CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Global Climate Change Treaty:
Negotiations and Related Issues
Updated November 21, 1997
Susan R. Fletcher
Senior Analyst in International Environmental Policy
Environment and Natural Resources Policy Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Global Climate Change Treaty:
Negotiations and Related Issues
The United States and other parties to the 1992 Climate Change Convention
signed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro will meet December 1-12 in Kyoto,
Japan, to conclude year-long negotiations on a legally binding protocol or amendment
to reduce or stabilize emissions of greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. proposal to
reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases to 1990 levels
between 2008-2012 is less ambitious than environmentalists and many other treaty
Parties urge, but represents a commitment that others, including many in business,
fear could damage the economy. A key aspect of the negotiations also is what should
be expected of developing nations, whose current emissions of greenhouse gases are
relatively small, but are expected to increase rapidly over the next decade with
economic development. A sense of the Senate resolution calls for all countries to
meet scheduled reductions, and would agree to U.S. participation only if harm to the
domestic economy is avoided. If agreement is reached in Kyoto, Senate approval
would be required for U.S. ratification, and legislation to implement commitments
would also likely be necessary.
Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Negotiations Leading to the Kyoto Conference of the Parties . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Current Negotiations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
U.S. Proposals and Positions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
U.S. negotiating position announced . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Other Nations' Positions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
European Union . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Japan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Developing Countries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Impacts of Emissions Reductions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Atmospheric concentrations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Impacts of proposals on emission reductions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Issues for Congress . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Oversight . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ratification . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Implementing legislation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
For Additional Reading . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Global Climate Change Treaty:
Negotiations and Related Issues
There is broad scientific consensus that greenhouse gases--primarily carbon
dioxide (CO2) emitted in the burning of wood and hydrocarbons such as oil, coal, and
gas, but also including a number of other gases such as methane--are increasing in the
atmosphere due to human activities, and that the temperature of the Earth has warmed
by about 0.9 degrees F over the past 110 years. Emissions have a cumulative effect,
as most greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for long periods--hundreds of
years in the case of carbon dioxide, and thousands of years for some. What is still a
matter of contention is the accuracy of models that predict future consequences such
as the timing, rate, and magnitude of prospective climate changes, and where and how
these impacts might be felt. This uncertainty about future changes has generated a
continuing debate over what is appropriate in terms of policy measures to reduce or
limit greenhouse gases. (See CRS Issue Brief 89005, Global Climate Change, for
more detailed discussion of scientific and other aspects of this issue).
Negotiations began in 1989 under United Nations auspices to formulate an
international treaty on global climate change and resulted in the 1992 Framework
Convention on Climate Change (FCCC). The Climate Change Convention was
opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. In this treaty,
which the United States was one of the first to ratify, nations acknowledged that
human activity may be changing the world's climate systems and pledged that
industrialized countries would aim to stabilize emissions of human-generated
"greenhouse gases" at 1990 levels by the year 2000. However, no legally binding
targets or timetables for such reductions were agreed upon, and actions to control
emissions were sought primarily from countries listed in an Annex ("Annex I
countries") that included only the more advanced industrialized (developed) countries,
and the former communist countries now referred to as "economies/countries in
Most developed nations agreed to the non-binding goal of scaling back their
emissions to 1990 amounts by the year 2000, but it now appears that most nations
will fail to meet this goal. U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases are about 13% above
1990 levels, and at current rates would grow to some 30% above 1990 levels by
2010. The FCCC does not deal with the post-2000 time frame, which is the focus of
Since 1992, the Convention has entered into force and two meetings of the
Parties have been held, resulting in the negotiations currently underway on a legally
binding protocol on specific provisions to reduce, limit and/or stabilize greenhouse
gas emissions in the post-2000 period. These negotiations are expected to conclude
in a December 1997 Conference of the Parties (COP-3) in Kyoto, Japan. However,
given the continuing differences among the Parties, and the failure to resolve major
issues to date, some believe that agreement will be difficult to achieve by December
of this year.
Negotiations Leading to the Kyoto Conference of the Parties
Major points of contention in current negotiations include significant differences
among the industrialized/developed countries and between developed and developing
countries over the extent of specific reductions, how flexible the means to reach these
reductions should be, and other elements. Another contentious issue is what should
be expected of developing countries, which are exempted under the terms of current
negotiations from assuming "new commitments." Developing countries argue they
are emitting far fewer greenhouse gases, both in absolute and per capita terms, than
developed nations, and that increasing their use of energy is critical to their economic
development. Further, they argue that the developed countries have caused the
problem by emitting most of the greenhouse gases to date (although it is expected that
within the next two decades, greenhouse gases from major developing countries will
exceed those of the current "developed" countries).
In 1995, at the First Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-1) in Berlin,
Germany, the "Berlin mandate" was agreed upon to begin analysis and assessment of
the need for a binding protocol on emissions limits. The 1996 COP-2 meeting
resulted in a ministerial agreement that called for accelerated negotiations on a
protocol or other legal instrument that would result in limiting greenhouse gases.
Negotiators have met eight times as the "Ad hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate"
(AGBM) to try to find agreement on elements of a protocol which they aim to bring
to the third meeting of the parties (COP-3) for agreement and signature. (For detailed
discussion and a copy of the Berlin Mandate, see CRS Report 96-699 SPR, Climate
Change: The U.N. Framework Convention's Second Conference of Parties and the
Few major issues were resolved at the seventh meeting of the negotiators in
Bonn, Germany, July 27-August 8, 1997 (AGBM-7). Four working groups were
established to work on: (1) targets and timetables, (2) policies and measures needed
to achieve goals that may be agreed upon, (3) developing country commitments, and
(4) institutional and legal frameworks to concentrate on major concerns yet to be
The October 17-31 negotiating session (AGBM-8) considered a consolidated
negotiating text, and had three major proposals that vary significantly before it--from
one the European Union, one from Japan, and an October 23 proposal announced by
the United States. However, the most difficult issues eluded a resolution at the Bonn
meeting. Few major decisions seem likely to be concluded prior to the Kyoto
meeting, although numerous informal meetings are continuing discussions between
the AGBM-8 meeting and the December 1-10 COP-3 meeting. It now appears to
some observers and participants that the prospect of reaching a final agreement by
December 1997 in Kyoto at the third meeting of the parties will be difficult, at best.
Others feel that a compromise might be reached that involves some initial
commitments on emissions by developed countries, with commitments from
developing countries to commence further negotiations on binding emission limits for
Additional meetings scheduled in the weeks leading up to the Kyoto meeting,
include a ministerial level meeting in Japan. High level efforts are being made to find
accommodation and resolution of the various proposals on the table. The AGBM,
instead of being disbanded at the end of the Bonn meeting, will have final sessions on
November 30 and the morning of December 1, to attempt to resolve some of the
outstanding issues--and to incorporate any areas of agreement that have been reached
in the intersessional meetings around the world in the weeks preceding the meeting.
U.S. Proposals and Positions
In 1996, the United States reversed its position against emissions reduction
targets and called for legally binding, quantitative emissions limitation and reduction
objectives for the period beyond year 2000. At the 1997 "Earth Summit Plus Five"
Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly, held in June to assess
progress since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit,1 the United States faced strong criticism
for failing to take leadership in setting specific targets and timetables for limiting
greenhouse gas emissions. President Clinton addressed this meeting, but declined to
declare a specific numerical emissions reduction target for greenhouse gas emissions
on behalf of the United States. Instead, he pledged: (1) to hold a White House
Conference on climate change (later scheduled for October 6) to bring together the
various contending interests, including industry, scientists, economists, environmental
groups, etc., to discuss needed policies; (2) to make $1 billion available over the next
5 years in foreign assistance targeted to climate change prevention; and (3) to
encourage installation of one million solar roofs--to heat and cool buildings without
greenhouse gas emissions--over the next 5 years. Other actions would include an
environmental technology initiative to bring developing countries on board, and
requirements for best environmental practices as criteria for international lending.
Interests in the United States are pushing in two directions. Some industry
spokespersons urge the United States not to make commitments that would too
quickly limit use of fossil energy and other greenhouse gas sources, which they argue
would create problems for them and for the economy. On the other hand,
environmental groups are concerned that the United States will be reluctant to take
leadership in making specific commitments to limit greenhouse gases, thereby delaying
what they regard as important, and even overdue, action both domestically and
internationally to stave off consequences of climate change.
Assembly Special Session on Environment and Development.
A major influence on the process in the United States and at the international
level has been views and actions of the U.S. Congress. Some Members of Congress
have warned U.S. negotiators that consent would be difficult to achieve for any new
protocol or other legal instrument that proposes new commitments for the post-2000
period, if those commitments were not uniform and binding for all parties, whether
they are industrialized countries, in transition (former communist countries), or
developing countries. S.Res. 98, introduced by Senators Byrd and Hagel, along with
64 co-sponsors, passed the Senate by a vote of 95-0 on July 25, 1997. The resolution
expressed the sense of the Senate that the United States not be a signatory to any
agreement in Kyoto in December 1997, "unless the protocol or other agreement also
mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas
emissions for Developing Country Parties within the same compliance period," or if
it would "result in serious harm to the economy of the United States."
The United States and some other countries have stood firmly against the
imposition of "common and coordinated measures," expressing the position that
climate protection goals should be differentiated from country to country according
to their situations and based upon what makes the best economic sense for them,
Following the October 6 White House Conference on Climate Change,
Administration officials engaged in intensive and reportedly difficult interagency
debates, delaying announcement of an official U.S. position on targets and timetables
until after the beginning of the October AGBM negotiations in Bonn.
U.S. negotiating position announced. On October 22, President Clinton
announced the long-awaited United States position on global climate change in a
speech at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. The U.S. position
proposed legally binding targets for developed countries that renew their commitment
to reduce emissions of six major greenhouse gases to 1990 levels, this time by 20082012, together with measures to be taken in the United States to encourage actions
before the mandatory date, and commitments by developing countries to participate
in a meaningful way in greenhouse gas limitations. The major elements of the U.S.
Binding targets for greenhouse gases to reach 1990 emission levels by
between 2008 and 2012, with unspecified reductions below 1990 levels in
the following 5-year period. The United States argues that this is a
reduction of 23% to 30% below what emissions would otherwise be.
A $5 billion package of tax cuts and spending on research and development
over 5 years to encourage energy efficiency and development of new lower
Early credit for industries that adopt near-term actions to cut emissions,
based on industry-by-industry consultations to encourage preparation of
plans over the next 9 months on reduction of emissions.
Domestic and international emissions trading systems to be implemented
after a decade of experience has accumulated in developing new
technologies, creating early credit, focusing federal procurement on energy
efficient and lower emission technologies, electric utility restructuring, and
Participation of developing countries, with specific commitments to be
developed; the United States will spearhead joint implementation projects,
in which firms in one country receive credit for emissions reductions in
other countries where investments might achieve greater reductions than
in the home country.
The United States supported its proposal with fact sheets on a variety of
approaches, such as international emissions trading and joint implementation, federal
procurement, electricity restructuring and other issues. In addition, these materials
underlined the importance of the participation of developing countries, requiring
"every nation" to take "meaningful actions to limit emissions." Above all, the U.S.
materials emphasize that the U.S. proposal is "realistic, flexible and achievable." The
Administration further contends that domestic implementation could be achieved
through tax incentives, joint implementation for credit and other measures that would
avoid the need for taxes or onerous regulations (For discussion of joint
implementation and market based mechanisms for reducing greenhouse gases, see
CRS Issue Brief 97057, Global Climate Change: Market-Based Strategies to Reduce
The U.S. proposal was criticized by some nations and environmental groups as
at best a weak compromise that would not require immediate action to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions. Others accepted the proposal as realistic, going as far as
was politically possible. Still others felt the proposal failed to make explicit
commitments by developing countries and would not be acceptable in light of S.Res.
98. Some commentators have noted that when positions are announced by the head
of state, a country then has less leeway for adjusting its position.
In the period since the June 1997 "Earth Summit Plus Five" meeting of the U.N.
General Assembly, President Clinton has reportedly been deeply involved in decision
making and has engaged widely in discussions with other heads of state about climate
change and the negotiations leading up to the Kyoto meeting. This has already had
some effect in elevating the issue politically in many countries and focusing high-level
attention on these negotiations.
Other Nations' Positions
In addition to the U.S. position, there are two competing proposals that are
receiving the most attention--from the European Union and from Japan, both
proposing emissions reductions below 1990 levels by various dates.
European Union. The European Union made an early proposal during the
summer, urging that developed countries make a commitment to reduce three major
greenhouse gas emissions 15% below 1990 levels by the year 2010, with an interim
target of 7.5% by the year 2005. They propose using a "bubble" approach that would
group all the European nations together and call for emissions reductions that would
be cumulative across all countries in the European Union. The Europeans strongly
urged the United States to adopt this position at the June 1997 Earth Summit Plus
Five meeting. The United States was accused at that meeting of failing to take
leadership on the climate change issue because it did not articulate specific numerical
targets and timetables for greenhouse gas emission reductions.
However, some observers note that European emissions--taken as a whole--have
already dropped significantly since 1990, with the addition of East Germany and
Eastern European nations, where highly polluting plants have been closed or
retrofitted. These observers note that this makes adoption of this position easier for
Europe than for other regions. In addition, use of the bubble approach means that
several countries in the European Union would be allowed actual increases, some
sizable, in greenhouse gas emissions, and the EU as a whole would still meet the
targets. Another difference between the United States and European nations is that
the European position does not favor including specific additional requirements for
developing countries in the protocol under negotiation.
Japan. On October 6, the government of Japan announced its proposal, for a
5% reduction below 1990 levels for three greenhouse gases--carbon dioxide, methane,
and nitrous oxide--over a "budget" period from 2008 to 2012. The proposal also calls
for flexibility for measures that best suit a country's needs to be used. Targets for
individual countries would be differentiated using several factors: emissions per gross
domestic product (GDP), emissions per capita, and population.
The Japanese proposal also called for banking, borrowing, emissions trading, and
joint implementation, and stated that emissions for the second budget period should
not exceed those for the first budget period. According to various estimates, using
the differentiation method and the factors in Japan's proposal for computing actual
reductions, Japan's actual target would end up being between 2.5% and 1.5% below
its 1990 levels of emissions.
Japan takes very seriously its responsibility as host of the Kyoto COP-3 and thus
as president-designate of the meeting. Its proposal was intended to be realistic, and
does not call for any requirements for developing countries in the agreement
considered at Kyoto, although it would encourage voluntary commitments from more
advanced developing countries. However, significant dissatisfaction was expressed
by other parties in the ruling coalition in the Japanese parliament, who said they were
not consulted before this proposal was announced; they called for more stringent
requirements to deal with "the perilous state of the global environment." Some press
reports in Japan stated that the Japanese Prime Minister subsequently indicated there
might be some room for changes in its proposal.
Developing Countries. Most developing countries continue to resist
making commitments to emissions reductions in this round of negotiations. There
have been exceptions, notably a formal statement issued by President Menem of
Argentina during President Clinton's visit to that country, in which the joint
Presidential Declaration of Bariloche was issued. In this declaration, the two
countries agreed that given the global nature of the problem of climate change,
"...Developed countries must meet their obligations, and developing countries must
participate meaningfully in this global regime, including by addressing emission limits
for developing countries."
However, for the most part, the "G77 and China," as the bloc of developing
countries is called, continue to argue that it is the responsibility of
developed/industrialized nations--who have produced most of the current load of
additional greenhouse gases during their development--to take the first meaningful
steps and lead the way on greenhouse gas emissions, and that developing countries
must also receive economic assistance in the course of making changes to mitigate
and adjust to climate change.
The G77 and China made a formal proposal at the Bonn meeting that developed
countries should stabilize their emissions of greenhouse gases at 1990 levels by 2000,
then reduce them by 15 percent by 2010, with further reductions of 20 percent by
2020--a total of 35 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 below 1990 levels.
Impacts of Emissions Reductions
If binding emissions limits or reductions of greenhouse gases are agreed upon in
Kyoto, there are varying estimates on what the impacts would be--on atmospheric
concentrations of these gases, on how much actual reduction each proposal would
actually achieve, and on the likely amount of climate change or warming that might
Atmospheric concentrations. Attention has focused on when a doubling of
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would occur, with the consequent possibility of
a rise in the Earth's surface temperature of 3 to 8 degrees fahrenheit, causing
increased sea level rise and disruption of current climate and hydrological cycles. (It
is estimated that the world has warmed some 5 to 9 degrees over the past 18,000 to
22,000 thousand years since the last ice age.) Atmospheric concentrations of carbon
dioxide have risen over the past 100 to 200 years from approximately 280 parts per
million in the pre-industrial period to 360 parts per million today--an increase of just
It now seems likely that even with implementation of the somewhat modest
reductions in greenhouse gases that might be achieved by proposals taken up at
Kyoto, the atmospheric concentration of these gases is likely to double within the next
century--to 550 parts per million.2 A key question is how much beyond a doubling
might these concentrations go, and if significant climate disruption is caused by a
doubling, how severe the eventual consequences might be of even greater increases.
Some argue that strong steps now could keep atmospheric levels below 550, but
others do not agree.
Impacts of proposals on emission reductions. Although the three major
proposals on the table for Kyoto--from the European Union, the United States and
Japan--appear very different, some analysis of how they would work in practice
indicate they may be closer together than they appear at first. A recent Environmental
Protection Agency analysis, not yet published, disaggregated the elements of each
See discussion in “Experts Doubt a Greenhouse Gas Can Be Curbed,” New York
times, November 3, 1997, p. 1.
proposal, and concluded that in terms of all greenhouse gases, the actual percentage
change from 1990 levels would be as follows:
The U.S. proposal would be 0% change--stabilization at 1990 levels;
The European proposal would result in 5.2% reduction below 1990 levels;
The Japanese proposals would result in increases above 1990 levels of
5.4% to 7.9%.
The differences are because the U.S. proposal, EPA argues, includes all major
gases, and accounts for removal by greenhouse gas "sinks"--through which gases are
removed from the atmosphere. By contrast, the EU proposal and the Japanese
proposals, although described as a 15% reduction or 5% reduction respectively, make
commitments to reduce only three of the six major greenhouse gases, and do not
account for sinks.
These elements of differences, and the degree to which the differing parties can
agree on convergence among their treatment of these differences, will undoubtedly
be major factors in the discussions among parties in the period leading up to the
December meeting and in Kyoto.
Issues for Congress
Issues for Congress related to a possible climate change protocol or amendment
fall into three categories: oversight, Senate advice and consent on ratification, and
consideration of implementing legislation.
Oversight. Extensive hearings have been held by several committees in both the
House and the Senate, considering a wide range of issues connected to U.S.
negotiations on binding commitments in a climate change agreement. Major issues
have included assessments of the status of scientific knowledge, oversight of
proposals being negotiated, and economic impacts of U.S. measures to implement an
Discussions of economic impacts of an agreement have been inconclusive, since
the content of an agreement is not yet known; the Administration had agreed to
conduct an interagency review of economic impacts of various possible measures, but
the task is not yet completed, and has proven to be internally contentious. The
Administration has argued that the U.S. proposal, if accepted in negotiations, is
structured in such a way that taxes and onerous regulation can be avoided. Some
commentators have doubts that the 20-30% reductions by 2008-2012 in all six
greenhouse gases proposed by the United States could be achieved domestically
without a tax.
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are planning to send sizable
delegations of Members as observers to the Kyoto meeting in December.
Ratification. If the Kyoto negotiations produce an international protocol or
amendment to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the United States
signs the agreement, Senate approval would be required for U.S. ratification. The
Byrd-Hagel resolution (discussed above) in the Senate put the Administration on
notice that such approval would be lacking if Members did not find requirements
made of developing countries sufficient, or if they regarded the proposal to be
potentially damaging to the U.S. economy. If the agreement in Kyoto involves
follow-on negotiations to bring developing countries sufficiently into the process at
a later date, it is unclear whether the Administration would submit the agreement to
the Senate until after satisfactory agreement has been reached with developing
Implementing legislation. President Clinton's proposal on climate change
includes a number of domestic actions to promote energy efficiency, create tax credits
for industries, and other measures that would lead to reduction of greenhouse gas
emissions. Such measures would require congressional action. Some of these
measures may be proposed in Congress even before U.S. approval of a Kyoto
agreement. Other measures to meet the binding obligations in the U.S. proposal
would not necessarily be required until closer to the 2008-2012 period in which
limitations would have to be achieved.
For Additional Reading
CRS Issue Brief 97027. Energy Efficiency: Key to Sustainable Energy Use, by Fred
CRS Issue Brief 89005. Global Climate Change, by Wayne A. Morrissey and John
CRS Issue Brief 97057. Global Climate Change: Market-Based Strategies to
Reduce Greenhouse Gases, by Larry Parker.
CRS Report 96-699. Climate Change: The U.N. Framework Convention's Second
Conference of Parties and the Ministerial Declaration, by Wayne A. Morrissey.
CRS Info Pack 405G. Global Climate Change.