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The international negotiations on climate change

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

In June 1992, the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro, took the first steps in the international combat against climate change. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted by most developed and developing countries. It sets forth the framework for this international effort, whose objective is "the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system". The UNFCCC suggests two methods: limiting emissions of anthropogenic greenhouse gases at their source, and increasing removals by sinks.

Guiding principles of action include:

 The protection of the climate system on the basis of equity and in accordance with the common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities of the countries concerned. The developed countries must take the lead in reducing emissions.

The need to give full consideration to the specific needs of particularly vulnerable developing countries, particularly small island states.

The need to take precautionary measures in the absence of scientific certitude.

The Convention entered into force in 1994. It has been signed by 186 countries.

The Convention's uppermost body is the Conference of the Parties (COP), responsible for specifying the methods to be used in achieving its objectives. Since 1995, the COP has held annual meetings. The most significant progress was made during the Kyoto Conference (COP3) in December 1997. The COP works with two bodies of experts, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), who help to settle the technical questions involved.

The Convention on climate change is supported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), made up of 2,500 experts appointed by the United Nations. The IPCC was created in 1988 jointly by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP). Its mission is to collect pertinent scientific data, to promote production and dissemination of such data, and to provide a critical summary of this data. It is also responsible for evaluating the ecological and socio-economic effects of potential climate change and evaluating possible mitigation and adaptation strategies. The IPCC published its first report in 1990, which was updated in 1992, and served as a negotiation basis for the adoption of the climate change convention. It published a second report in 1995, and a third, rather alarming one in February 2001.

The Kyoto Protocol

On December 10, 1997, the Conference of the Parties adopted the Kyoto Protocol, providing for a first concrete step in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto Protocol proposes quantified emission reductions targets for the principal developed nations (parties listed in Annex I of the Convention, namely the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Eastern European countries): for the period 2008-2012 (first commitment period), annual emissions should correspond to an average total reduction of 5.2 percent of 1990 emissions. Each Party has an individual reduction target. This corresponds to an actual reduction necessity of nearly 10 percent from current emissions, and nearly 30 percent from estimated emissions in 2010.

Carbon fluxes resulting from land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) are to be accounted for in the greenhouse gas emissions inventory of developed countries. Where these fluxes result in net carbon sequestration, as in almost all forests in developed countries, which currently are in a phase of accumulating growing stock, this lightens the burden of commitments: CO2 removals by forestry and other sinks in land use can be subtracted from emissions in other sectors.

The Kyoto Protocol also offers developed countries alternatives to domestic action. Three "flexible mechanisms" aim to reduce the cost of meeting emission targets:

The developing countries rejected any obligation to take on quantified objectives for future emission levels, claiming that the developed countries were responsible for the present situation, and that future goals must be achieved equitably by taking into account population levels and development needs. The entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol requires ratification by no less than 55 Parties to the Convention, including Annex I Parties whose carbon dioxide emissions in 1990 accounted for at least 55 per cent of the total for Annex I countries.

Negotiations have continued since 1997 to specify the rules and modalities for applying the Kyoto Protocol, which will affect the decision to ratify of the signatory countries. The website shows the current status of Kyoto Protocol ratification: as of 1 March 2003, 105 Parties had ratified or accessed the Kyoto Protocol, representing 44% of respective emissions. Among those Parties are the European Union and Japan. USA and Australia have so far rejected ratification. The future of the Kyoto Protocol now depends upon the ratification by Russia. Forests and tropical forests in particular, have been important elements in these negotiations.

Weighing the national priorities in the current decision-making process: the African difficulties in the negotiation

The objective of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, held in Dakar in October 2000, was to harmonize the positions of the African countries in view of COP6. The points discussed included the CDM, vulnerability, adaptation, the preparation of national communications, carbon sinks and technology transfers. The Conference emphasized that " carbon sinks, inasmuch as they contribute to soil fertility and improvement of food security, which are among Africa's priority objectives, can be excellent goals for future development projects ".

Despite this, African voices were often difficult to hear in the negotiation process. Two reasons might explain this :

Participation in international meetings is hampered by the limited amount of funds available to the African countries' national delegations. These funds are generally provided for only one person, the "national focal point", whom the Convention Secretariat finances in each country, whereas for example the United States finances a team of about a hundred persons. A choice must therefore be made concerning the subjects the delegate should follow, due to the complexity of the discussions. Negotiation on climate change is a constantly-evolving process on the scientific, political and diplomatic levels. Participating in this process implies being informed about all linked special topics at all times. This often poses an unsurmountable problem for African countries, as the logistics are not always sufficient.

Access to information and participation requires a good level of English, as translations cover only some texts and debates. This represents a severe handicap for most of French-speaking African countries. To solve these problems, the reinforcement of links between French-speaking countries has been encouraged under the impulse of Canada and the Intergovernmental Agency for the French-Speaking World ( the French-speaking negotiators have created a working group which meets during negotiations or in workshops. A French version (although incomplete) of the Climate Convention Secretariat's web-site ( has been created. Other web-sites such as that of the French Inter-Ministerial Mission for the greenhouse effect ( or the Senegalese NGO ENDA's web-site ( also provide information in French. The information access problem is also a very serious one for project promoters and decision-makers from African countries, since they find it difficult to understand and take advantage of the opportunities offered by the climate change convention's instruments.

The Marrakech Accords

COP7 held in Marrakech in November 2001 adopted a set of decisions (the "Marrakech Accords", UNFCCC 2001) that clarify concrete modalities which apply to the climate change convention and the Kyoto Protocol. They correspond to a more detailed version of the agreements taken in Bonn in the second part of COP6.

In particular, the Marrakech Accords clarify the use of different economic instruments towards developing countries. These instruments are intended to have developing countries participate in the international process through other means than national emission commitments, help them in the pursuit of sustainable development and help them to adapt to climate change. Some of these instruments could be used by forestry; others focus more on the energy, industry and transport sectors.

The Marrakech Accords also propose a framework for capacity building ("learning by doing"), technology transfer and development ("increase the transfer of and access to environmentally sound technologies and know-how"), for which the COP mandates additional financial and technical resources. This does not constitute a new funding mechanism, but it gives guidelines for the use of existing funds and investment mechanisms of interest for developing countries.

Economic instruments for developing countries and a
potential for African forestry

The climate change negotiations, have produced different economic instruments for developing countries. Some of them are already operational, some are still being developed, and others depend on the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. Their potential for forestry is summarized in table 2 and presented in detail below.



Potential for forestry

Funds provided by the Convention or the Protocol

GEF climate change focal area

Biomass production and use
Carbon sequestration

GEF Multifocal area
OP 12 Integrated ecosystems management

Projects addressing climate, biodiversity and land degradation issues
E.g. Rehabilitation and improved management of forested watersheds (sustainable forest management)

Special climate change fund
of the Convention

Adaptation, technology transfer, forestry.
Details to be determined

Least developed countries fund
of the Convention

Capacity building and adaptation priorities identification

Adaptation Fund
of the Kyoto Protocol

Conservation projects in vulnerable zones where forests constitute an adaptation measure

French fund for the global environment

Carbon sequestration in forests and soils

Mechanisms to foster North/ South private and public
investment flows

CDM for GHG sinks

Afforestation and reforestation projects, to be defined more specifically by COP9

CDM for GHG sources

Substitution projects of fossil fuels by biomass

AIJ pilot phase

All forestry activities, as a learning experience for the CDM

Table 2: Economic instruments towards developing countries and their potential for forestry

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