Categories: Climate Article 6

The Second Conference of the Parties (COP2) to the Framework Convention on Climate Change

Sebastian Oberthür
Society for Policy Analysis, Berlin, Germany
*Corresponding author (current affiliation: IES, Brussels, Belgium; sebastian.oberthuer@vub.ac.be)

EPL, Vol.26, Iss.5, pp.195-201, 1996



The Second Conference of the Parties (COP 2) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) was held from 8 to 19 July in conjunction with the fourth session of the Ad Hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate (AGBM 4) and meetings of the Subsidiary Bodies on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and for Implementation (SBI). Furthermore, the Ad Hoc Group on Article 13 (AG13) that has to define and elaborate the Multilateral Consultative Process as envisaged in Article 13 of the FCCC, met for the second time since the first Conference of the Parties in Berlin in March/April 1995. Besides taking numerous decisions on various aspects of the evolving international regime for the protection of climate, the "Berlin Climate Summit" had not only established AG 13 but had also launched, in particular, the AGBM process. In the Berlin Mandate establishing the AGBM, the Parties to the FCCC had agreed to start negotiations on a "protocol or another legal instrument" containing "quantified limitation and reduction objectives within specified time-frames" for Annex I countries (industrialised countries) based on an analysis and assessment of appropriate policies and measures "with a view to adopting the results" at COP 3 in 1997.

Until COP 2, the AGBM had already met in Geneva three times - in August 1995, December 1995, and in March 1996 - partly in conjunction with sessions of the SBI and SBSTA. Little progress had been made in 1995 when the so-called JUSCANZ (Japan, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) as well as OPEC members (in particular Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) insisted that more analysis and assessment was needed before the elaboration of a legal instrument could begin. However, the pace of the negotiations accelerated at AGBM 3 in March 1996, when several countries put forward concrete proposals on emission reductions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases after the year 2000. In particular, Germany called for a reduction of CO2 emissions by 10 percent until 2005 and by 15-20 percent by 2010, using 1990 as a baseline. 

Progress in March had especially benefitted from two interrelated developments. First, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had adopted and released its Second Assessment Report (SAR) in late 1995 detecting for the first time a discernible human influence on climate. Second, some JUSCANZ members, particularly the US, showed signs of movement - partly in response to the new scientific findings. Thus, the US declared that the phase of analysis and assessment of policies and measures, up to then so vigorously called for by the laggards in an attempt to slow down the negotiation process, should end in order to begin real negotiations. However, because of resistance by oil-exporting countries, the SBSTA that has to transmit the scientific findings of the IPCC to the negotiating bodies (AGBM, COP) was not able to agree on the conclusion that an urgent need for action followed from the IPCC SAR.

Thus, COP 2 had two major items on its agenda: (1) the conclusions to be drawn from the latest scientific findings as contained in the IPCC SAR, and (2) giving guidance to the AGBM process. Close to 150 of the 158 Parties (as of the end of COP 2) to the FCCC participated in the Conference, that culminated in a ministerial segment held on 17 and 18 July. With regard to the two major issues mentioned, as well as the other agenda items that were mainly related to the smooth manage-ment and evolution of the regime, COP 2 had to take decisions without having formal decision-making procedures at its disposal. As had become clear even before the Conference, efforts to reach consensus on the Rules of Procedure failed again because of continuing disagreement on the voting procedures and the composition of the Bureau, with OPEC members still striving for veto power as regards the adoption of protocols and other major decisions. As they were not willing to give up this bargaining chip, COP 2 followed the precedent of COP 1: The draft Rules of Procedure were applied, but not adopted - with the notable exception of Rule 42 on voting. Even so, COP 2 was able to work out the so-called Geneva Declaration as well as a series of decisions (see page 232) that will provide guidance to the future development of the international regime on climate change.

Disputes over Science

At the SBSTA session preceeding AGBM 3, a major dispute arose over the latest state of scientific knowledge about climate change. The IPCC SAR, which was elaborated partly by the same representatives participating in the SBSTA, concluded for the first time that "the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate." It can also clearly be concluded from the SAR that worldwide emissions of CO2, methane and N20 have to be reduced very significantly in order to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases - as called for in Article 2 of the Convention that, however, does not specify any limits of those concentrations. Furthermore, the IPCC identified once again large potentials for no-regrets measures by which greenhouse gas emissions can be limited and reduced.

While some of these conclusions were already disputed in the deliberations of the IPCC especially by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the same countries were not prepared to accept within the SBSTA that a need for action followed from the results of the IPCC. While they had argued in preceding years that negotiatiors should wait for the IPCC SAR before entering into negotiations on potentially very consequential climate protection measures, OPEC members now insisted that because of the still existing uncertainties additional action should not be considered. In this respect, the implicit coalition existing before between OPEC and JUSCANZ broke apart with the US and the other laggards from the industrialised countries joining the majority of the OECD in wholeheartedly supporting the IPCC SAR. However, the Russian delegation at COP 2 joined forces more openly and more forcefully with the OPEC than before, not only as regards the scientific findings. As this stance had its obvious reason in the new head of delegation - who had represented the USSR in the early 1990s, but had not made his appearance since then - it might be a passing phenomenon.

However, the Russian delegation at COP 2 joined forces more openly and more forcefully with the OPEC than before, not only as regards the scientific findings. As this stance had its obvious reason in the new head of delegation - who had represented the USSR in the early 1990s, but had not made his appearance since then - it might be a passing phenomenon. While there appeared to be consensus among OECD countries on the evaluation of the latest scientific findings, disagreement over the conclusions of the IPCC SAR thus prevailed at COP 2. The relevant draft decision submitted by the SBSTA to the Conference thus contained two competing central operational paragraphs. According to the first paragraph, supported by the majority of Parties, the Conference would have decided that the SAR "be used as a basis for urgent action to further the implementation of the Convention and for developing a protocol or other legal instrument, as provided for in the Berlin Mandate". In contrast, the alternative paragraph supported by OPEC members and Russia emphasized still existing "uncertainties and lack of certain information". In the end, the Conference decided to delete both alternate paragraphs. In the final version of the decision, COP 2 therefore merely expresses its appreciation to the IPCC for drawing up the SAR and welcomes the commitment of the IPCC to undertake further work in support of the Convention bodies. However, the scientific assessment by the IPCC and its judgement was also part of the negotiations on a Ministerial Declaration dealt with below that was to provide guidance to the ongoing negotiations within the AGBM on a protocol or another legal instrument.

Status of Protocol Negotiations

As mentioned above, negotiations on a protocol or another legal instrument as mandated by the Berlin Climate Summit in 1995, commended during AGBM 3 in March 1996. However, by the time of COP 2 many points were still to be clarified and resolved. A draft text of the legal instrument was, for example, missing, and the overall regulatory approach was still far from being agreed upon. Among others, the following questions remained to be answered: Would the instrument to be elaborated follow a comprehensive or a gas-by-gas approach? Would commitments of the Annex-I countries be differentiated, and, if so, according to which formula/rationale? Which role would developing countries play in the new instrument? Would the instrument contain quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives ("targets and timetables") or rather an "aim"? Would the new commitments include policies and measures, and, if so, which ones in which legal form? Would the instrument be a Protocol or an Amendment to the Convention or rather consist of some legally non-binding instrument (e.g. a Resolution)?

While some countries like Germany had tried to move the process towards preparing a (preliminary) compilation of proposals for COP 2, little progress in this direction was reached. Thus, the AGBM discussions during COP 2 were left largely with a "recycling" of statements from earlier sessions that were widely known beforehand. In fact, with most delegations waiting for their ministers to arrive, little substantial progress could be expected from the AGBM session. Apart from conducting the usual "behind-the-scenes" talks, delegations made, though, fruitful use of their time by taking part in round-table discussions on policies and measures, quantified emissions limitation and reduction objectives as well as on the impacts on developing countries of action by Annex-I Parties as envisaged at AGBM 3. In each of these official events expert panels on the different subjects had been organised by the Secretariat, with each panelist giving a short presentation, followed by a more open discussion. In addition, numerous other workshops on diverse issues of international climate policy (e.g. joint implementation, technological change, etc.) were sponsored by governments, international organizations as well as non-governmental organizations and research institutes. Thus, there were plenty of possibilities for members of delegations as well as for observers to deepen their understanding of relevant issues, get into contact with relevant experts, and discuss and clarify controversial items.

Especially the US delegation appeared to be waiting for Under-Secretary Timothy Wirth who was to speak during the ministerial segment of the Conference. In March, the US had announced that a more elaborate US position was being worked out for COP 2. While there had been rumours that a US policy shift had already been decided upon several months ago, COP 2 was certainly the best occasion on which this could be made public. Thus perfectly staged, the US statement was the most tensely expected one - and it seemed to fulfil the expectations. While strongly supporting the conclusion that the IPCC SAR calls upon negotiators to take urgent action, the US, for the first time since the early days of the climate negotiations at the beginning of the 1990s, called for intensified international negotiations on a binding medium-term emission target and a longer-term goal for atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.

Since neither the word "binding" nor the word "target" appears to have crossed the US negotiators' lips before, the new US position certainly presented one of the major developments at COP 2. Three main reasons for the movement of the US Administration can be identified. First, after the economic recession at the beginning of the 1990s, the US economy has gained momentum again resulting in unemployment rates staying at relatively low levels. These overall economic circumstances provide new leeway for the US administration that is in principle believed to be in favour of effective climate policies. Second, because of the US presidential elections in early November 1996, President Clinton has generally tried to position himself as an environmentalist. Hence, the US move in the climate negotiatIOns can be seen as part of his presidential election campaign. And third, credit has certainly to be given to the move of Eileen Claussen - who is now in charge of the international climate negotiations within the US Administration - to the US State Department.

However, while some observers were quick in calling the new US position a major policy shift, this conclusion might prove at least premature. There are still several aspects of the US position as presented at COP 2 that could pose major stumbling blocks in the negotiations and need to be clarified. First, the US called for a realistic, verifiable, and achievable target without indicating any number or base years, leaving much room for manreuvre. Second, included in the US position was the caveat that the proposed target should be reached by "activities implemented jointly" and emissions trading on a global scale, i.e. including developing countries. Not only is the pilot phase of activities implemented jointly under the FCCC scheduled to last until the year 2000, making it most difficult to decide on the use of this instrument by next year, when the protocol negotiations are due to be completed. Activities implemented jointly and emissions trading are also both very controversial issues and need detailed elaboration before they can become part of an international legal instrument. Hence, it is not at all clear whether these US proposals are acceptable to the other countries and whether there is enough time to negotiate such complicated issues.

Last but not least, it was emphasised in the US statement that developed and developing countries have to take measures in the context of the Berlin Mandate - which will meet with resistance from the G77 and China which are not prepared to take on any additional commitments in the protocol negotiations ahead. As the new US position appears to have been deliberately vague in these respects, it might be too early to celebrate a major break-through in international climate politics. There is still plenty of room for a US retreat in the negotiating sessions to come. However, the changed US position nourishes the hope that further progress in the negotiations might become possible. Already at COP 2, the altered balance of influence found its expression in the negotiations on a Ministerial Declaration.

EPL Climate Article 6

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