Twenty-two years after the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted in a bid to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, CO2 emissions continue to rise as international negotiations over how to implement reductions in the discharge of climate-changing gases drag on.
On Tuesday, world leaders will assemble in New York for the UN Climate Summit and seek to build momentum for a new emissions reduction framework for 2020 and beyond that is due to be completed in December 2015.
COP21, the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, will be held in Paris in November and December next year. This is scheduled to be the stage on which this new framework will be formed.
The Kyoto Protocol adopted at the COP3 in 1997 was the first international framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the convention. The protocol obligated industrialized nations to cut their annual greenhouse gas emissions by varying amounts. Overall, industrialized nations were to reduce their emissions from 2008 to 2012 by about 5 per cent compared with levels in 1990. Japan signed up for a 6 per cent reduction.
However, the United States later decided it would not ratify the protocol, and developing countries such as China were not obligated to cut their emissions.
The new framework differs significantly from the Kyoto Protocol. All nations, including the United States and China, will participate in the agreement, which will take effect in 2020. Rather than assigning reduction targets for each country, it will be up to each nation to decide its reduction goal.
While this has advantages, the framework will be rendered meaningless if each nation sets targets using expressions that suit their own selfish needs and it becomes difficult to ascertain whether these goals have been met. Consequently, advocates of the new framework are pressing states to provide transparent pledges and set comparable targets. Furthermore, the framework could incorporate a mutual verification mechanism to check whether these objectives are being attained.
At last year's COP19, it was decided that nations that are able to present their voluntary emission reduction targets by the end of March 2015 should do so, and all other countries were given a deadline well in advance of COP21. The United States and the European Union plan to release their targets by the end of March. The EU is considering an ambitious target of a 40 per cent reduction by 2030 from 1990 levels, and the bloc is expected to finalize its figure at a meeting of the European Council in October.
The prototype for the framework covering 2020 and beyond can be found in the "reductions by 2020" discussed by the leaders of 26 major nations at COP15 in 2009. Voluntary reduction targets set by each country were the core of this approach. Future international negotiations look likely to get bogged down over details regarding rules for setting targets and the workings of a mutual verification system.
Another focus of attention will be whether the new framework progresses to a protocol or ends up as a written document that is less legally binding.