Intergovernmental Policy

Intergovernmental PolicyFrom a paper by : Alex Evans and David Steven, 2007
The London Accord and Centre of International Cooperation, 
Climate change: the state of the debate

Kyoto and its discontents: the process 1990 – 2004

During this period, the intergovernmental process under UN auspices was also gathering pace. After the Second World Climate Conference, held in Geneva in 1990, the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio agreed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Convention aimed to set ‘an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate.’xxx It came into force in 1994 and has now been ratified by 191 countries. Although it did not include any binding targets, it did establish a number of important principles, including the need to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would avoid ‘dangerous’ climate change, and the need for any solution to be equitable.

The Convention noted that “the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs.”xxxi Industrialized, or Annex I, countries agreed in principal to reduce their emissions, while a subset of these countries, Annex II, also agreed to assist developing countries through technology transfer. The first Conference of the Parties to the Convention (“COP1”), held in Berlin in 1995, agreed to launch negotiations over what targets should be set – a process duly concluded at COP3 in Kyoto, two years later.

Under Kyoto and the intergovernmental policy, developed countries agreed to reduce their emissions by an average of 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by the time the treaty expired in 2012. The negotiations were predictably bloody with the EU initially arguing for a 7.5 per cent cut by 2003 and a 15 per cent cut by 2010. Developing countries wanted a further target of a 35 per cent cut by 2020, while the US argued for simply returning to 1990 levels by 2012.xxxii

Kyoto was a battle between countries with different interests and priorities. This battle intensified when, in March 2001, President George W. Bush repudiated the agreement as “fatally flawed”. The stage was set for a new bifurcation of opinion on climate change intergovernmental policy. But instead of being between business and environmentalists, the schism now appeared to be between multilateralism and unilateralism, and to run down the centre of the North Atlantic. All of a sudden, climate change was no longer just a ‘green’ issue. Instead, it was frequently mentioned in the same breath as the International Criminal Court, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and even the Geneva Conventions, as a debate emerged about the role of the US as ‘the sole hyperpower’.

The growing transatlantic rift thrust climate change into the centre of the global spotlight once again, as Kyoto became a totemic cause celebre not just for environmentalists but for a much broader audience. As media coverage rose dramatically, so did references to global warming in film and the arts – which themselves drove further media coverage. The Day After Tomorrow (2004), for example, was seen by no fewer than a tenth of all Americans – and generated ten times as much media coverage as the IPCC’s 2001 Third Assessment Report.xxxiii The movie, which shows the almost instantaneous arrival of an ice age, provoked much derision when it was previewed by an audience of climate change specialists in London.xxxivYet many felt that, if it increased awareness of the problem, then it would have done its job. Two years later, Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, was to have an even greater impact and, despite a British court finding some inaccuracies, a much stronger scientific basis.

The mass media could cut the other way, too: Michael Crichton’s thriller novel State of Fear (2004), which presented climate change as a vast conspiracy, was (and remains) a huge bestseller. In the US, in particular, this message had considerable appeal. There was also strong support for the perceived unfairness of Kyoto. President Clinton did not send the Protocol to the Senate for ratification, at least in part because of the Senate’s 95-0 support for the 1997 Byrd-Hagel Resolution, which rejected any agreement which did not require developing countries to take on commitments, and which argued that “any disparity of treatment… could result in serious harm to the United States economy, including significant job loss, trade disadvantages, increased energy and consumer costs.”xxxv

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xxxi UN Framework Convention on Climate Change 1992, at
xxxii UN Say Rio Treaty Is Not Enough, FACSNET, 28 Jan 2000, available at
xxxiii Weart (2003).
xxxiv A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, review of The Day After Tomorrow, the Guardian, 14 May 2004, available at,4120,1215824,00.html  
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xxxv Byrd-Hagel Resolution: Expressing the sense of the Senate regarding the conditions for the United States becoming a signatory to any international agreement on greenhouse gas emissions under the United Nations, 105th Congress, 1st Session, 25 July 1997, available at   intergovernmental policy