Conventions and agreements on climate change
In 1998 the UN Assembly determined climate change to be a common concern of humankind. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is sponsored by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), produced evidence in its First Report in 1990 that climate change is a real threat to our environment (IPCC, 1990). More recently, the IPCC formed three working groups that considered three aspects of the problem: the detail of the physical sciences basis for climate change; its impacts on socio-economic systems, their vulnerability and their options for adaptation; and options for mitigation of climate change (IPCC, 2014).
Why is climate change a concern for the global community rather than just a concern for individual countries?
As you know from Study Sessions 9 and 10, climate change is a long-term shift in global weather patterns and average temperatures. At present there is a trend in global warming that is leading to the heating up of the atmosphere and oceans with melting ice at the poles and rising sea level. Temperatures and rainfall have become unpredictable in many parts of the world. Climate change is affecting the environment, water resources and human health and well-being across the world. It is of global concern because it affects the entire planet and because measures to combat climate change need to be implemented globally.
There have been lots of arguments and negotiations between less-developed countries, which are assumed to be most affected because of their currently limited resilience, and industrialised countries, which are blamed for contributing most to global pollution and warming. However, by 1992, there was sufficient scientific and political understanding to persuade 154 heads of state to sign an agreement for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). This convention has mandated countries that have signed up to it to substantially reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs). For industrialised countries this is on an obligation basis and for developing countries on a voluntary basis. There was universal agreement that each country must develop technology and adaptation strategies to reduce greenhouse gases.
Further discussion after the signing of the UNFCC led to the Kyoto Protocol, which was brought in as a legally binding protocol to monitor the progress of GHG emissions. It was adopted in 1997 and came into force, as of August 2005, among 155 countries. For political and economic reasons, not all states ratify conventions and protocols. In this case the United States and some other countries did not ratify the protocol so it was not legally binding in those countries. This was later followed by the Copenhagen Accordof 2009, a non-binding agreement, under which countries pledged targets to reduce GHG emissions. In 2012 the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol was adopted so that the protocol could continue.
As you can see, there are many arguments, negotiations and non-binding agreements during the development of international policy and legislation. It can be very difficult to obtain international agreement, especially when it is to be legally binding.