The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an intergovernmental treaty developed to address the problem of climate change. The Convention was negotiated from February 1991 to May 1992, and opened for signature at the June 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (also known as the Rio Earth Summit). The UNFCCC entered into force on the 21st of March 1994. By August 2009 it had been ratified by 193 countries. Parties to the Convention have regular meetings – the Conference of Parties (COP) – to assess their progress towards meeting their obligations and to consider future climate change actions.The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the UNFCCC. It was designed to secure binding commitments for greenhouse gas reduction from industrialized countries and members of the former Soviet Bloc (known collectively as “Annex I Countries”). The major distinction between the Protocol and the Convention is that while the Convention encourages ind ustrialized countries to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions, the Protocol commits them to do so. The essential feature of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European Community for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These amount to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012. It was first agreed in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, although ongoing discussions were needed between 1998 and 2004 to finalize the details.
The terms of the agreement state that the Protocol would only enter into force if it was ratified by 55 Parties to the UNFCCC, and if at least 55% of the total carbon dioxide emissions from 1990 of Annex I Parties were represented in the signatories. A majority of Annex I Parties, including Canada, Japan and the European Union ratified the treaty. The United States – a major emitter of greenhouse gases – rejected the treaty in 2001. The 55% threshold was finally met in November 2004 when the Russian Federation ratified the protocol. Thus the Kyoto Protocol only entered into force as a legally-binding document on 16 February 2005. By August 2009, the Protocol had been ratified by 188 countries, including Annex I parties representing 63.7% of Annex I greenhouse gas emissions in 1990.
Since the Kyoto Protocol entered into force, discussions at the UNFCCC have increasingly focused on securing a new international treaty to address climate change post-2012, when the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period ends. At the UNFCCC Conference in Bali in 2007, delegates agreed to a ‘roadmap’ for 2008 and 2009. The Bali decision was designed to bring about an agreement by the Copenhagen UNFCCC meeting in December 2009.