A U.S.-centric Chronology of the International Climate Change Negotiations
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
Under the “Bali Action Plan,” countries around the globe are endeavoring to reach agreement by
the end of 2009 on effective, feasible, and fair actions beyond 2012 to address risks of climate
change driven by human-related emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). This document provides
a U.S.-centric chronology of the international policy negotiations to address climate change. It
begins before agreement on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in
1992, and proceeds through the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the Marrakesh Accords of 2001, and the
Bali Action Plan of 2007 that mandates the current negotiations toward a new agreement by the
end of 2009 on commitments for the period beyond 2012. This chronology identifies selected
external events and major multilateral meetings that have influenced the current legal and
institutional arrangements, as well as contentious issues for further cooperation. Today’s
negotiations under the Bali Action Plan focus on four elements: mitigation of greenhouse gas
emissions; adaptation to impacts of climate change; financial assistance to low income countries;
and technology development and transfer. They also are intended to define a “shared vision” for
reducing global GHG emissions by around 2050. For U.S. legislators, important issues include
the compatibility of any international agreement with U.S. domestic policies and laws; the
adequacy of appropriations, fiscal measures and programs to achieve any commitments under the
agreement; and the desirable form of the agreement and related requirements for potential Senate
ratification and federal implementing legislation.
Overview of the International Climate Change Negotiations.........................................................1
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change...................................................2
The Kyoto Protocol.........................................................................................................................2
The Bali Action Plan.......................................................................................................................3
Author Contact Information............................................................................................................8
Formal international negotiations were launched in December 1990 to address human-driven
climate change. These negotiations on a Framework Convention on Climate Change marked the
progress of decades of scientific research toward conclusions—with uncertainties—that have 1
remained remarkably stable in the years since: greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human-
related activities are very likely causing the major portion of climate change observed in recent
decades and, if these continue, could lead to potentially catastrophic impacts on human societies
and their environment. Predicting the precise timing, magnitude and implications of changes
remains subject to a variety of uncertainties; many questions may not be resolvable in a
timeframe consistent with making effective and cost-effective decisions to address the risks of
climate change. Only concerted global action can stabilize GHG concentrations, since emissions
come from all countries. China and the United States are now approximately tied as leading
emitters of GHG, although the United States historically has contributed more—almost one-fifth
of the rise of GHG concentrations in the atmosphere. The greatest growth in GHG emissions is
expected from countries, such as China, India and Brazil, that historically have contributed less,
now emit much less per person, and have lower economic and governance capabilities to address
The core issues for negotiation in 1990 remain the same today:
• when and by how much to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally in order to 2
avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”;
• how to share “common but differentiated responsibilities” among countries taking
into account “respective capacities”of different people—in particular, the
acceptable degree of participation of developing countries;
• what mechanisms are best suited to assuring GHG reductions by all parties at the
lowest cost and while supporting “sustainable economic development” and “the
eradication of poverty”;
• how cooperatively to understand the risks and facilitate adaptation to climate
changes, especially by those least able to cope on their own; and
“Greenhouse gases” are defined in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as “those gaseous
constituents of the atmosphere, both natural and anthropogenic [human-driven] that absorb and re-emit infrared
radiation.” They may alter the composition of the atmosphere, changing the balance of radiation entering and leaving
the Earth system, and consequently change the temperature or patterns of climate on Earth. The most important is water
vapor, but it is believed not to be altered by human activities. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most important human-
related GHG, with about ¾ from fossil fuel use and about ¼ due to land use change and forestry. Other important gases
listed under the Kyoto Protocol are methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O, hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), perfluorocarbons
(PFC) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Additional greenhouse gases are partially controlled internationally under the
Montreal Protocol of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, including chlorofluorocarbons
(CFC) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC), etc., while others are emerging (e.g., nitrogen trifluoride (NF3). Other
radiatively important substances are significant but difficult to treat similarly, such as aerosols or tropospheric ozone.
2 Terms used particularly in association with the international climate change negotiations are frequently highlighted in
italics in this document, to alert the reader to their significance.
• how to adapt international arrangements over time as science, social conditions
and capabilities evolve.
The international negotiations launched in 1990 culminated in the 1992 adoption of the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The
United States was the fourth nation to ratify the UNFCCC, and the first among industrialized
countries. As of November 2008, 192 governments are Parties to the UNFCCC. As a framework
convention, this treaty provides the structure for collaboration and evolution of efforts over
decades, as well as the first step in that collaboration. The UNFCCC does not, however, include 3
measurable and enforceable objectives and commitments. By the time the treaty entered into
force and the Conference of the Parties (COP) met for the first time in 1995, the Parties agreed
that achieving the objective of the UNFCCC would require new and stronger GHG commitments,
though the Berlin Mandate deferred any new commitments for developing countries for future
agreements. The resulting 1997 accord, the Kyoto Protocol, pledged to reduce the net GHG 4
emissions of industrialized country Parties (Annex I Parties) to 5.2% below 1990 levels in the
period of 2008 to 2012. It also pledged to assess the adequacy of these commitments early in the
The United States signed the Kyoto Protocol in December 1997. However, opposition in the U.S. 5
Congress was strong. In the “Byrd-Hagel” Resolution in July 1997, the Senate expressed its
opposition (95-0 vote) to the terms of the Berlin Mandate, by stating that the U.S. should not sign
any treaty that does not include specific, scheduled commitments of non-Annex I Parties in the
same compliance period as Annex I Parties, or that might seriously harm the U.S. economy. The
Kyoto Protocol (KP) was not submitted to the Senate for ratification by President Clinton, nor by
his successor, President George W. Bush. Newly elected President Bush announced in 2001 that
the United States would oppose the agreement because it did not include GHG commitments by
other large emitting (developing) countries and because of his conclusion that it would cause
serious harm to the U.S. economy. As of 1 November 2008, 183 governments had become Parties 6
to the Kyoto Protocol, with the United States and Kazakhstan being the only industrialized
countries to remain outside of the Kyoto Protocol. In KP Article 9, the Parties to The Kyoto
The commitment by industrialized Parties to prepare national action plans aiming to reduce GHG emissions to 1990
levels is measurable, but no effective penalties or mechanisms were established to address any non-compliance with
4 “Net” emissions are the gross emissions minus the removals of GHG from the atmosphere by “sinks” (sequestration),
particularly by growing forests and other vegetation (or prevention of release of GHG by burning or decomposing
5 S.Res. 98.
6 Kazakhstan is unusual in being considered an Annex I Party for the purposes of the Kyoto Protocol, but not for the
purposes of the UNFCCC, once it ratifies the Kyoto Protocol. [COP report FCCC/CP/2006/5]
Protocol agreed to begin a process no later than 2005 to consider commitments beyond 2012,
when the first commitment period ends.
In December 2007, the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC agreed to a “Bali Action
Plan” to negotiate (parallel to a process under the Kyoto Protocol) new GHG mitigation actions
and other commitments for the post-2012 period. The negotiators are due to reach agreement by th
the end of 2009 (at their 15 meeting, in Copenhagen, Denmark). The Bali Action Plan does not
provide for binding GHG commitments by non-Annex I Parties. In April 2008, negotiators in
Bangkok agreed that the 2009 decision should include long-term GHG goals (a “vision” to be
shared among all countries) to stop growth of emissions in the next 10 to 15 years and to achieve
large reductions by 2050. The key items for negotiation in an agreement to address climate
change beyond 2012 are:
• mitigation of climate change (primarily to reduce GHG emissions or to enhance
removals of carbon by forests and other vegetation “sinks”);
• adaptation to impacts of climate change;
• financial assistance to low income countries;
• technology development and transfer; and
• the shared vision for long-term goals and action.
Four meetings in 2008 and four in 2009 were scheduled for an ambitious attempt to reach an
agreement of some kind by the end of 2009.
In Poznan, Poland, at the 14th COP, Parties decided to “shift into full negotiating mode” and that a
first, full negotiating text should be available for a meeting in Bonn in June 2009. To this end,
Parties are expected to put forward their proposals as early in 2009 as possible, in particular
regarding specific targets for greenhouse gas reductions. The meeting also ended with “some
bitterness, in that it proved to be impossible to raise additional resources for adaptation,”
concluded Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC.
For U.S. legislators, important issues include the compatibility of any international agreement
with U.S. domestic policies and laws; the adequacy of appropriations and fiscal incentives to
achieve any commitments under the agreement; and the desirable form of the agreement and any
requirements for potential ratification and implementing legislation.
A U.S.-centric Chronology of International Climate Change Negotiations,
1979 First World Climate Change Conference estimates that a doubling of carbon dioxide (CO2)
concentrations over pre-industrial levels would eventually lead to a 1.4-4.5oC increase in
global mean temperature (GMT).
1987 In the Montreal Protocol, 57 governments agree to phase-out production of substances
that deplete stratospheric ozone. Many of these substances, such as CFCs are also powerful
and long-lasting greenhouse gases (GHG), implicated in climate change.
1985 Major scientific conference in Villach, Austria, reviews decades of observations and
research, and calls for policy analysis and actions to slow the rate of GHG-induced climate
1988 Experts to the Toronto Conference on the Changing Atmosphere call for a reduction of
global CO2 emissions by 20% from 1988 levels by the year 2005.
November 1988 Governments establish the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) under the
joint auspices of the UN World Meteorological Organization and the UN Environment
Programme, to assess climate change research for governmental decision-making.
1990 Global CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are about 354 parts per million (ppm),
compared to pre-industrial concentrations of about 280 ppm in 1750. Global CO2
emissions are 21 billion tons annually, with 4/5 from industrialized countries (1/5 from the
United States). Developing countries, home to 80% of the world’s population, emit 1/5th of
global GHG emissions, not projected to reach 50% until around 2025.
1990 First Assessment Report of the IPCC concludes that human activities emit greenhouse
gases (GHG) that have increased atmospheric concentrations; these may be causing
observed increases in global mean temperature (GMT), and could drive future global
warming. The human contribution could not be confirmed, however, for up to a decade.
1990 The United Nations General Assembly establishes the Intergovernmental Negotiating
Committee for a Framework Convention on Climate Change.
June 1992 The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) opens for
signature at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)
in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The treaty cites common but differentiated responsibilities and
respective capabilities of all Parties, with an objective of avoiding dangerous anthropogenic
interference with the climate system. It includes commitments of developed country “Annex I”
Parties to establish national action plans with measures that aim (i.e., non-binding) to reduce
GHG emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000. Includes obligations for Parties listed in
Annex II (including the United States) to provide technical and financial assistance, report
GHG emissions, and additional obligations. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is named
the interim financial mechanism of the UNFCCC. Non-Annex I Parties have general
obligations, including for GHG mitigation, adaptation planning, and reporting.
1 October 1992 The United States becomes the first industrialized nation to ratify the UNFCCC.
21 March 1994 Entry into Force of the UNFCCC, following ratification by 50 countries. (As of November
2008, 192 governments have ratified the UNFCCC.)
March-April 1995 In Berlin, Germany, the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-1) reviews the
adequacy of commitments under UNFCCC Articles 4.2(a) and (b) and concludes they are
inadequate. It therefore adopts the Berlin Mandate, initiating negotiations for the post-2000
period to strengthen the GHG commitments of Annex 1 Parties, but no new commitments
for non-Annex 1 Parties. The COP also agree to a Pilot Phase for Joint Implementation, and
to establish two entities: the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary
Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).
July 1997 The U.S. Senate passes (95-0) the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, that the United States should not
enter into any international agreement that does not include obligations for developing
countries in the same period, or that would seriously harm the U.S. economy.
December 1997 The Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC is adopted, signed by more than 150 countries. It sets a
goal of reducing industrialized countries’ GHG emissions to 5% below 1990 levels during
the first commitment period of 2008-2012, and lists assigned amounts of allowable GHG
emissions by Parties in Annex B. It provides for flexibility mechanisms, including trading of
assigned amounts, Joint Implementation, and the Clean Development Mechanism. It outlines
a compliance mechanism, and requires reporting by Parties. Many implementing rules
remain to be negotiated, covering operations of the flexibility mechanisms, how to account
for land-based carbon sequestration, the nature of the compliance regime, etc. The
Protocol would enter into force when 55 countries, including at least 55% of 1990 GHG
emissions, have submitted papers of ratification.
1998 The COP agrees to the Buenos Aires Plan of Action, with a deadline of 2000 to finalize rules
to implement the Kyoto Protocol. The United States continues to press developing
countries to take on voluntary commitments to reduce GHG emissions.
November 2000 In the Hague, Netherlands, the sixth COP discussions collapse, suspended without
agreement on rules to implement the flexibility mechanisms in the Kyoto Protocol. Parties
agree to resume talks at “COP-6bis” in July 2001.
January-May 2001 The IPCC releases its Third Assessment Report, concluding that global temperature and
precipitation continue to increase, and effects can be observed in decreasing snow and ice
extent, melting glaciers, altered seasonality, and other indicators of climate. The observed
CO2 concentration has not been exceeded during the past 420,000 years and likely not
during the past 20 million years. Most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is
likely due to the increased GHG concentrations, most of which results from fossil fuel use.
Without concerted actions to abate GHG emissions, atmospheric CO2 concentrations
could rise to 540 to 970 ppm by 2100—90 to 250% above the 280 ppm level in the year oo
1750. Associated global average temperature could rise over 1990 by 1.4 to 5.8°C (3.2F
to 14.4oF) by 2100; some regions would change more than others.
March 2001 President George W. Bush announces United States’ opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, and
becomes an Observer (not a Party) to deliberations concerning the Protocol.
July 2001 At COP-6bis, the United States participates for the first time as an observer, not a party to
the Kyoto Protocol discussions. Decisions are made on use of the flexibility mechanisms
(emissions trading, joint implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism), carbon
sinks, emission penalties for non-compliance, and to establish three new financial
mechanisms: the Special Climate Change Fund, the Least Developed Country Fund, and the
December 2001 COP-7 adopts the Marrakesh Accords, establishing most rules and guidelines for the Kyoto
Protocol to operate, especially for the three flexibility mechanisms: the Clean Development
Mechanism, Joint Implementation, and Allowance Trading. To support adaptation in
developing countries, agreements include: (1) replenishment of GEF to address needs of
developing countries due to adverse effects of climate change or of response measures; (2)
establishment of Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) to support adaptation and
technology transfer; (3) establishment of a Least Developed Country Fund (LDC Fund),
with guidance on its operation; and (4) establishment of an Adaptation Fund under the
Kyoto Protocol. The Parties also establish an LDC work program and the LDC Expert
Group (LEG), funding for National Adaptation Programs of Action and additional
implementation support. The United States participates for the first time as an Observer in
deliberations related to the Kyoto Protocol.
November 2002 COP-8 issues a modest Delhi Declaration on Climate Change and Sustainable Development.
Summer 2003 Exceptional heat and air pollution in Western Europe are associated with more than 70,000
excess deaths. Scientific research indicated that global warming had at least doubled the
chance of occurrence of the extreme heatwave.
30 October 2003 The first U.S. Senate vote on legislation to control GHG through a cap-and-emissions
trading system, the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, fails (43-55), but gains
more support than had been expected.
December 2003 COP-9 reaches several breakthrough decisions on credits for carbon absorption by forest
sinks, as well as the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) and the Least Developed
Countries Fund (LDC Fund).
November 2004 The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment concludes “Climate change, together with other
stressors ... presents a range of challenges for human health, culture and well-being of
Arctic residents ... as well as risks to Arctic species and ecosystems.” Indigenous peoples
link climate change impacts to human rights.
December 2004 COP-10 increases focus on adaptation and approves the Buenos Aires Programme of Work
on Adaptation and Response Measures. Brazil and China submit their first National
Communications to the UNFCCC.
1 January 2005 The European Union’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) begins, permitting GHG allowance
trading among 12 thousand companies.
16 February 2005 The Kyoto Protocol enters into force after Russia’s ratification meets the requirement for
ratification by Parties representing at least a 55% super-majority of CO2 emissions (the
requirement for at least 55 Parties to the UNFCCC having already been met).
2005 China announces ambitious energy efficiency and renewable energy policies.
25 June 2005 The U.S. Senate passes a Sense of the Senate Resolution (Amendment to H.R. 6) calling on
Congress to enact “comprehensive and effective ... mandatory, market-based limits” to
slow, stop, and reverse the growth of GHG emissions, at a rate and in a manner that would
not “significantly harm” the U.S. economy.
27 July 2005 The United States announces the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and
Climate (APP), to cooperate on reducing the GHG intensity of their economies through
voluntary technology exchanges. The APP includes the United States, Australia, Canada,
China, India, Japan, and South Korea, and includes participation by the private sector.
November-December In Montreal, Canada, the first “Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the
2005 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol” (CMP) meets. After the U.S. delegation walks out of the
meeting, the COP agrees to two parallel tracks to consider actions in the post-2012 period,
the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto
Protocol (AWG-KP), and another dialogue to be established under the UNFCCC.
6 June 2006 After a week of debate, the U.S. Senate rejects (38-60) the McCain-Lieberman proposal to
establish a system of tradable allowances to reduce GHG emissions in the United States.
November 2006 In Nairobi, Kenya, COP-12 and CMP-2 reach agreements concerning the Adaptation Fund,
the Nairobi Work Programme on Adaptation, and the Nairobi Framework on Capacity
Building for the CDM.
10 January 2007 Commission of the European Union states a new policy of limiting global warming to 2o
Celsius to reduce its GHG emissions unilaterally by 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, and to
30% below if other countries join in.
February-May 2007 The IPCC releases its Fourth Assessment Report, concluding that “warming of the climate
system is unequivocal” and that “[m]ost of the observed increase in globally averaged
temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in
anthropogenic GHG concentrations.” By 2005, the global atmospheric concentration of
CO2 is 379 ppm, up 25 ppm since 1990, and up more than 35% over the pre-industrial level;
the primary source of that increase is fossil fuel use and the second is land use change.
While the United States adds about 18% of global GHG emissions, the emissions from
China may have become the highest of any country.
April 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decides in Massachusetts v. EPA that GHG are air pollutants and that
EPA must exercise the authority granted to it by the Clean Air Act to consider regulating
May 2007 U.S. President Bush initiates the Major Economies Meetings (MEM) to negotiate a new post-
2012 framework among a small group of countries, to develop a long-term global goal and
“to complement ongoing UN activity.”
July 2007 The G8 Leaders in Heilingendamm, Germany, declare they “will consider seriously the
decisions made by the European Union, Canada and Japan which include at least a halving of
global emissions by 2050,” identify alternative forms of actions by emerging economies, and
agree that the MEM process should support the UNFCCC.
31 August 2007 In Vienna, Parties to the Kyoto Protocol agree to consider a range of GHG reduction
targets of 25% to 40% below 1990 levels for industrialized countries by 2020, though this
range is resisted by Canada, Japan and Russia.
23 September 2007 At the first Major Economies Meeting (MEM), hosted by the United States, U.S. President
George Bush pledges $2 billion over three years for a Clean Technology Fund (CTF) under
the World Bank, expecting to raise $10 billion among donors to support concessional
financing for energy projects in developing countries. Some environmental groups oppose
inclusion of coal electricity in permitted project types.
24 September 2007 At the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
holds informal high-level discussions on a post-2012 agreement.
December 2007 COP-13 agrees to the “Bali Action Plan” – establishes the Ad Hoc Working Group on
Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) with a mandate for Parties to the UNFCCC
to negotiate toward new GHG mitigation actions and commitments in the post-2012
period and to reach agreement by the end of 2009 (at COP-14 meeting in Copenhagen,
Denmark). The Bali Action Plan calls for “a shared vision for long-term cooperative action”
and identifies 4 main elements: mitigation, adaptation, technology, and finance. Additional
decisions place management of the Adaptation Fund under the World Bank, and initiate
demonstrations and commitments to reduce deforestation.
March-April 2008 In Bangkok, Thailand, the AWG-LCA and AWG-KP plan their work programs for 2008.
The AWG-KP4 concludes that the Kyoto Protocol flexibility mechanisms should continue
beyond 2012 and “be supplemental to domestic actions in Annex 1.”
15 May 2008 The U.S. Senate votes (55-40) that no new mandates on GHG should be enacted without
effectively addressing imports from China, India and other nations without similar programs.
March-June 2008 In Bonn, AWG-LCA-2 holds workshops on adaptation, finance and technology, and begins
to discuss the “shared vision,” and AWG-KP-5 considers the flexibility mechanisms; land
use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF); greenhouse gases, sectors and source
categories; and approaches to sectoral GHG targets.
August 2008 In Accra, Ghana, exchange of views under the AWG-LCA continues on alternative
approaches to “shared vision,” mitigation, adaptation, technology and finance. Any question
of differentiation among non-Annex I Parties continues to be contentious, with China and
the G-77 maintaining solidarity. Some developing countries argue that the AWG-LCA and
AWG-AP are not mandated to consider amendments to the UNFCCC or Kyoto Protocol,
only implementation of them. Some delegations support worldwide sectoral approaches,
which some developing countries argue would be inappropriate for them. Developing
countries frequently call for new mechanisms for each issue, and oppose “conditionality” on
financial and technology transfers (such as protection of intellectual property rights). The
AWG-KP agree on a comprehensive “basket approach” to including multiple GHG in the
second commitment period, and notes new groups of gases and new gases (e.g.,NF3)
identified by the IPCC AR4. It notes that the Montreal Protocol phases out production of
CFC and HCFC, but not their emissions. Analysis will proceed on various “spillover” effects
of mitigation actions.
September 2008 Government of Japan proposes that all Parties adopt a “shared vision” of achieving at least
50% reduction of global GHG emissions by 2050. Global GHG emissions should peak in the
next 10 to 20 years. It proposes criteria for entering additional countries into Annex I (i.e.,
to become countries with commitments), to create comparability of efforts for GHG
targets among Annex I Parties, according to sectoral emissions, efficiencies, and reduction
costs, and for new GHG commitments among three groups of developing countries.
December 2008 In Poznan, Poland, a high-level segment of COP-14 witnesses political statements on a
“shared vision for long-term cooperative action,” and agrees to intensify negotiations.
Parties agree that a full negotiating text should be available by June 2009. Parties also
resolve issues regarding the Adaptation Fund, though developing countries did not achieve
commitments for additional adaptation monies.
The Government of Mexico, among the first non-Annex I Parties to offer a GHG reduction
commitment, announces a goal to halve GHG emissions from 2002 levels by 2050. Brazil
pledges to cut deforestation by at least 50% by 2017.
29 March-8 April 2009 In Bonn, AWG-LCA-5 and AWG-KP-7.
1-12 June 2009 In Bonn, 30th sessions of the UNFCCC subsidiary bodies – SBSTA-30 and SBI-30; AWG-
LCA-6 and AWG-KP-8. Deliberation will begin on a first negotiating text for a post-2012
December 2009 Agreement anticipated, in accordance with the schedule set by the Bali Action Plan, for
Jane A. Leggett
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy