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close this bookThe Global Greenhouse Regime. Who Pays? (UNU, 1993, 382 p.)
close this folderPart I Measuring responsibility
close this folder1 Introduction
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe greenhouse effect
View the documentWhat was decided at Rio?
View the documentProtocol negotiating difficulties
View the documentKey issues for climate change negotiations
View the documentReferences

What was decided at Rio?

The Climate Change Convention signed at Rio sought:

1 to stabilize 'greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system';
2 to do so quickly enough 'to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change',
3 'to ensure that food production is not threatened',
4 'to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner'.

To paraphrase, the world's leaders committed themselves to work together in first slowing and then stopping the growth of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at concentrations that would not be so greatly above natural levels as to significantly threaten human welfare and natural ecosystem balance. In this process, other important goals must not be sacrificed, including provision of adequate food supplies and eradication of poverty.

Abatement commitments

Developed countries committed themselves to a vaguely worded 'aim of returning individually or jointly to their 1990 levels [of] these anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol.' Developing countries which signed the treaty undertook to provide an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions and sinks and a national climate change response strategy. They undertook no specific commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Indeed, developing countries asserted their right to increase their greenhouse gas emissions. As the preamble to the treaty states:

All countries, especially developing countries, need access to resources required to achieve sustainable social and economic development . . . In order for developing countries to progress towards that goal, their energy consumption will need to grow taking into account the possibilities for achieving greater energy efficiency and for controlling greenhouse gas emissions in general, including through the application of new technologies on terms which make such an application economically and socially beneficial.

In effect, parties from developing countries made any future possible abatement commitments on their part contingent upon the developed world demonstrating its intent to make available atmospheric space for future growth in emissions from the poor countries; and upon financing and technology transfer that would enable the poor countries to fulfil more stringent commitments in the future. This refusal to commit to reductions enabled the developed world to leave vague the exact scope and scale of their commitments to provide funds and technology.

The Climate Change Convention addressed four key issues that determine who will pay for the costs of incremental abatement in developing countries. These are the provision of financial resources, technology transfer, an interim financial mechanism, and the definition of incremental abatement cost. The following sections briefly outlines the agreement reached on each of these concerns.

New and additional financial resources

In Article 4 of the Convention, developed country parties committed themselves to 'provide new and additional financial resources to meet the agreed full costs incurred by developing country Parties in complying with their obligations under Article 12.' They also pledged to 'provide such financial resources, including for the transfer of technology, needed by the developing country Parties to meet the agreed full incremental costs of implementing measures.' The flow of financial resources and technology, states the treaty, is to be accomplished at a level adequate to the task, and in a predictable fashion.

The Convention also declares that developing countries can claim extra assistance if they are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change and related adaptation costs. In addition to small island, land-locked and transit states, countries are also eligible for extra help if they have: lowlying coastal areas; arid and semi-arid areas, forested areas and areas liable to forest decay; areas prone to natural disasters, drought and desertification; high urban atmospheric pollution; fragile ecosystems, including mountainous ecosystems; or are highly dependent on income generated from the production, processing and export, and/or on consumption of fossil fuels and associated energy-intensive products.

Technology transfer

The developed country parties also undertook to 'take all practical steps' to 'promote, facilitate and finance, as appropriate, the transfer of, or access to, environmentally sound technologies and know-hong' to developing country parties, as well as to support the development of endogenous capacities and technologies within developing countries.

Not only did the developed countries recognize that the ability of developing countries to fulfil their commitments will depend on provision of financial resources and transfer of technology; but they also recognized that developing countries must develop at the same time. In effect, developed countries admitted the obvious: that emissions from developing countries must and will increase and that reductions in the rich countries must offset this inevitable increase in emissions by the poor.

Financing mechanism

In Article 11, the signatories to the Convention declared that they would create a mechanism whereby grants or concessional financing would be achieved. Moreover, they decided that this mechanism would be accountable to the conference of parties to the Convention. Thus, although it was agreed that the World Bank's Global Environment Facility (GEF) would be entrusted with this responsibility as an interim measure, ultimate control over the mechanism does not rest with the Bank but with the parties to the treaty. As the treaty states that the financial mechanism shall have en 'equitable and balanced representation of all Parties within a transparent system of governance', the signatories effectively defined a reform agenda for the governance of the GEF. GEF is given four years to work effectively, at which time the parties reserved their right to review and redefine the financial mechanism used to implement the Convention. To reinforce this point, Article 14 declares that the GEF must tee 'appropriately restructured and its membership made universal'.

Full incremental cost

The treaty did not define what constitutes the 'full incremental cost' of abatement in developing countries, except to refer to the costs of reporting on national emission sources and sinks and in conducting research on climate change, and for costs incurred on such activities as are agreed between developing countries with the international financial mechanism created under the Convention.

The latter step, however, implies that the international community will adopt guidelines as to what are admissible costs. The mandate of the new Working Group Ill of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change covers these technical and economic issues. Almost certainly, the restrictive criteria adopted by the Global Environment Facility will be widened as it would not support many sound greenhouse abatement measures under its current guidelines.

In short, the signatories to the Convention did not define the specific levels of abatement nor the scale and content of the effort required to achieve the overarching goals of the treaty. While some found this disappointing, most analysts viewed it as inevitable that, as a 'framework,' the Convention would only outline a set of general principles and obligations in various areas. Subsequent negotiations are to produce specific targets and quantitative reductions which - if agreed to - will be added as protocols to the framework Convention.