One of the major treaties to combat climate change is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is a binding multilateral agreement that entered into force in 1994 with the objective of “. . . stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”
Its implementation is reviewed annually by its decision making body, the Conference of Parties (COP), comprising 196 countries and the European Union. States parties to the UNFCCC have several general commitments such as maintenance of inventories of emissions’ volumes, sources and sinks, implementation of climate change mitigation measures through curbs on emissions and facilitation of adaptation to climate change. Based on levels of economic development, the UNFCCC further lays down differentiated levels of commitment.
Article 4.1(f) of the UNFCCC which permits states parties to “Take climate change considerations into account, to the extent feasible, in their relevant social, economic and environmental policies and actions …” gives significant leeway for interpretation to avoid measures aimed at climate change mitigation. This inherent loophole in the UNFCCC is used by the fossil fuel industry – oil, coal and natural gas – to its advantage. The fossil fuel industry is the world’s largest environmental polluter and responsible for two-thirds of all carbon emissions globally. With transnational presence, enormous economic and political clout and billions of dollars at stake, it lobbies hard to influence policy making by blocking regulation, financing politicians’ campaigns and promising economic growth to governments.