United Nations framework convention on climate change
Facing and surveying the problem.
A major accomplishment of the Convention, which is general and flexible in character, is that it recognizes that there is a problem. That was no small thing in 1994, when the treaty took effect and less scientific evidence was available. (And there are still those who dispute that global warming is real and that climate change is a problem.) It is hard to get the nations of the world to agree on anything, let alone a common approach to a difficulty which is complicated, whose consequences aren't entirely clear, and which will have its most severe effects decades and even centuries in the future.
The Convention sets an ultimate objective of stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions "at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system." It states that "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 Convention requires precise and regularly updated inventories of greenhouse gas emissions from industrialized countries. The first step in solving a problem is knowing its dimensions. With a few exceptions, the "base year" for tabulating greenhouse gas emissions has been set as 1990. Developing countries also are encouraged to carry out inventories.
Countries ratifying the treaty called "Parties to the Convention" in diplomatic jargon agree to take climate change into account in such matters as agriculture, industry, energy, natural resources, and activities involving sea coasts. They agree to develop national programmes to slow climate change.
Responsibility and vulnerability.
The Convention places the heaviest burden for fighting climate change on industrialized nations, since they are the source of most past and current greenhouse gas emissions. These countries are asked to do the most to cut what comes out of smokestacks and tailpipes, and to provide most of the money for efforts elsewhere. For the most part, these developed nations, called "Annex I" countries because they are listed in the first annex to the treaty, belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
These advanced nations, as well as 12 "economies in transition" (countries in Central and Eastern Europe, including some states formerly belonging to the Soviet Union) were expected by the year 2000 to reduce emissions to 1990 levels. As a group, they succeeded.
Industrialized nations agree under the Convention to support climate-change activities in developing countries by providing financial support above and beyond any financial assistance they already provide to these countries. A system of grants and loans has been set up through the Convention and is managed by the Global Environment Facility (see "Bodies of the Convention and allied agencies"). Industrialized countries also agree to share technology with less-advanced nations.
Because economic development is vital for the world's poorer countries and because such progress is difficult to achieve even without the complications added by climate change the Convention accepts that the share of greenhouse gas emissions produced by developing nations will grow in the coming years. It nonetheless seeks to help such countries limit emissions in ways that will not hinder their economic progress.
The Convention acknowledges the vulnerability of developing countries to climate change and calls for special efforts to ease the consequences.