledges embedded in the intended nationally determined

contributions are implemented fully, temperatures at the Earth’s surface are
predicted to rise by 3–4 �C, far above the agreement’s goal of limiting
increases to 1.5 �C.

• This means that the fate of the agreement will be determined by the success of
efforts to strengthen the commitments contained in the national pledges over

• In 2016, the Paris Agreement officially put into force unprecedented
requirements for reducing emissions that fuel global climate change.

Obama administration

Obama administration

The Washington Post June 7th 2016
Obama and India’s Modi promise deals
on climate change and energy

During the Obama administration, it was a very smart approach to create close
relationships with two of the most rapidly growing and largest greenhouse gas
emitters, China and India. With collaboration, the US was a collaborator and ally
with technical and financial support to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump administration

• This proposed budget cut would
undermine the agency’s
independent Science Advisory

• Scott Pruitt, the 14th Administrator
of the Environmental Protection
Agency (2017-2018), who rejects
the scientific consensus of climate
change, has sued the EPA at least 14
times in the agency’s action.

Trump administration

… and the United States has withdrawn from the UNFCCC Paris agreement after a
concensus was reached in 2015 (COP21).

“If the Trump administration does
withdraw from the Paris accord, I will
recommend that the 128 U.S. mayors who
are part of the Global Covenant of Mayors
seek to join in its place” Former NYC
Mayor, Michael Bloomberg
(Mayors could override Trump on the
Paris climate accord — here’s
how/Business Insider Dec 1, 2016,

President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement drew immediate reaction
from elected officials, including big-city mayors and governors who vowed to pursue climate policies
without the federal government.
30 cities, three states and over 100 companies will submit a plan to the United Nations committing to
the Paris climate accord. (This is one of our most-read articles today.)

What’s up today?

In order to confront the climate crisis with global cooperation and a sense of urgency,
President Biden’s pledge along with official agreement formed by world leaders are
meaningful. That being said, these pledges are non-binding and therefore rely only on
peer pressure. It will be critical that we keep an eye on what commitments are
adhered to for the future protection of our climate!

President Biden restored world leadership on climate change at COP26 on November
2021, and announced actions to tackle climate change as “the Build Back Better

Framework”. President Biden also announced that he is committed to cutting GHG
emissions 50-52% below 2005 level in 2030.

Assignments of the UNFCCC

So, what if we have a report card in terms of greenhouse gas emissions since
the first meeting in Rio in 1992. What will our grade be?

It may not be a satisfying grade –
yet. There are fields that we must
continue to work on!

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