Why Climate Change is on the Agenda Now

This December, the world's nations will convene in Kyoto, Japan to try to conclude an international agreement on greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

The Kyoto meeting -- formally the Third Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) -- is the latest stage in a process started in Rio in 1992 with the signing of the FCCC. The Convention's ultimate goal is to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at a level that prevents dangerous human interference with the climate system.

The first step in the process, also agreed in Rio, was for developed nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2000 and for all countries to take policies and measures to address climate change. Every developed nation, other than Germany and the United Kingdom, will fall short of the 2000 goal. (Germany and the UK will probably meet the goal but for reasons having nothing to do with climate change -- i.e. absorbing East German emissions and phasing out coal subsidies.)

In 1995, at the First Conference of the Parties, nations commenced the round of negotiations we hope to complete in Kyoto later this year, the goal of which is to develop a new agreement to cover the post-2000 period.

Over the last two years, nations have met at several formal negotiating sessions to begin to structure an agreement. Some countries, most notably the European Union, have proposed specific targets and timetables for emissions reductions. The U.S. has put forward a broad framework, outlining what we feel are the key components of a new agreement. We have not yet proposed a target and timetable.

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