What’s Being Done Internationally

Nations are working toward a new global climate change agreement, to be reached in late 2015 in Paris. These international negotiations offer governments a critical opportunity to craft a broad, balanced and durable agreement strengthening the international climate effort. A new model for international climate governance is emerging that blends “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches to achieve both broad participation and stronger action. Climate change will impact us all whether we’re in Washington D.C., London or Beijing. Ultimately, an effective strategy will require commitments and action by all countries.

Global Emissions Facts

  • 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 top ten greenhouse gas emitters are China, the United States, the European Union (28), India, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, Japan, Canada, and Mexico –and account for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions (includes land use change and forestry).
  • The United States was responsible for 16% of cumulative greenhouse gas emissions during the period of 1990 to 2011 (including land-use change and forestry) and has produced 27% 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 in 2012 were 10% below 2005 levels. The emissions decreased by 3.4% from 2011 to 2012 because of reduced emissions from electricity generation, improvements in fuel efficiency in vehicles with reductions in miles traveled, and year-to-year changes in the prevailing weather according to the EPA.
  • In November 2014, the United States announced a goal of reducing its emissions 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. In the same announcement China said it intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030 and intends to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030. 

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.