Over the past several decades, rising concentrations of greenhouse gases have been detected in the Earth’s atmosphere. It has been hypothesized that the continued accumulation of greenhouse gases could lead to an increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s surface and cause a variety of changes in the global climate, sea level, agricultural patterns, and ecosystems that could be, on net, detrimental.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme in 1988 to assess the available scientific, technical, and socio-economic information in the field of climate change. The most recent report of the IPCC concluded that: “Our ability to quantify the human influence on global climate is currently limited because the expected signal is still emerging from the noise of natural variability, and because there are uncertainties in key factors. These include the magnitudes and patterns of long-term variability and the time-evolving pattern of forcing by, and response to, changes in concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols, and land surface changes. Nevertheless, the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernable human influence on global climate.
The text of the Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted at the United Nations on May 9, 1992, and opened for signature at Rio de Janeiro on June 4. The objective of the Framework Convention was to “….achieve …. stabilization of the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” The signatories agreed to formulate programs to mitigate climate change, and the developed country signatories agreed toadopt national policies to return anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases to their 1990 levels.
The first and second annual Conference of the Parties (COP) meetings in 1995 and 1996 agreed to address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions for the period beyond 2000, and to negotiate quantified emission limitations and reductions for the third Conference of the Parties. On December 1 through 11, 1997, representatives from more than 160 countries met in Kyoto, Japan, to negotiate binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions for industrialised nations. The resulting Kyoto Protocol established emissions targets for each of the participating developed countries—the Annex I countries—relative to their 1990 emissions levels. The targets range from an 8-percent reduction for the European Union (or its individual member states) to a 10-percent increase allowed for Iceland. The target for the United States is 7 percent below 1990 levels.