What’s Being Done Internationally

Greenhouse gas emissions, largely carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels, have risen dramatically since the start of the industrial revolution. Globally, energy-related emissions have risen 145-fold since 1850—from 200 million tons to 29 billion tons a year—and are projected to rise another 54% by 2030.

Climate change is a global challenge and requires a global solution. Greenhouse gas emissions have the same impact on the atmosphere whether they originate in Washington, London or Beijing. Consequently, action by one country to reduce emissions will do little to slow global warming unless other countries act as well. Ultimately, an effective strategy will require commitments and action by all the major emitting countries.

 

Facts:

Global Emissions

  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, largely carbon dioxide (CO2) from the combustion of fossil fuels, have risen dramatically since the start of the industrial revolution. Globally, energy-related emissions have risen 145-fold since 1850—from 200 million tons to 29 billion tons a year—and are projected to rise another 54% by 2030.
  • The six largest emitters—the United States, China, the European Union (EU-27), Russia, Japan, and India—accounted for 70% of energy-related CO2 emissions in 2005. 
  • The United States, with 5% of the world’s population, is responsible for 21% of energy-related global emissions and 30% of cumulative emissions since 1850. (Cumulative emissions are an important measure because of the long-lasting nature of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.) 
  • U.S. GHG emissions are projected to rise 5% above 2005 levels by 2010 (and 14% by 2020). By comparison, emissions are projected to hold steady in the EU, and grow by 4% in Japan, by 2010.
  • China and India’s GHG emissions are projected to grow by about 71% and 68% respectively by 2020. 
  • Annual GHG emissions from all developing countries have surpassed those of developed countries. However, the cumulative emissions of developing countries will not reach those of developed countries until several decades later. 
  • While overall emissions from developing countries are rising, their per capita emissions will remain much lower than those of developed countries. For example, the current per capita emissions of China and India are about one-fifth and one-twentieth below that of the United States. While China’s per capita emissions are expected to nearly double by 2020, they will still be only one-third those of the United States. Over the same period, India’s per capita emissions are expected to rise as well, but remain one-tenth those of the United States.

 

Background on International Climate Change Negotiations

The international response to climate change was launched in 1992 with the signing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The convention established a long-term objective of stabilizing GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system. The UNFCCC set a voluntary goal of reducing emissions from developed countries to 1990 levels by 2000 – a goal that most countries did not meet. Currently 192 parties, including the U.S., have ratified the UNFCCC.

Recognizing that stronger action was needed, countries negotiated the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, an addition to the UNFCCC treaty which sets binding targets to reduce emissions 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2012. The Protocol entered into force in February 2005, which made the Protocol’s emissions targets binding legal commitments for those industrialized countries that ratified it (the United States has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol). The Protocol has been ratified by 182 countries of the 192 Parties to the UNFCCC.

With the Kyoto Protocol targets expiring in 2012, the international community has placed growing importance on strengthening the international climate effort beyond 2012. A landmark decision was made in Bali in 2007 known as the “Bali Roadmap”. In Bali, all governments agreed to move to negotiations with the very ambitious goal of a new global agreement in Copenhagen in 2009.  They also implicitly recognized that, in addition to emission targets for developed countries, this agreement will have to allow for other types of commitments for developing countries in order to achieve the broadest possible participation. With their decisions on adaptation, deforestation, and technology, governments addressed key developing country concerns and laid important groundwork for a post-2012 agreement. Ultimately, these and other elements need to be integrated in a comprehensive package spelling out specific binding commitments for all the major economies. 

In 2009, a new political accord was indeed struck by world leaders at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.  The Copenhagen Accord provided for explicit emission pledges by all the major economies – including, for the first time, China and other major developing countries.  Meeting the next year in Cancún, Mexico, leaders built upon the 2009 Accord.  The Cancún agreement formalizes the fundamental elements of the Copenhagen Accord and starts to implement them. Key among these are a stronger support system for developing countries, including a new climate fund, and a stronger transparency system to better assess whether countries are keeping their promises. Both will build trust and confidence, which will help produce stronger action and agreements in the future.  The Cancún agreement also incorporates the targets and actions pledged earlier under the Copenhagen Accord. 

To find out more about international climate change negotiations, visit the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.