The Berlin Mandate was an agreement made in April 1995 between signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The mandate acknowledged that the existing convention did not go far enough in its efforts to mitigate global warming and initiated a period of negotiation to agree on binding targets.
Historical Background and Scientific Foundations
The Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, set in place the internationally recognized principle that greenhouse-gas emissions should be set at a level that would not interfere with the planet's climate.
At the first general meeting of signatories held in Berlin, Germany, between March 28 and April 7, 1995, the Berlin Mandate was a compromise reached unanimously on the final day. It acknowledged that the existing convention was too limited in merely urging signatories to return greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000. Specifically, the signatories agreed to begin a two-year negotiation process to establish legally binding targets and timetables for greenhouse-gas emissions after 2000.
Impacts and Issues
The Berlin Mandate, which in its final form was brokered by then-German Environment Minister Angela Merkel, ultimately reflected the position of the European Union. It also allowed the U.S. government to demonstrate its eco-credentials internationally by offering its support to the mandate, without the maelstrom of domestic criticism that signing binding targets would have invited.
However, the mandate disappointed an array of government delegations, particularly from the developing world, as well as environmental and other lobbying groups, for not initiating immediate action on reducing greenhouse emissions. In particular, it had been hoped that a binding protocol with targets and timetables would emerge from the meeting.
WORDS TO KNOW
: Gases that cause Earth to retain more thermal energy by absorbing infrared light emitted by Earth's surface. The most important greenhouse gases are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and various artificial chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons. All but the latter are naturally occurring, but human activity over the last several centuries has significantly increased the amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide in Earth's atmosphere, causing global warming and global climate change.
: Extension in 1997 of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international treaty signed by almost all countries with the goal of mitigating climate change. The United States, as of early 2008, was the only industrialized country to have not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, which is due to be replaced by an improved and updated agreement starting in 2012.
Instrumental in opposing specific targets for reductions in emissions were the United States, along with most Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members. U.S. businesses, particularly those represented by the Global Climate Coalition, a lobby group opposing immediate action on greenhouse emissions and representing some of the country's biggest companies, were particularly vigorous in urging its government to oppose any set targets.
The Berlin Mandate set in process the period of negotiation that culminated in the Kyoto Protocol two years later. But the criticism that Berlin did not initiate immediate action still rang true almost a decade later. For it was not until February 2005 that binding targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions finally came into place.
Abbott, Alison. “Meeting Agrees on Need for New Targets for Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” Nature 374 (1995): 584–585.
Purvis, Andrew. “Heroes of the Environment” Time. < http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1663317_1663319_1669897,00.html> (accessed November 21, 2007).