Expanding in English on his startling statement, made first in French, Fabius said: “We have 500 days to avoid climate chaos. And I know that President Obama and John Kerry himself are committed on this subject and I’m sure that with them, with a lot of other friends, we shall be able to reach success on this very important matter.”
However, since not even the most alarmist climate-change doomsayer would predict catastrophic climate change is just 500 days away, Fabius was pointing forward to the next major UN climate conference, scheduled to open in Paris from November 30 to December 11, 2015.
The conference, formally called the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is concurrent with the 11th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. According to a communiqué issued by Fabius and two other French ministers on May 21, 2013: “The main purpose of this meeting, in accordance with the Durban agreements (2011), will be to conclude a new international climate agreement, applicable to all countries after 2020.”
The UNFCCC was first negotiated at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The parties to the convention have met annually since 1995 in Conferences of the Parties (COP) to assess progress in dealing with climate change. Perhaps the most well known of these was the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which established legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
The United States signed the Kyoto Protocol on November 12, 1998 during the Clinton presidency; however, to become binding in the United States, the agreement had to be ratified by a majority both houses of Congress, and the Senate had already passed (95-0) the 1997 non-binding Byrd-Hagel resolution expressing disapproval of any international agreement that 1) did not require developing countries to make emission reductions and 2) “would seriously harm the economy of the United States,” so the protocol was never submitted to the Senate for ratification.
After George W. Bush was elected president in 2000, he was asked by Hagel what his administration’s position on climate change would be. Bush replied that he took climate change “very seriously,” but that he opposed the Kyoto treaty, because “it exempts 80% of the world, including major population centers such as China and India, from compliance, and would cause serious harm to the U.S. economy.”
The United States, then, is a UNFCCC party, but not a party to the Kyoto Protocol.
During his regular press briefing on May 13, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked by a reporter, “The French Foreign Minister also dramatically said that the world has 500 days to avoid climate chaos. I’m wondering what your countdown clock says.”
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Photo of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (left) with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry: AP Images