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Towards Agreement on the UNFCCC

The above-mentioned differences in points of view between countries or groups of countries still had to crystallise when the first INC session (INC-1) was held in Chantilly (USA) in February 1991 (INC 1991a). Negotiations were slow and often characterised by an extensive discussion on procedural matters.[1] The third INC session, held in Nairobi (Kenya, September 1991) to a certain extent managed to deal with the contents of the future Convention, although progress remained slow (INC 1991c). The main negotiation topic was the extent to which industrialised countries would agree on an emission reduction target[2] and a timetable for this to be achieved. As discussed in Chap. 1, the INC negotiations therefore formed a clear example of a process without an upfront greenhouse gas emission reduction goal, but where the target was subject of negotiations itself. Another crunch issue was the extent to which industrialised countries would be willing to transfer adequate and additional funding to developing countries under the Climate Convention. The latter issue was crucial for developing countries’ support for the Convention to be established (see also above).

The fragmentation of the G-77&China became apparent at INC-4 (Geneva, December 1991) (INC 1991 d). For the first time at INC, a distinction could be made between the positions of the OPEC, AOSIS and ‘middle position countries’ like India and China.

The little progress made at INC-1 through INC-4 required the delegates to meet twice, instead of once more before UNCED. INC-5 was therefore held in two sessions (both held in New York, USA, one in February and the other in May 1992) which were both characterised by tough negotiations on binding targets and timetables, and on technology and financial transfers (INC 1992). One group of industrialised countries (led by the USA) totally opposed binding targets and timetables, whereas the European Community, for example, remained in favour of a target to stabilise industrialised countries’ greenhouse gas emissions by a certain point in time in the future at the level of a chosen base year.

At the resumed fifth session of INC (New York, May 1992) (INC 1992), countries found a compromise on a text for the Convention. This text reflected the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities because it contained an objective for industrialised countries to return their greenhouse gas levels to 1990 levels by the year 2000 (or another base year for countries with economies in transition), whereas for developing countries no such objective was included (UNFCCC 1992a, p. 12, Art. 4.2(a)).

The status of this ‘objective’ was rather ambiguous though, because it was not formulated as a legally binding target and the text did not refer to an instrument to deal with non-compliance. The objective was rather a formal recognition that a stabilisation of greenhouse gas emissions would contribute to achieving the overarching objective of stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at safe levels. The INC negotiations had made clear that a non-legally binding stabilisation objective was, for the time being, the most feasible quantitative target for the UNFCCC. This compromise, including an agreement on the issue of financial transfers to developing countries, was submitted by the INC to UNCED as a text for the UNFCCC (INC 1992).

The UNFCCC was opened for signature on 4 June 1992 at UNCED, and it entered into force on 21 March 1994, 90 days after deposit of the 50th instrument of ratification (Portugal, 21 December 1993) (UNFCCC 1992b).

  • [1] For example, discussions at the INC-2 (Geneva, July 1991) (INC 1991b) were extremely delayedbecause the delegates could not agree on who would chair the working groups established byINC-1. One working group was to focus on the contents of a future climate convention and thesecond working group’s focus was on legal and institutional matters.
  • [2] For example, there were discussions on whether a target would have to be set, or perhaps whetheran objective would be politically feasible. Furthermore, views differed on whether to focus onemission reductions or emission stabilisation or emission limitation.
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