The global negotiations over climate change, and what to do about it, are undertaken pursuant to a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), established at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Countries that signed the Convention (called the “Parties”) have agreed to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere so as to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference with Earth’s climate system.” The Convention further provides that the Parties should protect the climate system on the basis of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” with developed countries taking the lead.
“The treaty as originally framed set no mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual nations and contained no enforcement provisions; it is therefore considered legally non-binding. Rather, the treaty included provisions for updates (called “protocols”) that would set mandatory emission limits.” See, scribd.
After the Convention or treaty took effect, Parties to the UNFCCC have met at Conferences of the Parties (COP) to discuss and agree how to implement the goals of the Convention. Over the years there have been 20 meetings. At one COP the Parties adopted the Kyoto Protocol which set legally-binding specific targets for different countries for reducing GHGs. The United States did not become a party to this Protocol; Canada did but recently withdrew from the Protocol. At another COP, the Parties have agreed to hold global warming to below 2°C relative to the pre-industrial level of GHGs, but without any legal obligation to do so.
The 21st COP is scheduled to meet in Paris in December 2015 at which COP there has been a commitment by the Parties to reach an agreement on how they will share the responsibilities for keeping global warming at less than 2°C relative to the pre-industrial level of GHGs. Whether any such commitments become legally binding at the 21st COP remains a deeply divisive issue.
Some further ideas to explore on COP
Since the global negotiations over climate change pursuant to the COP, other than the Kyoto Protocol, are not yet legally binding, how does the UN and participating Parties get any country to agree to actions to cut GHGs?
Does the ratification of the UNFCCC have legal consequences for any country that adopted, or ratified, it? If so, what are they? Is the US or Canada subject to any sanctions for not joining or withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol?
While 1992 Convention did not set any mandatory emission levels, it did hold that the Parties agreed to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference with Earth’s climate system.” If a country, like Australia or the United States or Canada, adopted an official policy that global warming is not caused by human action, and so there was no need to prevent human (anthropogenic) interferences, could it be sued for breaching the Convention?
United Nations, Background on the UNFCCC: The international response to climate change unfccc.int/essential_background/items/6031.php
United Nations, Bodies, including COP unfccc.int/bodies/items/6241.php
Fakatkar Pawankumar, What Is The UNFCCC & The COP? www.scribd.com/doc/250932982/UNFCCC#scribd