4. International Environmental Law

4. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Kyoto Protocol)

 The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known commonly as the ‘Kyoto Protocol’, was adopted by the United Nations on 9 May 1992, and entered into force on 21 March 1994.

In terms of the agreement, climate change is defined as: a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.

As such, the objective of the Convention is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, and 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.

 The preamble states:

 The Parties to the Convention:

 1. Stressed ‘that human activities have been substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, that these increases enhance the natural greenhouse effect, and that this will result on average in an additional warming of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere and may adversely affect natural ecosystems and humankind’;

2. Acknowledged ‘that the global nature of climate change calls for the widest possible co-operation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, in accordance with their … respective capabilities and their social and economic conditions’; and

3. Recognised ‘that various actions to address climate change can be justified economically in their own right and can also help in solving other environmental problems’.

Recognising the economic roots of the climate change problem, the Protocol seeks to engage the private sector, and does so by the use of market mechanisms which provide incentives for cutting emissions, and which stimulate investment and technology flows to developing countries that will help them achieve more sustainable patterns of industrialisation. Taking into account their common but differentiated responsibilities and their specific national and regional development priorities, objectives and circumstances, as well as the role of business sectors on the environment and the necessity for impact assessments, parties shall have, under sections (b), (c) and (f):

(b) a duty to formulate, implement, publish and regularly update national and, where appropriate, regional programmes containing measures to mitigate climate change by addressing anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of all greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol, and measures to facilitate adequate adaptation to climate change;

(c) a duty to promote and co-operate in the development, application and diffusion, including transfer, of technologies, practices and processes that control, reduce or prevent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol in all relevant sectors, including the energy, transport, industry, agriculture, forestry and waste management sectors; and

(f) a duty to take climate change considerations into account, to the extent feasible, in their relevant social, economic and environmental policies and actions, and employ appropriate methods, eg impact assessments, formulated and determined nationally, with a view to minimizing adverse effects on the economy, on public health and on the quality of the environment, of projects or measures undertaken by them to mitigate or adapt to climate change.

Finally, the Protocol emphasises the necessity for exchange of information and public awareness, in Art 4(1)(h) and (i), which impose a duty to promote and co-operate in the full, open and prompt exchange of relevant scientific, technological, technical, socio-economic and legal information related to the climate system and climate change, and to the economic and social consequences of various response strategies; and promote and co-operate in education, training and public awareness related to climate change and encourage the widest participation in this process, including that of non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

However, although the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is a crucial agreement for international environmental concerns, it is important to note that the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in ‘developed’ countries. As such, there is one major drawback: although most nations have signed up to the agreement, the United States, as the largest economy in the world, and hence arguably the largest polluter in the world, has failed to ratify it.

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