Climate Change Series: Abstract achievements

The Second Conference of Parties (COP2) in Geneva, 1996, aimed to reduce emissions and set up Ad Hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate alongside establishing national communications but lacked concrete achievements in terms of specific emission reduction targets

Climate Change Series: Abstract achievements

The second COP was held in Geneva from July 8-19, 1996. Participants included governments, NGOs and observers from multilateral institutions. The Opening Plenary on July 8 saw the German Minister Angela Merkel take stock of the Berlin Mandate. She pointed out that the main issues of commitments on emissions reduction and financial commitments were still not agreed upon. The IPCC Second Assessment Report was also placed before COP2 for discussions. After the opening plenary, the Subsidiary Groups formed in COP1, namely Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and Ad Hoc Group on Article 13 (or AG-13) began their respective meetings.

Main discussions and decisions

After Angela Merkel inaugurated the Opening Plenary, she proposed the name of the Zimbabwe Environment Minister as the President. Before that, she referred to the Second Assessment Report (SAR) of the IPCC, and noted that the 15 countries accounting for 55 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions in early 1990s would continue to emit, and their emissions would rise after 2000.

While the SAR was not tabled officially in the Plenary, its findings continued to be referred to in the Opening Plenary. For example, the Russian Federation suggested that the SAR should be the reference point in making commitments and in fulfilling the Berlin Mandate, rather than the Subsidiary Bodies taking a decision on this. For this, it suggested that the Opening Plenary be extended. Similarly, Saudi Arabia suggested that the findings of SAR should not be read selectively.

The other deliberations in the Opening Plenary and other plenaries were mostly on the elections of office bearers, representation of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and voting procedures. A lot of time was also devoted to the election of the Bureau, which was a representative body of all the members and was supposed to guide the negotiations.

Some of the major decisions taken in COP2 were:

v Berlin Mandate implementation: An Ad Hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate (AGBM) was established, whose role was to get industrialised countries to make commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond the year 2000 through a legal instrument;

v National communications: A system was put in place which would enable members to submit details on their greenhouse gas emissions, various policies, vulnerability assessments and adaptation measures;

v Technology transfer: COP2 took initial steps and prepared the groundwork for technology transfer to developing countries, which would be an important element in the climate change battle.

The Annex-I countries or the developed countries, who were historically responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions and had to mandatorily take commitments to cut emissions and financial commitments, took very different positions in the Plenary. While the European Union was more ambitious and advocated large emission cuts, the US and Japan were cautious. While the US wanted flexibility and voluntary commitments, Japan emphasised the importance of technology transfer and financial assistance to developing or Annex-II countries. Developing countries, represented by G77, underlined the importance of common but differentiated responsibilities and technological & financial support. The SIDS such as Tuvalu and other Central Pacific states and Maldives highlighted their vulnerabilities resulting from rising sea levels because of global warming and emphasised adaptation measures. Many NGOs and civil society groups were unambiguous in their stand on emissions reductions and the need for developed countries to make ambitious commitments.

Meetings of subsidiary bodies

The subsidiary bodies also met for deliberations during COP2. In the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), various ways to measure greenhouse gases and their inventories were discussed. The SAR report was also taken up for discussion, which saw widely varying stands. While most developed countries and some developing countries endorsed the SAR findings, most oil-producing countries of the Middle East and Russia were skeptical and stated that it was too premature to make recommendations based on SAR findings.

The discussions in the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) were less contentious. There were discussions on national communications on greenhouse gas emissions submitted by various countries, ways to support developing countries including through the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and capacity building initiatives to better implement UNFCCC decisions.

The Ad Hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate (AGBM) met to review the performance of Annex-I countries on emissions reductions and noted with concern that many countries were far behind on their commitments. Roundtables were also held on topics such as flexibilities in taking commitments and the criteria for selecting policies and measures, their economic costs and political feasibility. Issues such as renewable energy, product standards, Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), international air and marine transport and various economic/fiscal instruments such as reducing subsidies to polluting fuels such as coal, were also taken up.

Another important roundtable discussed the possible impact of commitments, both positive and negative, by Annex-I countries on developing countries, such as loss of export revenue (for oil producers), increased barriers to trade, benefits from technical innovation and transfer of technology and so on.

A roundtable on Quantified Emission Limitation and Reduction Objectives (QELROs) discussed the difficulties in achieving the desired levels of emissions reduction, and asserted that best efforts of Annex-I countries may not result in stabilisation of global emissions. What would be the penalty on not meeting emissions targets and whether these would be legally binding?

The Ad Hoc Group on Article 13 (AG-13) also met to discuss the establishment of a multilateral consultative process to resolve the issues of implementation. Representatives of ILO, WTO, Basel Convention and Montreal Protocol gave presentations on such a process in their organisation. A final decision was however pushed to the next COP.


COP2 did have a declaration which outlined the general intent on reducing emissions. The ABGM was also established, a system for national communications was put in place and the process of technical transfer was initiated. But, COP2 did not really have many concrete achievements in terms of specific emission reduction targets. Further, the discussions centered mostly around mitigation measures, with little attention to adaptation measures. Finally, the issue of common but differentiated responsibilities was left unresolved and this issue alone would continue to haunt the coming negotiations. The work was cut out for the next COP in Kyoto in 1997.

The writer is Additional Chief Secretary, Department of Mass Education Extension and Library Services and Department of Cooperation, Government of West Bengal

Next Story
Share it