Feature Report: The Long Road to Carbon Pricing

6 items of content in this feature report



International Efforts to Combat Climate Change

Climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions is, by its very nature, a global issue. A common strategy and binding targets must therefore be defined on a planetary scale. This is the aim of the international climate change conferences held in Rio, Copenhagen and, in December 2015, Paris. The solutions then need to be implemented locally. 

fr - Changement climatique : la mobilisation de la communauté internationale
The Rio Earth Summit in 1992 kick-started the fight against climate change. © AFP / D. GARCIA

Below are some of the key events in the international community’s fight against climate change, which began more than 25 years ago.

November 1988 – Creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Starting in the 1970s, climate science matured, building on advances in numerical modeling and satellite imaging. But to understand and prepare for the challenges of climate change, we needed to share scientific knowledge beyond borders. That's why, at the G7’s request, the United Nations set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)Body established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988... in November 1988. The IPCC’s role is to publish reports that provide a clear and up-to-date picture of the current state of scientific knowledge relating to climate change (Watch the video: "Meet an IPCC Expert").

June 1992 – Rio Earth Summit

The international community kicked off the fight against climate change in June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the second Earth Summit. Following the conference, 166 countries signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which acknowledges humanity’s role in global warmingGlobal warming, also called planetary warming or climate change... .

Every year, a Conference of the Parties (COP) brings together all of the countries that have ratified the Convention, which now total 195. The next COP will take place in Paris, in December 2015.

December 1997 – Kyoto Protocol

This international emission reduction production sharing contract (or agreement)Oil contract under which the oil that is produced is shared between the state and the oil company... was adopted on December 11, 1997, at the third Conference of the Parties, in Kyoto, Japan. However, it didn’t come into effect until February 2005, because it needed to be ratified by at least 55 countries accounting for at least 55% of the world’s emissions. The goal was to reduce emissions of six greenhouse gases by 5.2% between 2008 and 2012, based on 1990 levels. An international carbon market was established to help achieve this goal (See Close-Up: "International Efforts to Combat Climate Change"). The Kyoto ProtocolInternational agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change... has not been ratified by the United States.

January 2005 – Launch of the European Union Emissions Trading System

In January 2005, the European Union set up its own emissions tradingThe buying and selling of products in financial markets... scheme (See Close-Up: "The European Union Emissions Trading System").

Then, in December 2008, the European Union adopted a series of legislative measures, known as the Energy and Climate Package, which sets three targets for 2020: reduce greenhouse emissions by 20%, increase the share of renewable energies in the energy mixThe range of energy sources of a region. to 20% and improve energy efficiencyIn economic terms, energy efficiency refers to the efforts made to reduce the energy consumption of a system... by 20%. This is referred to as the “3 x 20” objective.

December 2009 – Copenhagen Climate Change Conference

The parties to the UNFCCC met in Copenhagen in December 2009 to forge a new agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. Although often considered a failure, the Copenhagen conference can be credited with officially defining the maximum acceptable increase in global temperature as 2°C above pre-industrial levels. However, the participants were unable to reach a binding agreement on greenhouse gas (ghg) Gas with physical properties that cause the Earth's atmosphere to warm up. There are a number of naturally occurring greenhouse gases... emission reduction targets to keep global warming below this threshold.


China : The world's largest energy consumer

The Copenhagen conference was marked by disagreement between developed countries and emerging economies like China, India and Brazil, which believe that measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should not impede their economic development. For these countries, the industrialized world is responsible for the damage already done and should therefore provide financial assistance to less-developed economies. For their part, the most industrialized nations have reacted to the economic crisis by shifting their priorities away from incentives and subsidies designed to help combat climate change.

December 2010 – Cancun Climate Change Conference

At the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, the parties agreed to establish the Green Climate Fund, endowed with $100 billion a year from 2020, to help developing countries combat climate change and deforestation. However, non-governmental organizations have expressed their dissatisfaction with the way in which the fund is financed.

June 2012 – Rio+20 Conference

Twenty years after the Earth Summit that brought climate change to the international community’s attention, Rio de Janeiro hosted the fifth United Nations Conference on Sustainable DevelopmentThis term was first defined in the Brundtland Report, published in 1987, as “development that meets the needs of the present without... , which was attended by government leaders and civil society representatives.

In December 2015, the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be held in Paris, France. The event will be a crucial gathering, since it is tasked with reaching a new international climate agreement, binding on all countries. A COP is held every year, but the 21st session is scheduled to amend the Kyoto Protocol system, adopted in December 1997 at COP3 and extended essentially unchanged in Doha in 2012 when no agreement could be reached.


The World’s Biggest Carbon Dioxide Emitters1According to data published by the International Energy Agency (IEA), global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion totaled 31.3 billion tons in 2011, representing a 2.7% increase from 2010 and a 49.3% increase versus 1990. However, some countries emit more carbon dioxide than others:
- China is the world’s biggest carbon dioxide emitter, accounting for 25.5% of global emissions, due its rapid economic growth and extensive reliance on coal. The other top emitters are the United States (16.9%), the 27-member European Union (11.3%), India (5.6%), Russia (5.3%) and Japan (3.8%).
- In Europe, Germany accounts for the most carbon dioxide emissions (748 million tons), followed by the United Kingdom (443 million) and Italy (393 million). France comes in at fourth place, with 328 million tons. The difference is mainly due to power generation systems, since France relies heavily on nuclear power.



(1) Key Figures on Climate 2014