International responses to threats to sustainability
Government responses to threats to sustainability are limited by the global nature of the problems and the lack of ownership of common access resources. Therefore, effective responses require international cooperation.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC)
The UNFCCC is an international environmental treaty resulting from the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the 'Earth Summit'), held in Rio de Janeiro. The objective of the treaty was to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, although it was considered legally non-binding as it set no mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries. However, the treaty provided for future 'protocols' or updates that would set these enforceable limits.
The 1997 Kyoto Protocol
The Kyoto Protocol established legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Industrialised countries agreed to reduce their combined emissions to 5.2% below 1990 levels during the five-year period 2008-2012. The protocol came into force in 2005.
Parties to the UNFCCC are classified as:
- Annex I countries: industrialised countries and economies in transition
- Annex II countries: developed countries which pay for the costs of developing countries
- Non-Annex I countries: developing countries
Under the Kyoto Protocol, Annex I countries must limit their emissions, while non-Annex I countries have a variety of non-binding commitments.
However, it is commonly agreed that developed countries cannot reduce carbon emission enough to stabilise GHG concentrations to a level where the risk of global temperature exceeding 2 degrees centigrade is minimised, without the participation of developing countries, especially China and India. Developing countries may volunteer to become Annex I countries when they are sufficiently developed.
A 2010 World Bank report says a climate smart world is achievable for developing countries, but only with financial and technical support from the developed world. The World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change also says high income countries must lead global action on climate change by reducing their own heavy carbon footprints.