The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created by the World Meteorological
Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in 1988. This group
issued a first assessment report in 1990, which reflected the views of 400 scientists. The report stated
that global warming was real and urged that something be done about it.
The Panel's findings prompted governments to create the United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change (UNFCCC). And in 1992, the Convention was ready for signature at the United Nations
Conference on Environment and Development –known as the "Earth Summit," in Rio de Janeiro. Five
years later, in December of 1997, the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC was adopted by consensus at the
third session of the Conference of the Parties (COP3). The Protocol, which contains legally binding
emissions targets, is a direct response to the Convention’s ultimate goal of preventing "dangerous
anthropogenic [man-made] interference with the climate system".
Under the Kyoto Protocol developed countries commit themselves to reducing their collective emissions
of six key greenhouse gases by at least 5%. This group target would be achieved through cuts of 8% by
Switzerland, most Central and East European states, and the European Union (the EU would meet its
target by distributing different rates among its member states); 7% by the US; and 6% by Canada,
Hungary, Japan, and Poland. Russia, New Zealand, and Ukraine are to stabilize their emissions, while
Norway may increase emissions by up to 1%, Australia by up to 8%, and Iceland 10%. The six gases are
to be combined in a "basket", with reductions in individual gases translated into "CO2 equivalents" that are
then added up to produce a single figure.
Each country’s emissions target must be achieved by the period 2008-2012, and it will be calculated as
an average over the five years. "Demonstrable progress" towards meeting the target was to be made by
2005. Cuts in the three most important gases – carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide
(N20) - would be measured against a base year of 1990 (with exceptions for some countries with
economies in transition).
In addition, cuts in three long-lived industrial gases – hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons
(PFCs), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) - would be measured against either a 1990 or 1995 baseline. (A
major group of industrial gases, chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, are dealt with under the 1987 Montreal
Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.)
While the negotiations over the targets continued throughout the COPs that followed, the IPCC findings in
its Third and Fourth Reports concluded, with a high degree of certainty, that even if all targets were to be
met, the warming of the atmosphere –due to present level of greenhouse gasses, is unavoidable. The
IPCC then concluded in the urgency to move towards increasing adaptive capacity to Climate Change at
the national and local level.
1 Pablo González is the Chief of the Risk Management Program and Coordinator for Central America with the Department of
Sustainable Development (DSD) of the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (GS/OAS). He is also co-chair of
the Inter-American Network for Disaster Mitigation (INDM) and a member of the ProVention Consortium Advisory Council.
The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the official view of the General Secretariat of the Organization of
American States or its Member States.
The author would like to thank Ruben Contreras and Rosa Trejo, Specialists with DSD, for their contributions.