Overview of Climate Change Law and Policy

Posted By: Lenore Warr on 04/30/2010
An Overview of Climate Change Law and Policy:

Part I: A Timeline

I want to start this blog with a timeline setting forth the development of global climate change policy:

1979: World Meteorological Organization (WMO) convenes the first World Climate Conference.

1987: Montreal Protocol negotiated. The Montreal Protocol does not address greenhouse gases (GHGs) or climate change, but rather is a firm commitment by the parties to address atmospheric ozone depleting substances. At some point during the negotiation of the Montreal Protocol, scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica. In the face of unequivocal proof that CFC’s were depleting the ozone layer, the Parties agreed to a complete ban on certain ozone-depleting substances, followed by more bans. The Montreal Protocol is a very successful treaty and continues in force today. The U.S. is a party to the Montreal Protocol. Link: http://ozone.unep.org. The Montreal protocol is relevant because it is so successful, which led parties to believe it would be easy to arrive at an agreement regarding the Kyoto Protocol.

1988: WMO and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) establish the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Link: http://www.ipcc.ch.

1992: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) signed at the Rio Earth Summit. Link to UNFCCC: http://unfccc.int/2860.php. The UNFCCC set as its ultimate objective to stabilize atmospheric GHG concentrations “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [human] interference with the climate system.” The UNFCCC contains no substantive requirements, but instead is an institutional framework for addressing climate change. The UNFCCC currently has 192 parties. President George H.W. Bush signed, and the U.S. Senate ratified, the UNFCCC in 1992. The United States is an Annex I party to the UNFCCC.

1994: UNFCCC enters into force.

1995: First Conference of the Parties (COP1) in Berlin. The “Berlin Mandate” established a timetable for developed countries to negotiate a protocol with clear “quantifiable emissions limitation and reduction objectives” (QELROs), which is another name for “targets and timetables”. The Berlin Mandate required parties to negotiate QELROs by COP3, scheduled for December 1997 in Kyoto.

December 1997: Third Conference of the Parties (COP3) in Kyoto. The Kyoto Protocol was negotiated and the U.S. played an important role. The core of the Kyoto Protocol is “targets and timetables”, or QELROs. Most European countries agreed to lower their emissions of GHGs by 8% below 1990 levels. The U.S. agreed to a 7% reduction. Countries in “economic transition” were allowed to select a baseline year other than 1990. All countries were allowed to choose 1995 as a baseline year for 3 relatively minor, but potent, GHGs: hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). The Kyoto Protocol also included general guidance for 4 “flexibility mechanisms”: 1. emissions trading, 2. joint implementation, 3. the “EU bubble”, and 4. the “clean development mechanism”. Link: http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/items/2830.php.

1998: COP4. The “Buenos Aires Plan of Action” set forth a negotiating schedule to clarify ambiguities in the Kyoto Protocol by COP6, which was scheduled for late 2000 at The Hague. COP6 would take place after the U.S. Presidential elections in late 2000.

2000: COP6 at The Hague: No consensus reached. At the time, the U.S. did not know whether Bush or Gore would be the next U.S. President.

Early 2001: George W. Bush becomes next U.S. President, and announces that the U.S. would no longer support the Kyoto Protocol.

July 2001: “COP6-bis” takes place in Bonn. The parties reached agreement on key elements of the Kyoto Protocol without U.S. participation.

2001: COP7 takes place in Marrakesh. The detailed rules for the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, called the “Marrakesh Accords,” were adopted.

2005: Enough countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and the Kyoto Protocol enters into force. To see a list of countries that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, go to: http://unfccc.int/files/kyoto_protocol/status_of_ratification/application/pdf/kp_ratification_20091203.pdf. As a result, there is a 2 pronged approach to international climate policy:
1. Parties to the Kyoto Protocol would aggressively work to implement the Kyoto Protocol.
2. U.S: No global cooperation but instead a limited agreement with selected partners on investment, energy efficiency and clean development.

September 2007: Bush hosted a meeting of the 16 largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Bush opposed “targets and timetables “in favor of countries choosing their own strategies for meeting goals.

December 2007: COP13 in Bali. The Parties to the UNFCCC (which includes the U.S.) agreed to the “Bali Action Plan”, which is a framework for negotiating a post-Kyoto regime. Link: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2007/cop13/eng/06a01.pdf#page=3. Bush called for commitments of some kind for developing countries.

2008: First 5-year reporting period under the Kyoto Protocol commences.

December 2009: COP15 in Copenhagen. Most view Copenhagen as a waste, with no deals and no progress made. But keep in mind where America stood regarding climate change in the years leading up to Copenhagen. COP16 is scheduled for November 2010 in Mexico City, link: http://www.cop16.mx/3w/.

Next time: An overview of the science of climate change and greenhouse gases.

About the Author: Lenore Warr has practiced commercial real estate law in Memphis for more than 10 years, both in an in-house corporate setting and in the private practice of law. Al Gore's award winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, as well as actually meeting Gore at a book signing in September 2006, were the catalysts for Warr deciding to take a sabbatical from the practice of law in order to pursue an LL.M. degree in Environmental and Natural Resources Law at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. She received her degree in the spring of 2009 and currently is practicing law in Memphis, Tennessee.