UN Climate Convention is 10 years old
So what has the UNFCCC achieved in the last decade?
One huge success is that almost every government on earth is now a party to the convention. Climate change, global warming, and greenhouse gases were completely new ideas in the 1980s. But by 1992, when the UNFCCC was opened for signing at the Rio Earth Summit, over 150 governments — including the US, the EU, Russia, China, India, and Brazil — were ready to acknowledge the problem and admit the role of human activities in this. One hundred and eighty eight governments have now ratified the convention.
A second success has been the creation of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 — the mechanism by which the UNFCCC will reach its aim of achieving the "stabilization of atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at levels that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system".
The Kyoto Protocol sets binding targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Industrialized countries that ratify the protocol must cut their emissions to approximately 5 per cent below the levels of 1990 by 2008–2012, while developing countries are required to create policies and measures to reduce their emissions. So far, 121 countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol.
Despite strong support from most of the world, the US and Australia have refused to ratify the protocol, and Russia is trying to use ratification as a bargaining chip for other dealings with the EU. Ratification by either the US or Russia would be enough to make the protocol become international law.
However, progress is still being made towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in particular CO2 — the main greenhouse gas responsible for climate change.
For example, various US states are introducing their own laws to cap CO2 emissions. The Kyoto Protocol already forms the international basis for legislation to reduce CO2 emissions. The EU has led the way. Not only are several member states already reducing their emissions, but the EU has created new, economically viable laws for emissions reductions that must now be implemented into the national laws of each EU member state.
In addition, many of the world's largest companies are voluntarily taking action to reduce CO2 emissions. And discussions have already started for how to make deeper cuts to CO2 emissions after 2012.
So, a decade after its adoption, the UNFCCC does indeed have a lot to be proud of. It's 10-year anniversary is an opportune time for its members to revisit the original spirit of the convention and take significant action to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. This is the only way to keep the rise in average global temperatures that we are currently experiencing to well below 2ºC — the threshold that will keep climate change impacts to a minimum.
For further information
WWF Climate Change Programme
Tel: +41 22 3649226