Debating Greenhouse Gas Emission Responsibilities

Forming Ethical Agreements

Agreements require binding reduction targets. How should such targets be determined?

An international agreement could simply state that all countries should reduce their GHG emissions by same absolute amount (X tons of CO2 equiv per year) or should larger emitters be required to reduce more than lower emitting countries?


Year Agreement Notes
1988 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) established An intergovernmental body created under the United Nations to provide governments with scientific information to develop climate policies. Released its first assessment report in 1990 which formed the basis for the UNFCCC.
1989 Montreal Protocol on Substances the Deplete the Ozone Layer Hailed as one of the most successful international environmental agreements. Led to a significant reduction in the production of ozone-depleting substances.
1994 United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) International environmental treaty adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992; came into force in 1994. ‘Parties’ (154 countries) that ratified the convention voluntarily committed to reducing GHG emissions to 1990 emission levels by 2000, but treaty did not include enforcement mechanisms (commitments were ‘non-binding’). Compliance was low.
1995 First Conference of the Parties (COP1) Parties (participating countries) to the UNFCCC meet annually to assess progress in mitigating climate change. These meeting are called conference of parties (COP)
1997-2005 Kyoto Protocol adopted in 1997; comes into force in 2005. KP adopted at the UNFCCC’s COP3. Protocol based on ‘common but differentiated responsibilities.’ During first period (2008-2012) of legally binding commitments, ratifying industrial countries had to reduce their aggregate national GHG emissions to 5-8% below their 1990 emissions levels by 2012. Non-industrial countries were exempted from reduction requirements.
2012 Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol Adopted at COP18 to launch a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, starting on Jan 1, 2013, until 2020.
2015 Paris Agreement Adopted at COP21 as a successor to Kyoto Protocol. All countries (parties to the UNFCCC) individually determine and set voluntary GHG emission reduction targets (called 'nationally determined contributions'). No mechanism forces countries to meet their targets, but they are legally obligated to report their progress.


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