Evidence of human interference with the climate first emerged in 1979 at the First World Climate Conference. As public concern over environmental issues continued to increase during the 1980s, governments grew progressively more aware of climate issues. In 1988 the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 43/53, proposed by the Government of Malta, urging the "Protection of global climate for present and future generations of mankind".
During the same year the governing bodies of the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program created a new body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to marshal and assess scientific information on the subject. In 1990 the IPCC issued its First Assessment Report, which confirmed that the threat of climate change was real. The Second World Climate Conference held in Geneva later that year called for the creation of a global treaty. The General Assembly responded by passing resolution 45/212, formally launching negotiations on a convention on climate change, to be conducted by an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC).
Negotiations proved to be difficult. At the outset there was no single view on what the Convention should look like or what should be its ultimate objective. Moreover, the subject was very complex, touching on many economic interests and aspects of human activity. Many argued that the Convention would have to focus on the use of energy since the carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere was mostly the result of burning fossil fuels. However, it would also need to encompass many other sectors including transport, industry, agriculture and forestry. It was also likely to be contentious - requiring drastic and unpopular measures that could radically affect economic and social activities all over the world. Inevitably there were many different points of view, particularly between developing and developed countries. The developing countries, insisting on their right to development were reluctant to make commitments to reduce or limit greenhouse gas emissions that might jeopardize economic growth. Climate change, they argued was a problem that had been caused mainly by the developed countries, which had the corresponding responsibility to solve it within their own territories. If measures were needed in poorer countries the wealthier countries could pay for these too. Within the group of developing countries there were divergent views on how to deal with climate change. At one end of the spectrum were small island states that were threatened with the loss of much of their land as a result of rising sea levels; at the other were oil producers who were concerned that measures to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels would damage their economies. For their part, the developed countries accepted that they would have to take the prime responsibility and said they were prepared to take measures to reduce their emissions. They also agreed that they would need to support the efforts of the developing countries, but they argued against establishing a new financial mechanism, believing that the Global Environment Facility, established in 1991, could serve the purpose.
Given the complexity of the issues, widely divergent views, and the tight deadline, it soon became clear that the Convention would be unable to set quantitative targets. Instead, recognizing both the common and the differentiated responsibilities of both developed and developing countries, the best that could be achieved was a limited ‘framework' text that would set the stage for a broad range of subsequent activities.
The Convention was finally adopted on 9 May 1992. It was opened for signature the following month at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro where it was signed by 154 states and the European
Community. On March 21 of 1994, 90 days after receiving its fiftieth ratification, the Convention entered into force. At the time of writing, 189 countries were Parties to it. The tenth anniversary of the Convention was marked in 2004.
The Convention covers greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances.
The Convention divides countries into two main groups: Annex I Parties, and non-Annex I Parties. Some Annex I Parties are also listed in the Convention's Annex II, and are known as Annex II Parties. The Convention currently lists 41 Annex I Parties. These are the industrialized countries who have historically contributed the most to climate change. They include both the relatively wealthy industrialized countries that were members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1992, plus countries with economies in transition (the EIT-s), including the Russian Federation, the Baltic States, and several Central and Eastern European States. The OECD members of Annex I are also listed in the Convention's Annex II, making Annex II Parties, of which there are currently 24. All remaining countries, basically, the developing countries, make up the group of non-Annex I Parties, currently numbering 145.
For more information on UN Framework Convention on Climate Change please visit: www.unfccc.int
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