No. 6 December 1994


National Action to Mitigate Global Climate Change

International Conference Copenhagen, 7-9 June 1994

Over 170 participants from 60 countries met for three days in Copenhagen in June to discuss how the aims of the Climate Convention could be translated into practical action. The Conference was organised by the UNEP Centre, with financial support from Danida, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), UNEP and Risų.

Although addressing a broader theme, the conference marked the completion and publication of the second phase of the UNEP Greenhouse Gas Abatement Costing Study which was coordinated by UCCEE. That study along with the national initiatives undertaken by Denmark, the current interest within GEF and the recent ratification of the Climate Convention, established the background for the conference, and ensured solid support.

The main objective of the conference was to identify common approaches to national mitigation analysis for countries to use in meeting their commitments under the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), and in setting priorities for national actions.

Danish Environment Minister Svend Auken (since October 1994 with the combined environment and energy portfolio) in his opening address underlined the country's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below the 1990 level by the year 2005. Mr Auken also reconfirmed that Denmark would provide financial support to international policy and research projects aimed at pursuing the aims of the climate convention in individual countries.

The speech of the UNEP Executive Director, Ms. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, was delivered in her absence by Mr Peter Usher, Climate Coordinator at UNEP HQ Nairobi, and presented a summary of the international situation with regard to the Climate Convention, and in particular UNEP's role. Ms. Dowdeswell reminded participants of UNEP's long and successful experience in treaty development and implementation. While the location of the secretariat for the Climate Convention has yet to be decided, by the conference of parties in Berlin in 1995, Ms. Dowdeswell pledged UNEP's continued support in climate-related work.

Global climate change: science, economics and policy The first scientific session of the conference addressed the issues from the point of view of the international organisations. Mr Peter Usher (UNEP) outlined the work of the IPCC, the content of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), the activities within the World Climate Programme and other international activities that play an important part in influencing the climate agenda. UNEP's Atmosphere Programme was discussed in detail, highlighting the three components related to climate change:

The Executive Secretary of the Interim Secretariat for the FCCC, Mr Michael Zammit Cutajar, presented an update of the FCCC ratification and the international climate negotiating process. Referring specifically to the present conference, Mr Cutajar stressed the need for methodological development and was of the opinion that the deliberations at the conference could provide valuable pragmatic and useable advice to Convention negotiators, particularly on:

Different demands of the FCCC

Industrialised and developing countries see the Climate Convention very differently. At present the per-capita emissions of the dominant greenhouse gas, CO2, are three to five times higher in industrialised countries than in developing ones. The primary goal for industrialised countries under the FCCC will be stabilisation, and in the longer term, absolute reduction of emissions. For the developing countries on the other hand, emissions of CO2 will grow as a consequence of industrialisation, economic development and population growth. Reducing or stabilising GHG emissions in most developing countries without affecting economic development would be unrealistic. However a significant slowing of the rate of emission growth could be possible, for example, through the use of more efficient energy technologies and more rational energy use, while maintaining economic growth, energy services, etc.

The problem is how to restrain emission growth in practice. New efficient technologies will not necessarily be brought into use automatically. There are financial, institutional and information barriers which must be overcome.

The developing country situation was formulated thus by Dr Youba Sokona of ENDA in Senegal: "In the African countries energy consumption is both a cause and a consequence of our development problems. The great challenge is to identify projects which can at the same time advance national development and contribute to the global requirement to reduce GHG emissions. Examples are the introduction of more efficient energy technologies and renewable energy, improving the efficiency of agriculture, and forestry projects. All these projects require support from the industrialised countries."

Such collaboration is mentioned in the Climate Convention. Developing countries can be compensated for the so-called "incremental cost" of activities which lead to GHG emission reductions. The financial mechanism for implementing climate change mitigation options, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) – a collaboration between UNEP, UNDP and the World Bank – was described by Mr Ian Johnson, GEF Administrator (now Deputy Chief Executive Officer). In particular the concept of "incremental cost" – a central notion in the FCCC - was discussed, and the principles outlined for determining such incremental costs with a view to financial support from the GEF. The crucial point is to identify the extraordinary costs which a country incurs in order to reduce GHG emissions, for example by choosing some particular energy technology.

Collaboration for emission reduction

A first step in the Climate Convention process is that participating countries submit reports on their GHG emissions, and in the case of the industrialised countries, describe their plans for emission reductions. This reporting has to be carried out in a well documented and comparable way, so that countries have a clear picture of present and future emissions, and in order to facilitate cooperation towards reducing emissions in a "cost-effective" manner.

The current phase of implementation of the FCCC involves international negotiations on how this reporting should be done, not least with regard to the amount and cost of future emission reductions. The conference was seen as an important forum for the discussion of these questions.

Collaboration between developing countries and industrialised countries on GHG reductions requires a common understanding of the issues, as well as a common measuring standard against which to judge both financial support and subsequent verification. This process clearly involves a number of politically and economically sensitive areas. For example, reduction of GHG emissions is often intimately connected to essential economic activities in the countries concerned. Coal production in Zimbabwe, and the low energy prices common in oil producing countries like Venezuela are two examples which were discussed at the conference. The crucial question again is how local social and development priorities can be reconciled with GHG reductions.

In spite of these politically controversial issues, the conference participants did arrive at a broad agreement on the necessity and advantage of a coordinated effort to achieve the goals of the FCCC.

Interplay between country studies and method development

There was general agreement among the participants that the methodology must take account of the potential and limitations of each country, while living up to the convention's requirement for transparency and comparability. The UNEP GHG Abatement Costing Project, along with similar efforts in which practical country studies go hand in hand with methodological development, was given broad support. In general the recommendation was that the methods should be extended to cover more sectors and gases, to take into account regional cooperation and to include macroeconomic effects.

Closing session

The closing statement of the conference was presented by Ambassador Ellen Margrethe Lųj, Under Secretary for Multilateral Affairs at the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ambassador Lųj reiterated the Environment Minister's pledge of Danish support to national activities under the FCCC.

The conference itself may be seen as a vital component of the FCCC process, with its high-level, and tightly packed formal programme of presentations together with intense informal discussion and exchange of ideas among researchers, national policy makers and representatives of the international organisations. The success of the conference in this regard was amply confirmed by the participants.

Conference Proceedings

The Conference Proceedings are available on-line and in hard copy. For details of how to obtain copies of the proceedings, please contact the Centre, by letter, fax or email.


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