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Global Warming & Climate Change

Author: Rehana Dada ~ Producer & presenter: SAfm and 50/50 Environmental TV Programme

( Article Type: Overview )

International action


Concern about global warming was raised early in the 20th century but it was only late in the century that the threat began to be considered serious. In 1988 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to objectively and comprehensively assess the vast body of scientific knowledge on the matter and develop a sound basis from which to aid decision-making about environmental, social and economic mitigation and adaptation measures.

The IPCC consists of three working groups and a Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories. Working Group I assesses the science of climate and climate change; Working Group II addresses the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, its consequences and adaptation; and Working Group III assesses options for mitigating climate change and limiting greenhouse gas emissions. IPCC assessments draw on the work of hundreds of scientists from all parts of the world and reports can be downloaded from

In its first assessment report of August 1990, the IPCC stated that in order to stabilise atmospheric GHGs, emissions would need to be reduced by 60�80% and in recent months environmental lobby groups have revived the call for drastic reductions.


As a result of the IPCC�s first report, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was drafted and adopted in May 1992. A month later, it was opened for signature at the Rio Earth Summit in Brazil. The UNFCCC came into force in March 1994, with the objective of stabilising atmospheric concentrations of GHGs at a level that would prevent �dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system� and the requirement that this be achieved with enough time �for 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 UNFCCC recognised that industrialised countries are responsible for the majority of GHG emissions and also that some countries are particularly vulnerable and will experience �special difficulties� with mitigation and adaptation. Under the convention, Annex I countries are industrialised countries that are expected to reduce their GHG emissions to 1990 levels or below by 2000 and the wealthiest Annex I countries are expected to make available �new and additional financial resources� and engage in environmentally sound technology transfer to other countries. Non-Annex I countries have no emissions reductions targets yet.

Every year, The Conference of Parties (COP) of the UNFCCC meets to review new scientific findings as well as the objectives and implementation of the Convention. It was evident at COP 1 that voluntary commitments were inadequate and, accordingly, the IPCC�s Second Assessment Report called for more rigorous policies. The Berlin Mandate was adopted when it became clear that legally binding targets were necessary. COP 2 called for a legally binding protocol with emissions reduction targets within a specific period. The Ad Hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate (AGBM), which was established in April 1995 to toughen Annex I Party commitments for after 2000, conducted the negotiations that eventually led to the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol

It was only when Russia ratified it in February 2005 that the Kyoto Protocol came into force. The Protocol was adopted seven years before on 11 December 1997 at the UNFCCC COP 3 and opened for signature in March 1998. To enter into force, the treaty required ratification from at least 55 countries who together account for at least 55% of total carbon emissions for 1990. Currently 157 countries have ratified the protocol but two of the largest GHG emitters, the USA (responsible for 36% of the global emissions) and Australia (the largest per capita emitter in the developed world), have not signed the treaty, opting instead for a recent non-binding treaty, the Asia-Pacific Climate Pact.

The Kyoto Protocol sets individual legally binding emissions limits and reduction targets for Annex I countries for six gasses: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). The aim is to reduce global emissions to 95% of 1990 levels by 2012. Targets range from �8% for the EU, to +10% for Iceland. Non-Annex 1 countries currently have no targets because their contribution to climate change is small and allowance is being made for economic development in growing countries. Despite its call for only a small reduction, the Kyoto Protocol is a significant start to international agreements on climate change.

Carbon trading

Kyoto provides for three flexible carbon-trading mechanisms that enable countries to trade their emissions reduction targets. Joint Implementation enables Annex 1 countries to earn emissions reduction units (ERUs) by financing emissions reductions in other Annex 1 countries. The Clean Development Mechanism enables Annex 1 countries to earn Certified Emissions Reductions Units (CERs) by financing emissions reductions in non-Annex 1 countries. Emissions Trading allows developed countries to trade their emissions allowances with each other. Although the Protocol states that these mechanisms may only be part of the action taken by Annex I countries, they have come under severe criticism because they are considered to be escape mechanisms to avoid real emissions reduction.

The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)

The rules for the CDM were set out in the Marrakech Accords and adopted at COP 7 in 2001. CDM is project-based and projects should be voluntary, aid in long-term mitigation of climate change and emissions reduction benefits should be additional to what they would have been without CDM funding.

In theory, CDM allows for Annex I countries to meet their targets cheaply and effectively with technology transfer and funding benefits to non-Annex I countries, but in practice, for the most part, companies engaging in CDM have not invested in clean technology transfer or renewable energy options. Among the sound criticisms of CDM are that engaging in these projects does not result in global emissions reductions, that CDM allows companies to avoid real reductions in their own countries, that non-Annex I countries risk selling off the projects that would result in cheap and easy emissions reductions, and that the reductions engaged in so far are not sustainable or beneficial to local communities and, in some cases, even cause harm to communities. Another concern is that real sustainable emissions reductions options are currently too expensive to attract investment.

Asia-Pacific Climate Pact (AP6)

In July 2005, South Korea, India, Japan, Australia, China and the USA signed a non-treaty agreement called the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate to cooperate on the development and transfer of technology that reduces GHG emissions. These six countries together account for half the world�s GHG emissions, energy consumption, GDP and population, with Americans emitting on average of 23.44 tons of CO2 per person per year, Australians 26.11 tons, Chinese 2.2 tons and Indians 1.1 tons of CO2 per person per year.

AP6 recognises that while the renewable energy sector is growing, fossil fuels will continue to underpin economies and that therefore it is necessary to focus on cleaner technology but it has been heavily criticised and in fact dubbed the �Coal Pact� by environmental lobby groups, because it allows countries to set their own reductions goals with no enforcement or timetables. The AP6 workplan focuses on power generation and key industry sectors with eight public-private sector task forces working on cleaner fossil energy, renewable energy and distributed generation, power generation and transmission, steel, aluminium, cement, coal mining, and buildings and appliances. The partnership is consistent with the UNFCCC and its six parties consider it to be complementary to the Kyoto Protocol.

Associated Sustainable Development Articles:

Eco-Logic , Sustainable Development ~ Transport

Associated Organisations:

GW Store , Airshed Planning Professionals , Biophile Environmental Magazine , Botanical Society of South Africa , Eskom , Department of Environmental Extension and Project Development , Department of Trade and Industry , Development Bank of Southern Africa , DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology , Food & Trees for Africa , Natural Balance Global (Pty) Ltd - Wonderbag , Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme (SKEP) , Minerals and Energy Education Training Institute (MEETI) , African Carbon Trust , National Business Initiative (NBI) , ECOBUZZ - The Green Media Channel , Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) Southern Africa Secretariat , SUSTAINABLE ENERGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE PROJECT (SECCP) OF EARTHLIFE AFRICA , The South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) , South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) , South African National Biodiversity Institute , SouthSouthNorth Trust , SouthSouthNorth , The Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Project (SECCP) of Earthlife Africa Johannesburg , University of the Witwaterstrand Institute for the Study of the Environment (WISE) , WESSA (Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) , WWF South Africa , Eternally Solar , Lime Green Strategies , Promethium Carbon , icologie , eZee SA , Green Earth Consulting Services , Project 90 by 2030 , Life in Balance , i Power SA ve , ENJO South Africa , Carbon Calculated , African Carbon Solutions , Get Green Connection , FynbosLIFE , African Climate Reality Project - Food & Trees for Africa , Confronting Climate Change Initiative