The UN Framework Convention On Climate Change (UNFCCC)


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was created at the 1992 “Rio Earth Summit” and went into operation in 1994. It is the convening authority for the international negotiations that led to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, and for the series of ongoing conferences that are seeking a new treaty to expand the Kyoto terms beyond 2012. The “framework” for the talks has pitted the developed countries, led by the United States and the European Union, against the developing countries, led by China, India, Brazil, South Africa and the Group of 77. The conflict comes from the fact that the two groups are to be treated differently.

The third sentence in the opening findings of the UNFCCC reads, “The largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs.” So the developed countries must cut back, while the developing countries are left free to move ahead at full speed, even if they add to global pollution.

This “principle of common but differentiated responsibilities” was placed at the core of the Kyoto Protocol. Though 184 parties have signed it, only 37 are “industrial economies” (almost all European) subject to mandatory emission cuts under Annex I of the agreement. The rest could sign on without any obligation to change their behavior.

The United States has not implemented Kyoto because of its unequal terms. Prior to the final Kyoto negotiation in 1997, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution (S. Res. 98) by a vote of 95-0 saying the U.S. should not sign any agreement that failed to apply to the developing countries as well as the industrialized world. An unequal agreement “would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States” by giving the nations free of UN restrictions a competitive edge in production and trade.

The Bali Action Plan was adopted in December 2007 at the UNFCCC meeting in Bali, Indonesia to govern the next international climate treaty. It follows the Kyoto model. Developed lands like the United States are to have “quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives,” while the developing states are allowed to temper any such actions within “the context of sustainable development, supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity-building” paid for by foreign aid from the West.

The unequal treatment of the “rich” developed countries is based on the notion of “climate justice.” This concept was laid out succinctly by China’s Special Representative for Climate Change Negotiations Yu Qingtai at a press conference on December 10, 2009. He talked of “the legal obligation of developed countries of taking the lead in reducing emissions and providing developing countries with capital and technology support” and called on the developing countries to “carefully reflect on their historical responsibility.” In line with the UNFCCC, global warming has been caused by those countries that developed first. They owe a “climate debt” to the rest of the world, and must now step down to allow others to rise.

Beijing does not just lead the developing world at the UN; it also leads the majority of those around the world who are skeptical of the man-made global warming doctrine upon which the entire UNFCCC process is based. By rejecting the idea of a climate crisis, the developing countries are free to pursue their own interests, using the UNFCCC to gain competitive advantages and “the transfer of wealth from the West to the rest.” For them, it has never been about the weather.

The UNFCCC failed to produce an equitable treaty that the United States could accept at the Copenhagen conference in December 2009. Instead, an Accord was adopted that did not require any nation to do anything, the best of all possible outcomes which burst the bubble of what had been the UNFCCC’s strongest push for global restrictions on economic activity. Though the UNFCCC went through another year of meetings in pursuit of a treaty, the continuing clash of national interests and the imperatives of economic growth produced nothing of consequence at the December 2010 meeting in Cancun. More meetings are planned, but the Green enthusiasm has ebbed among all but the most diehard Luddites.


  1. No UN Imposed Mandates on the U.S. Economy: The problem with the UNFCCC process is not just that developed and underdeveloped countries are treated differently, but that the UN wants to impose mandates that would limit national economic growth on any country. The U.S. should avoid any restrictions on its ability to pursue economic growth, promote technological progress, and provide a higher standard of living for its citizens. It is not just the developing countries that need the freedom to progress, America needs to preserve its freedom as well. U.S. leaders have had the courage to reject the Kyoto Protocol and to block a treaty in Copenhagen in 2009. They should continue to oppose a binding agreement at any future UNFCCC conference as both the process and its underlying assumption about man-made climate change are fatally flawed.



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