Questions and Answers:
Understanding the Climate Change Treaty Negotiation Process
Division of Environmental Geosciences
Fact Sheet*
* AAPG's Division of Environmental Geosciences has developed this fact sheet for the sole purpose of providing timely information and insight on important environmental issues.  Information has been collected from a variety of publicly available sources and in no way constitutes a statement or position by the Division or AAPG.

Q: What is the Framework Convention on Climate Change?
A: The Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) is an international agreement, opened for signature in June 1992 during the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  By signing the FCCC, countries agreed that greenhouse gases emitted by human activity could potentially contribute to global climate change and agreed to stabilize their CO2 emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000.  In the absence of full scientific certainty, the signatories acknowledged that the prudent course would be toward "ůstabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (man-made) interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame 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."

Q: What is the Kyoto Protocol?
A: The Kyoto Protocol was the second part of a two-step process for addressing climate change in the international arena, modeled after the ozone treaty process.  The first step, the FCCC, outlined an agreement in principle on how the international community should address climate change in the same way that the Vienna Convention recognized the need to address the protection of stratospheric ozone.  In much the same way that the subsequent Montreal Protocol set the course of action for eliminating man-made ozone depleting chemicals, the Kyoto Protocol's objective is to institute mechanisms and actions that will reduce the emission of six greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4, N2O, HFC, PFC, and SF6.)  The Kyoto Protocol requires 38 developed nations to reduce their emissions of these gases by an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels during the 2008 to 2012 timeframe.  It calls for the development of economic flexibility mechanisms, including international emissions trading and a Clean Development Mechanism, but provides few details on how these will operate.  It deferred discussions on participation by developing countries until the Fourth Conference of Parties in Buenos Aires (COP4).  Just before COP4 in November 1998, the U.S. Administration signed the Kyoto Protocol but has yet to offer or present it to the Senate for ratification, the only means by which the U.S. can become a party.  The Kyoto Protocol must be ratified by at least 55 countries to enter into force.

Q: What is the Conference of Parties?
A: The Conference of Parties (COP) promotes and reviews the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol and, as appropriate, strengthens it.  The COP met two times before Kyoto, at Kyoto, and in November 1998 in Buenos Aires.  Members of the COP consist of the developed countries and economies in transition that have signed the FCCC.  The COP is assisted in its efforts by two subsidiary bodies, the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).  The SBI assists in the assessment and review of the effective implementation of the FCCC.  It assesses the aggregated effects of the steps proposed or taken by the countries and assists the COP in the preparation and implementation of its decisions.  The SBSTA provides the COP and its subsidiary bodies with timely information and advice on scientific and technological matters relating to the FCCC.  Both subsidiary bodies consist of qualified government representatives and must report regularly to the COP on all aspects of their work.

Q: What is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?
A: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an independent scientific organization established in 1988 by the UN General Assembly.  The IPCC falls under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization and is separate from the Secretariat that administers the climate change treaty negotiations.  It comprised of scientists who are nominated by their countries but who serve on the IPCC in an independent scientific capacity.  The IPCC assesses the state of existing knowledge about the climate system and climate change, assesses the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of climate change, and formulates response strategies through regular reports.  The IPCC is organized into three working groups (WG).  WG I concentrates on the climate system.  WG II focuses on impacts, response options and mitigation options for energy supplies, industry, the transportation sector, human settlements, agriculture and forests.  WG III conducts "technical assessments of the socio-economics of impacts, adaptation and mitigation of climate change over both the short and long term and at the regional and global levels."  This working group also provides economic assessments of policy instruments to combat climate change.

As of 1996, the IPCC's major findings are:


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Copyright © 1999 DEG. All rights reserved.
Revised: March 12, 1999.