Key facts about UN Climate Change Conference

2009-12-04 19:27 BJT

The United Nations Climate Change Conference

The United Nations Climate Change Conference will take place at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, Denmark, from December 7 to 18, 2009. The conference includes the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 5th Meeting of the Parties (COP/MOP 5) to the Kyoto Protocol. According to the Bali Road Map, a framework for climate change mitigation beyond 2012 is to be agreed there.

What is UNFCCC?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC) is an international environmental treaty produced at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), informally known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro from June 3 to 14, 1992. The objective of the treaty is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

The treaty itself sets no mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries and contains no enforcement mechanisms. In that sense, the treaty is considered legally non-binding. Instead, the treaty provides for updates (called "protocols") that would set mandatory emission limits. The principal update is the Kyoto Protocol, which has become much better known than the UNFCCC itself.

The UNFCCC was opened for signature on May 9, 1992, after an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee produced the text of the Framework Convention as a report following its meeting in New York from 30 April to 9 May 1992. It entered into force on March 21, 1994. As at October 2009, UNFCCC had 192 parties.

The UNFCCC is also the name of the United Nations Secretariat charged with supporting the operation of the Convention, with offices in Haus Carstanjen, Bonn, Germany.

Since 2006 the head of the secretariat has been Yvo de Boer. The Secretariat, augmented through the parallel efforts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), aims to gain consensus through meetings and the discussion of various strategies.

The parties to the convention have met annually from 1995 in Conferences of the Parties (COP) to assess progress in dealing with climate change. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was concluded and established legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

What are COP and MOP?

Since the UNFCCC entered into force, the parties have been meeting annually in Conferences of the Parties (COP) to assess progress in dealing with climate change, and beginning in the mid-1990s, to negotiate the Kyoto Protocol to establish legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. From 2005 the Conferences have met in conjunction with Meetings of Parties of the Kyoto Protocol (MOP), and parties to the Convention that are not parties to the Protocol can participate in Protocol-related meetings as observers.

What is the Kyoto Protocol?

Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It sets binding targets for 37 industrialised countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to at least 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in Dec. 1997 and entered into force on Feb. 16, 2005.

What is the IPCC?

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was established in 1988 by the special UN organizations for environment (UNEP) and meteorology (WMO) following the Brundtland Report "Our Common Future".

The goal of IPCC is to use scientific literature to evaluate the extent and understanding of climate changes and their effects, as well as the potential to adapt to or counteract anticipated climate changes.

It is a key point that the work in the United Nations Climate Change Panel follows normal procedures for scientific publications, in particular the principle of peer review. The scientific authors of the IPCC reports are all selected for reasons of their scientific expertise.

The authors’ task is to collate and evaluate the knowledge that is available in international scientific, technical and socio-economic literature using traditional scientific methods and working principles. Then, the reports are sent to specialists for review, and in a second round to government representatives from the member countries of the organizations.

Thus there are over 1200 independent scientific authors and 2500 reviewers who have taken part in the preparation of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report published in 2007.

IPCC's secretariat is based in Geneva and is organized into three working groups and one Task Force.

The first working group evaluates literature in natural science about climate and climate change. The second is concerned with the consequences of climate change, and the potential for adapting to them, while the third working group evaluates the potential for reducing the planet's emissions of greenhouse gases, and thus limiting the climate changes. Finally, the Task Force is responsible for the National Greenhouse Gas Inventories Program.

IPCC has published four Assessment Reports (in 1990, 1995, 2001 and 2007). Each Assessment Report consists of contributions from the three working groups and a Synthesis Report.

The Fourth Assessment Report has contributed to both the public and politicians gaining increased awareness that climate changes are man-made and are happening faster than earlier assumed. The report shows that climate changes are a reality today, and that the main culprit is greenhouse gas emissions caused by man, and notably CO2 emissions.

What is the greenhouse effect and global warming?

The greenhouse effect is a natural mechanism that retains the heat emitted from the earth's surface. The earth's average temperature is at the moment around 14 degrees celsius (57 degrees fahrenheit). If the natural greenhouse effect did not exist, the average temperature would be around minus 19 degrees celsius (minus 2 degrees fahrenheit).

The greenhouse effect is caused by a range of different gases in the earth’s atmosphere. Water vapour makes the most significant contribution to the greenhouse effect, followed by CO2. The atmospheric content of greenhouse gases - in particular CO2 - and the consequences for the climate are being discussed because the content of these gases in the atmosphere has risen precipitously in a period covering approximately the latest 250 years, and especially the last 50.

At present the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is about 385 ppm (parts per million). Before industrialization it was about 280 ppm. Analyses of air contained in ice from the Antarctic ice cap show that there is far more CO2 in the air today than at any time in the last 650,000 years.

The consequence is that the greenhouse effect is becoming stronger, and therefore the earth is becoming warmer. How much warmer has, however, been a matter of dispute. The most recent assessment report from the IPCC is from 2007. It concludes that the earth's average temperature has risen by 0.74 degrees in the period from 1906 to 2005. The warming is stronger over land areas than over the sea, and accordingly it is strongest in the northern hemisphere. At the same time occurrences of heat waves and violent downpours have also increased, the oceans have risen, and the ice at the world's poles and on its mountains has begun to melt. All of these effects are predictable in the event of global warming.

The IPCC's most recent assessment report concludes that the average temperature will continue to rise, but that the extent and the duration of this rise, and the severity of its consequences, depend on how quickly and how effectively emissions of greenhouse gases can be restricted and, over time, reduced.

Editor: Du Xiaodan | Source: China Daily