United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) sets an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change.
The Convention, which entered into force in 1994, enjoys almost universal global membership, with 189 countries having ratified it.
The objective of the Convention is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent mankind interfering dangerously with the climate system, and within a time-frame that would allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.
Under the Convention, governments:
- gather and share information on greenhouse gas emissions, national policies and best practices
- launch national strategies for addressing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to expected impacts, including the provision of financial and technological support to developing countries
- co-operate in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change.
Countries which ratified the Convention agreed to take climate change into account in such matters as agriculture, industry, energy and natural resources. They agreed to develop national programs to slow climate change.
The Convention consciously placed the heaviest burden for fighting climate change on industrialised nations, since these are the source of most of the emissions which are causing climate change. The developed countries, plus 12 “economies in transition”, were expected by the year 2000 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. As a group, they succeeded.
The industrialised nations also agreed to provide financial and technical assistance to developing countries to help them limit growth in their greenhouse gas emissions.
Within a year of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change taking effect, the nations involved realised the need for a regime with stricter demands on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and so began to negotiate what became the Kyoto Protocol.
The Kyoto Protocol seeks to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by developed nations in its first commitment period, 2008-2012, to 5 per cent less than 1990 emissions. It seeks to achieve this by imposing mandatory emissions targets on developed nations that ratify the Protocol. Actual national targets vary, with some required to achieve substantial cuts in emissions and others allowed modest increases over 1990 emissions while also achieving substantial cuts over ‘business-as-usual’ projections.
The Protocol envisages future mandatory targets being established for additional commitment periods after 2012. These are intended be negotiated well in advance of the periods concerned.
The Kyoto Protocol followed the lead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in placing initial primary responsibility on the developed nations, whose economic success has been founded on large emissions of greenhouse gases.
While developed nations accepted mandatory limits on net greenhouse gas emissions by ratifying the Protocol, they are through its provisions allowed some flexibility in how they reduce net emissions. Carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by new forests can be used to offset emissions, developed nations can offset their own emissions by funding projects in developing countries to reduce emissions there, and trading systems have been established so that emissions “credits” can be created, bought and sold.
The Kyoto Protocol took effect on 16 February 2005. The European Economic Community and 168 individual countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Of these, the European Economic Community and an additional 35 countries are considered developed industrial economies and so are required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Of developed industrial nations, only the United States of America has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Australia ratified the Kyoto Protocol on the 3rd of December 2007 and became a full member in March 2008. Australia is currently engaged in international negotiations for a post-2012 agreement.
Had it ratified the Protocol, the United States would have been required by the first commitment period in 2008-2012 to have reduced its emissions by 7 per cent from 1990 levels. United States greenhouse gas emissions increased by 16.3 per cent from 1990 to 2005, the latest year for which information is available. Australia may overrun its Kyoto Protocol first commitment period target by about 1 percentage point, producing an average of about 109 per cent of 1990 emissions in each of the target years rather than the 108 per cent Kyoto target. As a result, there may be penalties set that will take effect in a post-Kyoto arrangement after 2012, possibly a 30% added to the new commitment target. A government report issued on 11 March 2008 has Australia on target to meet its Kyoto commitments. Of those developed nations which have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the extent to which they are on target to meet their Kyoto commitments varies widely. Canada’s emissions in 2004 were 26.6 per cent above 1990 levels and 34.6 per cent above its Kyoto target. In contrast, the 15 member countries which were part of the European Union when it ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 have projected annual emissions in 2008-2012 9.3 per cent below 1990 levels, a greater reduction than their Kyoto target of 8 per cent below 1990 levels. Countries which would otherwise exceed their Kyoto target can buy credits from ratifying countries which are more than meeting their targets.
Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate
The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (AP6) brings together Australia, China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea and the United States of America to address the challenges of climate change, energy security and air pollution in a way that encourages economic development and reduces poverty.
The six partner countries produce about half the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and represent about half of the world's economy, population and energy use. They produce about 65 per cent of the world’s coal, 48 per cent of the world’s steel, 37 per cent of world’s aluminium, and 61 per cent of the world’s cement.
AP6 sets no limits on emissions, but focuses on the development, deployment and transfer of cleaner and more-efficient energy technologies.
At its inaugural meeting in Australia in January 2006, AP6 established eight international and business taskforces: cleaner fossil energy; aluminium; coal mining; steel; cement; buildings and appliances; power generation and transmission; and renewable energy and distributed energy.
Australia’s Federal Government has committed $100 million over five years for AP6, $95 million to support activities within the Partnership, and $5 million to support Australia’s involvement in taskforces. One quarter of the funds have been specifically earmarked for renewable energy.
In November 2006 the Prime Minister of Australia announced the first tranche of in-principle support for AP6 projects, with $60 million identified for 42 projects. The projects to be funded included renewable energies, improving environmental performance of fossil fuels, energy efficiency and best environmental practice in sectors such as coal mining and aluminium production.
Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund (LETDF)
The objective of the Australian Federal Government’s Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund is to demonstrate the commercial potential of new energy technologies or processes or the application of overseas technologies or processes to Australian circumstances to deliver long-term large-scale greenhouse-gas-emission reductions.
The Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund received 30 applications under the first round. As of March 2007, $410 million had been offered in grant funding to six applicants:
- $60 million toward the $841 million cost of Chevron’s Gorgon carbon dioxide injection project off the north-west shelf of Western Australia;
- $50 million toward the $188 million cost of CS Energy’s oxyfiring demonstration and carbon dioxide sequestration project at the Callide A power station at Biloela in central Queensland;
- $75 million toward the $445 million cost of Fairview Power’s Zero Carbon Power project at the Fairview coal bed methane project site at Injune, near Roma, in south-west Queensland, involving construction of a 100 MW power station fuelled by coal seam methane, with one-third of the carbon dioxide emissions captured and geologically stored;
- $100 million toward the $750 million cost of HRL Limited’s clean coal demonstration project in the La Trobe Valley in Victoria, involving development of a 40 MW combined cycle clean power generation plant expected to produce power at 30 per cent lower cost than conventional plants, with 30 per cent less carbon dioxide emissions. The technology is suitable for carbon dioxide capture. The Victorian Government is contributing an additional $50 million to the project;
- $50 million toward the $369 million cost of International Power’s project to dry the brown coal used in one of the boilers at Hazelwood power station in La Trobe Valley, Victoria, significantly reducing the carbon dioxide emitted by the generating unit. The project includes carbon dioxide capture and sequestration facilities. The Victorian Government is contributing an additional $30 million to the project.
- $75 million toward the $420 million cost of Solar Systems Generation’s zero-emissions 154 MW solar concentrator power station in north-western Victoria. The Victorian Government is contributing an additional $50 million to the project.
Australian Greenhouse Office programs
The Federal Government’s Australian Greenhouse Office manages a number of programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These include:
- The Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program, which supports activities that are likely to result in substantial emissions reductions or activities to offset greenhouse emissions, particularly in 2008-2012. The most recent emission projections indicate this program will result in greenhouse gas emissions being 5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent lower in 2010 than they would otherwise be. This program leverages private sector investment in activities or technologies in areas such as co-generation (the use of waste heat or steam from power production or industrial processes for power generation), energy efficiency, travel demand management, alternative fuels, coal mine gas technologies and fuel conversion.
- Greenhouse Challenge Plus, which enables Australian companies to form working partnerships with the Australian Government to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- In 2004, the Government committed $20.5 million over four years to Greenhouse Action in Regional Australia, a program that aims to build the capacity of the agriculture and land management sectors to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Local Greenhouse Action is a $13.8 million program which assists local government, communities and individual households reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
- The Alternative Fuels Conversion Program is designed to assist owners of commercial fleet vehicles weighing over 3.5 tonnes undertaking trials to demonstrate the commercial viability of alternative fuels or hybrid diesel/electric; manufacturers of vehicles designed to operate on alternative fuels or hybrid diesel/electric; and manufacturers of engine modification kits to enable engines to operate on alternative fuels.
States and territories across Australia each have their own greenhouse strategies.
Emissions trading in Australia
The NSW Greenhouse Gas Reduction Scheme commenced on 1 January 2003. One of the first mandatory greenhouse gas emissions trading schemes in the world, it aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production and use of electricity. It achieves this by using project-based activities to offset the production of greenhouse gas emissions. On 1 January 2005 the ACT introduced a scheme mirroring the NSW Greenhouse Gas Reduction Scheme.
The states and territories of Australia established an Inter-jurisdictional Working Group on Emissions Trading in 2004 to develop an agreed model for a trading scheme covering all states and territories.
In December 2006 the Prime Minister announced the formation of a joint government-business Task Group on Emissions Trading. That Task Group reported to the Prime Minister on 31 May 2007.
The Australian Government is now developing a national emissions trading scheme (ETS) that will begin by 2010 at the latest. The ETS should be finalised by the end of 2008. It must be a cap and trade scheme, effectively reduce emissions and be economically responsible with incentives for low emission technologies and renewable energy. It should also allow the costs and benefits to be shared across the community. A Green Paper is being produced in the first stage of the ETS development. It is due for release in July 2008
Role of technology
The size of the abatement task is huge: scenario analysis by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds that if the increase in global average temperatures is to be constrained to 2 to 2.4°C, greenhouse gas emissions will have to peak before 2015, and then be reduced to 50 to 85 per cent below year 2000 levels by 2050.
While reducing emissions so sharply appears a mammoth task, some scientists are warning that the world needs to cut emissions even more sharply if it is to avoid severely damaging climate change. The head of the NASA Institute for Space Studies and adjunct professor in the Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, Dr James Hansen, sees a carbon dioxide concentration of about 450 parts per million as a “tipping point” from which the impacts of climate change will become rapidly greater. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is currently about 380 parts per million, up from 280 parts per million in pre-industrial times. At current rates of emissions, 450 parts per million could be reached before 2040.
Despite the need to slash emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, global demand for energy – particularly fossil fuel energy – is expected to increase rapidly. The International Energy Agency projects that demand for energy globally will increase by more than 50 per cent by 2030, with more than 70 per cent of the increased demand coming from developing countries. It anticipates that fossil fuels will account for 83 per cent of the increased demand, with oil’s share to the total energy mix dropping slightly while coal’s share grows strongly. This is despite increased use of renewable energies and nuclear power generation.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believes that technological advances and technology transfer will be critical to reducing emissions while meeting energy demand. Technological advances will be required to maximise the effectiveness and reduce the cost of renewable energies and to cut emissions from fossil fuels.
Carbon capture and storage – the capture of carbon dioxide from the stream of emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels and its storage in deep geological formations – is the only technology which allows deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions while continuing to use fossil fuels and much of the existing energy infrastructure.
The Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies (CO2CRC) and its partners are embarked on an extensive program of research, development and demonstration to reduce the cost of carbon capture and storage and demonstrate its long-term security and commercial viability.
Even with the widest possible uptake of carbon capture and geological storage of carbon dioxide emissions, other technological solutions would be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the extent required to avert significant climate change. A suite or responses, including renewable and other carbon-free energy sources and energy efficiencies will be required in addition to carbon dioxide capture and geological sequestration.