Climate Change Treaty Structure

In 1992, the United Nations sponsored the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where 160 nations signed the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Seven years earlier, at a technical workshop in Villach, Austria, the scientific consensus had established with certainty that the earth was warming, and that greenhouse gases were the cause, the primary gas being carbon dioxide. Only three years later, 340 scientists and government officials meeting in Toronto recommended a solution. First and foremost, the industrial First World should reduce its output of greenhouse gases by 20%. Furthermore, all countries should agree to a comprehensive treaty, and the industrial countries should establish a fund to pay compensation to the developing ones. The rationale for this financial aid was that the First World had had more than a century to gain the benefits of industrialization, whereas the Third World had not. Forcing them to meet the higher standard would condemn them to permanent poverty.

After signing the Framework Convention in Rio, the parties agreed to confer annually to develop specific solutions to the problem. For several years the Conferences of the Parties labored, but in 1997 they proposed a treaty, known as a protocol, for signature at the meeting in Kyoto, Japan. This established quotas for each industrial country, expressed in terms of a percentage reduction of greenhouse gases from their 1990 levels. (A list of them appeared in Annex B of the treaty, hence they were known as Annex B countries.) The developing countries were exempt. This included China, which was the world's second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, as well as India, and other developing nations that emitted large amounts. Russia and Ukraine got quotas based on their emissions seven years earlier, which was before their economies had collapsed and when they were at a high point of burning coal and oil in old fashioned, inefficient factories and electric generating plants. The industrial countries signed the Protocol, and the developing countries, of course, were pleased.

After agreeing to the Kyoto Protocol, the industrial countries had to ratify it. This meant actually trying to meet the quotas, which put pressure on industry. Although the Europeans had taken the lead in agreeing to the quotas, it took them a long time to ratify the Protocol. Although virtually all announced they intended to ratify it, none of the bigger industrial countries did so until just before the Third Earth Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2002. The EU as a collectivity also ratified at this time. The U.S. had signed the protocol at the Kyoto Conference in 1997, but held off ratification. President Clinton was ambivalent. While he had supported it and Vice President Al Gore was enthusiastic, Clinton postponed sending it to the Senate for its consent. The reason was that the senators felt the pressure of industry. They had two objections: first, it would harm the American economy, and second that it was not fair because it exempted China. In the end, Clinton never sent the Protocol to the Senate, even though he claimed it was a good idea.

After his inauguration in 2001, President George W. Bush waited only a few weeks to announce that the U.S. would reject the Protocol. The news stunned the Europeans. It seemed to be a death blow. The Protocol had a provision that in order for it to enter into force, it needed ratification of countries that contributed 55% of the greenhouse gases. The U.S. contributed 25%. Moreover, these had to be from the industrial countries, which collectively contributed 75%, with the other 25% coming from the underdeveloped countries. Russia, which contributed 17%, claimed it was not interested in ratifying. The U.S. stood alone in opposition (with the single exception of Australia). Then, unexpectedly in 2004, the Europeans promised the Russians to support their admission to the World Trade Organization as a quid pro quo. Russia ratified it, and the Protocol entered into force in February 2005.

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Negotiating Essentials

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