United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol

1. UNFCCC and Türkiye’s Position

The most important step to address the impact of global warming caused by human activities on climate change was the conclusion of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was opened for signature at the United Nations Environment and Development Conference, convened in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. The Convention entered into force on March 21, 1994. More than 190 countries including Türkiye and the European Union (EU) are party to the Convention.

The ultimate objective of the Convention is the “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. Parties to the Convention are obliged to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, to cooperate on research and technology and to encourage protection of sinks. The Convention is based on the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” by taking into account countries’ respective development priorities, goals and special circumstances, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This principle provides basis for the essence of the climate regime.

“Common but differentiated responsibilities” principle rests on the fact that some countries need to take more responsibility in reducing GHG emissions, since they have been emitting more GHG than others after the industrial revolution. In other words, burden of each party varies according to their development levels and historical responsibilities for greenhouse gas emissions. In this respect, the Convention sets the Parties to three categories.

1. Annex-I countries: The Convention obliges them to reduce GHG emissions, to protect and to develop sinks and to report the measures they take to prevent climate change and data about GHG emissions. This category comprises 42 countries and EU.

2. Annex-II countries: These countries are obliged to transfer environment friendly technologies to specially developing countries and to take all necessary steps to encourage, facilitate and finance access to these technologies on top of other responsibilities they have as being Annex I countries. This category comprises 23 countries and EU.

3. Non-annex countries: These countries are encouraged to reduce GHG emissions, to cooperate on research and technology and to protect sinks, but are not bound by other obligations like the Annex I and II countries. This category currently includes 154 countries.

Türkiye was included in Annex I and Annex II lists at the very beginning of the process in 1992 due to her OECD membership. The 7th Conference of Parties (COP) of UNFCCC in 2001 adopted a decision regarding deletion of Türkiye’s name from Annex-II. Consequently, Türkiye only takes place in Annex-I list.

However, Türkiye had no historical responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions in 1992 despite being included in Annex-I. Indeed, by that time, Türkiye was in the last row of the Annex I list among 36 countries in terms of greenhouse gas emission with per capita ratio of 3,88 tCO2e (less than 1% of the global total), while the average greenhouse gas emission of the Annex I countries was 14,37 tCO2e per capita.

Türkiye ratified the UNFCCC in 2004 and pursued her efforts on achieving a fair position under the UNFCCC. To this end, Türkiye’s special circumstances were recognized in the 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014 COP decisions. These decisions highlight the importance of financial, technological and capacity-building support to Parties that have special circumstances in order to assist them in implementing the Convention. However, these decisions were unable to provide a viable solution to Türkiye’s request on achieving a fair position under the UNFCCC.

2. Kyoto Protocol and Türkiye’s Position

The adoption of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1994 was a major step forward in tackling the problem of climate change. Yet as GHG emission levels continued to rise around the world, it became increasingly evident that only a firm and binding commitment by developed countries to reduce emissions could send a signal strong enough to convince businesses, communities and individuals to act on climate change. Member countries of the UNFCCC therefore began negotiations on a Protocol – an international agreement linked to the existing Treaty, but standing on its own. After two and a half years of intense negotiations, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted at the third Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP 3) in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997. However, Kyoto Protocol entered into force on 16 February 2005 because of its ratification process which demands that at least 55 Parties to the UNFCCC need to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and that those include industrialised countries accounting for at least 55% of CO2 emissions among industrialised countries in 1990. The Protocol has entered into force after the Russian Federation’s accession in 2005. Under the Protocol, the countries listed in Annex B which includes 36 industrialized countries and the European Union have quantified emission reduction targets. The Kyoto Protocol, which covered two commitment periods (2008-2012 and 2012-2020), served as an implementation instrument for the UNFCCC.

During the first period, it aimed an average 5 percent emission reduction compared to 1990 levels over the five year period from 2008 to 2012 through the quantified emission reduction targets of Annex B countries.

During the second period, which is named as the Doha Amendment, parties committed to reduce GHG emissions by at least 18 percent below 1990 levels in the eight year period from 2013 to 2020 through their quantified emission reduction targets. However, the Amendment did not enter into force, as the total number of instruments of acceptance required for entry into force amounted to 144. Türkiye became a party to the Kyoto Protocol on 26 August 2009. At the same time, Türkiye did not take place in Annex B of the Protocol as she had not ratified the UNFCCC while the Annex B list of the Protocol was being established. In this regard, Türkiye has no obligation regarding quantified emission reduction neither in first nor second commitment periods of the Kyoto Protocol.

3. Paris Agreement and Türkiye’s position

The Paris Agreement was adopted at the COP21 of the UNFCCC in Paris, France on 12 December 2015. The Paris Agreement constitutes a milestone for climate regime because it is the first-ever legally binding global climate change agreement. Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016, aiming at regulating the climate regime for the post 2020 period. Its objective is to “strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”.

The Agreement requires all parties to put forward their best efforts through “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) and to strengthen these efforts in the years ahead. This includes requirements that all Parties report regularly on their emissions and on their implementation efforts. There will also be a global stocktake every 5 years to assess the collective progress towards achieving the purpose of the agreement and to inform further individual actions by Parties.

The implementation of the Agreement is based on the principle of climate regime as it is indicated in the UNFCCC: “Equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.”

In the Agreement, there are two lists of countries:

Developed country Parties should continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets.

Developing country Parties should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts, and are encouraged to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances.

However, the Agreement does not define “developed” and “developing” countries and does not refer to UNFCCC annex lists.

The Paris Agreement takes over the Kyoto Protocol regulates the period after 2020. Since its adoption, parties are working on the operationalizing of the Paris Agreement by adopting a set of decisions. To this end, parties are negotiating on the Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP) which is also called as Rulebook. In the COP 24, held between 2 and 15 December 2018 in Katowice Poland, Parties reached an agreement on Katowice Climate Package which includes decisions on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology and global stocktake. However, critical issues such as Article 6 of Paris Agreement regarding carbon markets and common time frames are left unresolved. COP 25, held in Madrid from 2 to 13 December 2019 under the presidency of Chile, focused on completing work on the PAWP. Nevertheless, parties were unable to reach an agreement on the above-mentioned issues, despite the 2 day long extention(the closing plenary was held on 15 December 2019).

As a sign of her commitment to tackling climate change, Türkiye signed the Paris Agreement on 22 April 2016 but has not ratified the Agreement yet. The evaluation process for its ratification continues. However, in accordance with decisions 1/CP.19 and 1/CP.20, Türkiye’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the Paris Agreement was submitted to the UNFCCC on 30 September 2015. Türkiye declared its intention to achieve “up to 21% reduction in GHG emissions from the Business as Usual level by 2030”.

Moreover, Türkiye fulfils her obligations under the UNFCCC. Türkiye submitted her Fourth Biennial Report on 1 January 2020. Türkiye’s Seventh National Communication was submitted on 26 December 2018.

Türkiye attaches importance to combating climate change, because she is located in Mediterranean basin which is severely affected by the adverse effects of climate change. In this regard, she has actively contributed to the efforts both at national and international levels predominantly with her own means. Türkiye is determined to combat all climate-related challenges on the basis of equity and within the framework of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities as it is clearly indicated in both UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement.