I walked in a room where everyone was heavily engaged with the speaker. Notes of papers lying on the floor, indicated that I arrived slightly after the participants completed a group exercise, which was to arrange the various international agreements under the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in a chronological order. I was moderately glad that I came a bit late, as I would confess of not really being an expert in the history of UNFCCC.
The climate negotiations revolves around UNFCCC, but until what extent do we really know about the UNFCCC? The session took a step back to reflect on the history of the UNFCCC, which began with the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). In 1990, the UNGA established the International Negotiating Committee (INC) for a Framework Convention on Climate Change. At the same time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released first assessment report, which stated that ‘emissions resulting from human activities are substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gas’. This in turn led to the second World Climate Conference for a global treaty.
Although it is known that the legal regime in addressing climate change has been around since the 1980s, it is not a well known fact that one of the driving force that pushes the General Assembly to put together a high level mechanism for climate change was actually a southern European island state in the Mediterranean, called Malta. Malta even presented a concrete proposal in the form of a draft solution, which was unanimously presented in the plenary of the General Assembly in 1988.
The ‘Maltese Initiative’ marks the origin of the UNFCCC, with the Conference of the Parties (COP) a the prime authority of the Convention. The text of the UNFCCC was adopted at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in May 1992, and opened for signatures at Rio Earth Summit in June 1992. The ‘ultimate objective’ was to curb greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. The UNFCCC also recognises that the climate system is largely affected by anthropogenic influences.
In the session, the speaker brought up that the UNFCCC highlights the importance of the Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) principle and commitments, with mitigation being primary followed by adaptation, which was secondary. The UNFCCC greatly emphasised on mitigation measures. Even the EU’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) was largely focused on mitigation. It was not until Buenos Aires Plan of Action (BAPA) in 1998, that adaptation was mainstreamed into the UNFCCC process. There were several discussion surrounding adaptation, but were finally resolved in COP10, which was the Buenos Aires Programme of Work on Adaptation and Response Measures.
All these insightful information took about 30 minutes for the speaker to walk us through, with many of the youth in the room looking perplexed and clueless. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Learning the history of the UNFCCC requires perseverance, big time!
Written by Jasmin
Edited by Varun