Agenda 21 is a blueprint for sustainable development into the 21st Century.  Its basis was agreed during the Earth Summit at Rio in 1992, and signed by 179 Heads of State and Governments.  Is enough being done to halt Global Warming?  


An Introduction to Our Climate

According to the National Academy of Sciences, the Earth's surface temperature has risen by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past century, with accelerated warming during the past two decades. There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities. Human activities have altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere through the buildup of greenhouse gases – primarily carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. The heat-trapping property of these gases is undisputed although uncertainties exist about exactly how earth's climate responds to them. Go to the Emissions section for much more on greenhouse gases.





Our Changing Atmosphere


Energy from the sun drives the earth's weather and climate, and heats the earth's surface; in turn, the earth radiates energy back into space. Atmospheric greenhouse gases (water vapor, carbon dioxide, and other gases) trap some of the outgoing energy, retaining heat somewhat like the glass panels of a greenhouse.

Without this natural "greenhouse effect," temperatures would be much lower than they are now, and life as known today would not be possible. Instead, thanks to greenhouse gases, the earth's average temperature is a more hospitable 60°F. However, problems may arise when the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases increases.

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have increased nearly 30%, methane concentrations have more than doubled, and nitrous oxide concentrations have risen by about 15%. These increases have enhanced the heat-trapping capability of the earth's atmosphere. Sulfate aerosols, a common air pollutant, cool the atmosphere by reflecting light back into space; however, sulfates are short-lived in the atmosphere and vary regionally.

Why are greenhouse gas concentrations increasing? Scientists generally believe that the combustion of fossil fuels and other human activities are the primary reason for the increased concentration of carbon dioxide. Plant respiration and the decomposition of organic matter release more than 10 times the CO2 released by human activities; but these releases have generally been in balance during the centuries leading up to the industrial revolution with carbon dioxide absorbed by terrestrial vegetation and the oceans.

What has changed in the last few hundred years is the additional release of carbon dioxide by human activities. Fossil fuels burned to run cars and trucks, heat homes and businesses, and power factories are responsible for about 98% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, 24% of methane emissions, and 18% of nitrous oxide emissions. Increased agriculture, deforestation, landfills, industrial production, and mining also contribute a significant share of emissions. In 1997, the United States emitted about one-fifth of total global greenhouse gases.

Estimating future emissions is difficult, because it depends on demographic, economic, technological, policy, and institutional developments. Several emissions scenarios have been developed based on differing projections of these underlying factors. For example, by 2100, in the absence of emissions control policies, carbon dioxide concentrations are projected to be 30-150% higher than today's levels.

Climate Change


Global mean surface temperatures have increased 0.5-1.0°F since the late 19th century. The 20th century's 10 warmest years all occurred in the last 15 years of the century. Of these, 1998 was the warmest year on record. The snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere and floating ice in the Arctic Ocean have decreased. Globally, sea level has risen 4-8 inches over the past century. Worldwide precipitation over land has increased by about one percent. The frequency of extreme rainfall events has increased throughout much of the United States.


Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases are likely to accelerate the rate of climate change. Scientists expect that the average global surface temperature could rise 1-4.5°F (0.6-2.5°C) in the next fifty years, and 2.2-10°F (1.4-5.8°C) in the next century, with significant regional variation. Evaporation will increase as the climate warms, which will increase average global precipitation. Soil moisture is likely to decline in many regions, and intense rainstorms are likely to become more frequent. Sea level is likely to rise two feet along most of the U.S. coast.

Calculations of climate change for specific areas are much less reliable than global ones, and it is unclear whether regional climate will become more variable.




Solar Navigator solar powered trimaran circumnavigation


Solar powered trimaran concept



Global Impacts


Rising global temperatures are expected to raise sea level, and change precipitation and other local climate conditions. Changing regional climate could alter forests, crop yields, and water supplies. It could also affect human health, animals, and many types of ecosystems. Deserts may expand into existing rangelands, and features of some of our National Parks may be permanently altered.



Climate | Emissions | Impacts | Actions | News and Events | Resource Center | Where You Live | Visitor Center

Health | Water Resources | Polar Regions | Mountains | Forests | Rangelands | Deserts | Non-tidal Wetlands  

Coastal Zones | Agriculture | Fisheries | Birds | National Parks | State Impacts | International Impacts





Today, action is occurring at every level to reduce, to avoid, and to better understand the risks associated with climate change. Many cities and states across the country have prepared greenhouse gas inventories; and many are actively pursuing programs and policies that will result in greenhouse gas emission reductions.


Solar Navigator is just one example of alternative energy in action.  The advanced hull-form trimaran is a showcase for sustainable technology, providing energy to keep a boat cruising around the world, with enough in reserve to keep a crew of up to six comfortable on the history making voyage.

At a national level the U.S. Global Change Research Program  coordinates one of the world's most extensive research effort on climate change. In addition,  EPA and other federal agencies are actively engaging the private sector, states, and localities in partnerships based on a win-win philosophy and aimed at addressing the challenge of global warming while, at the same time, strengthening the economy. For more information, see the US Climate Action Report (U.S. Department of State, May 2002).

At the global level, countries around the world have expressed a firm commitment to strengthening international responses to the risks of climate change. The U.S. is working to strengthen international action and broaden participation under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change





In December of 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was drafted by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at their third annual meeting (COP-3). Information provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) set the level of global CO2 emissions reductions that are needed in order to prevent further climate change and the Kyoto Protocol served as an international ‘plan’ for how to achieve an interim target.  The agreed upon emissions levels set out in the Protocol charge Annex I countries (industrialized countries) with the responsibility of reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases “by at least 5 per cent below 1990 levels in the commitment period 2008 to 2012” (Article 3 of the Kyoto Protocol).  


To enter into force, the Protocol must be ratified by 55 Parties to the UNFCCC, including Annex I Parties representing at least 55% of the total carbon dioxide emissions for 1990. As of June 2002, 84 Parties had signed the Kyoto Protocol and 74 had either ratified or acceded to the Protocol (Kyoto Protocol status of ratification), collectively representing a commitment to a 35.4% reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions; 20% shy of the level required for the Protocol to enter into force (Kyoto Protocol thermometer). The United States signed the Protocol on December 11, 1997 but has failed to ratify it.  The US national commitment alone would account for a 36.1% reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions.  

In general terms, once the details of a treaty have been negotiated the treaty is adopted and opened up for signatures.  When a party signs the treaty it is stating its nation’s intent to review and seriously consider the treaty.  After review, if a government determines it is willing to comply with all provisions under the treaty, the treaty can be formally ratified.  Once a certain number of parties formally ratify the treaty it enters into force and compliance with the treaty’s articles becomes mandatory for those parties that have ratified it.   

The Unites States has ratified the UNFCCC and therefore is legally bound to meet with all of its requirements.  Because the U.S. has only signed, and not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, it is not legally bound to meet with the Protocol mandates, but as a signatory to the Protocol the U.S. still has several obligations.  These obligations are outlined in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties  a United Nations treaty that outlines acceptable behaviors during the various stages of multilateral treaty development and entry (see also CRS report to Congress on climate change). The United States signed the Vienna Convention on April 24, 1970, and the Convention entered into force January 27, 1980.  Over the past couple of decades the Vienna Convention has been widely viewed as the framework for international law, however, it has never been ratified by the U.S.  Therefore, any perceived obligations the U.S. may have as a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, as described in the Vienna Convention, could not be enforced, because as a non-ratification party, the U.S. cannot be governed by the Vienna Convention’s mandates.    

The bottom line: it would appear the U.S. is legally obligated to complete the tasks required under the UNFCCC, but at this time does not have any legal obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.   



Planet Earth




Legal Analysis  

American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy and Resources
Climate Change and Sustainable Development Committee                                                            

CRS Report for Congress -Received through the CRS Web -Global Climate Change: Selected Legal Questions About the Kyoto Protocol  

Global Climate Change: Selected Legal Questions About the Kyoto Protocol David M. Ackerman, Legislative Attorney, American Law Division Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress , March 29, 2001

Rule of Power or Rule of Law?  An assessment of U.S. Policies and Actions Regarding Security-Related Treaties
Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy
May 2002   UNFCCC - A Guide to the Climate Change Convention and its Kyoto Protocol



Documents & web sites:

Environmental Treaties and Resource Indicators (ENTRI)  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research

Treaties in force for the United States  

Treaty Reference Guide United Nations Office of Legal Affairs

United Nations Climate Change Information Kit

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties




International Initiatives


The response to the potential threat of global warming has differed among the nations and regions of the world.  Some countries have taken the call to reduce anthropogenic GHG emissions very seriously, and have implemented national emissions standards and emissions reduction targets.  Emissions trading schemes have been established and tested, new carbon taxes have been imposed, and ‘sustainability’ and  ‘environmental externalities’ have become factors of consideration in economic development schemes.  However, not all nations have jumped on the bandwagon.  While 186 countries have ratified the UNFCCC, only 74 have ratified the, arguably, more legally binding Kyoto Protocol.   

There are several reasons for the ‘holdout’ nations’ reluctance to make an emissions reduction commitment.  One is the belief that there is not enough scientific evidence to prove that human activities and increased carbon dioxide emissions are in fact responsible for rising temperatures.  Numerous scientific studies can be used to back up claims on both sides of the argument, and it is therefore difficult for some policy makers to justify potentially costly actions that may or may not yield the desired results.  Beyond simple cost is fear over the greater potential economic impacts of forced compliance in the arena of a global market where not all the players are being monitored.  Because developing countries do not, at this time, have GHG emissions reduction commitments or monitoring requirements, some believe they have a competitive advantage for production of goods and services that are energy and GHG intensive.  Therefore some nations, including the United States, have declined to even consider ratification of the Kyoto Protocol until developing countries are forced to make commitments and the overall potential economic impacts of Kyoto Protocol implementation can be more thoroughly studied.  

For a detailed look at what other nations have been doing to meet their UNFCCC obligations, see the collection of National Communications available at 


Below find examples of what is being done outside the United States to study and combat global warming.




Climate Change - Québec Action Plan on Climate Change 2000-2002
Québec Action Plan on Climate Change 2000-2002

Canada's National Climate Change Process - National Strategy/Business Plan
National Implementation Strategy & First National Business Plan In October 2000, Joint Ministers of Energy and Environment* publicly released the National Implementation Strategy on Climate Change and the First National Climate Change Business Plan

Canada's National Climate Change Process - Media Room
The Media Room provides access to news releases, speeches and other documents related to Canada's national climate change process. News Releases - National Climate Change Secretariat National Stakeholder Workshops on Climate Change 2002 Media




EU and Climate Change
Go to links page for reports on what individual countries within the EU are doing.




Global Climate Change and Africa
USAID's approach : timeline

Major Climate Change Studies undertaken in Indonesia

Malaysia and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

New Zealand Climate Change Programme









Hi Solar,

Over the Easter weekend, we've taken some time to reflect on the Global Warming Campaign that we launched at the beginning of the month. Thanks to your support and commitment, in less than 30 days, we've managed to collectively make around 300,000 pledges to combat global warming! That's around 10,000 pledges a day, making it one of the fastest growing movements on this planet and one that is likely to have a far reaching and tangible impact on the world's carbon footprint!

If you haven't yet made your pledges, it is not too late. You can pledge to do your bit here.

If you've already made your pledges, help amplify your impact and get your friends involved.

Planning a trip this year? Turn one of your pledges into action right now and offset your carbon footprint it only takes a couple of minutes.

We will continue to engage with organisations and governments to find out other ways in which our members can make a difference, and will keep you informed of our progress. If there is anything else that you think we should be doing on behalf of this fast growing global movement, please let us know, as we are keen to do as much as we can to help! Thanks again for doing your bit, and remember, WAYN is the world's largest travel and lifestyle membership community and together, we do have the power to make a difference

Best wishes,

Peter and Jerome





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