The Noordwijk Ministerial Declaration
on climate change

The Noordwijk Ministerial Conference was a critical milestone on the road to international emission targets for carbon dioxide. Held in November 1989 in Noordwijk, The Netherlands, the Conference was attended by representatives of 67 countries, 11 international organizations, and the Commission of the European Community (EC). The conclusions of the resulting Noordwijk Declaration on Atmospheric Pollution and Climate Change1 have often been referred to in subsequent climate debates.2

The Declaration includes an important statement on stabilizing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2): "The Conference recognizes the need to stabilize, while ensuring stable development of the world economy, CO2 emissions and emissions of other greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol. Industrialized nations agree that such stabilization should be achieved by them as soon as possible, at levels to be considered by the IPCC and the Second World Climate Conference of November 1990. In the view of many industrialized nations such stabilization of CO2 emissions should be achieved as a first step at the latest by the year 2000."

Not all industrialized states represented at the conference were ready to make concrete commitments on emission targets. Nevertheless, this statement was a first step towards the recognition of such targets. The EC, whose member states were among those agreeing to specific emission targets, referred back to the Noordwijk discussions when it established its policy targets on climate change in 1990.3

The Conference participants recognized a number of key principles of relevance to a climate treaty. These included the concept of climate change as a common concern of humankind, the common but differentiated responsibilities of states, the sovereign right of states to manage their own natural resources, and the necessity of sustainable development.

The participants also endorsed the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the convening of the Second World Climate Conference. Urging all states to participate in these efforts, they set out the issues which, in their view, the future climate treaty and its protocols should regulate. These included research on climate change, action to deal with greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of global warming, financial assistance and transfer of technology to developing countries, and sustainable management of forests.

The Conference Declaration asked the IPCC to conduct further research into emission targets and reforestation. These requests were reiterated by the UN/ECE Bergen Conference in May 1990. The declaration suggested that the IPCC consider the feasibility of a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions by the year 2005, as suggested by the conference held in Toronto in 1988. To this end, industrialized states were called upon to support IPCC. Another request was that the IPCC consider the feasibility of achieving, as a provisional target, a net forest growth of 12 million hectares a year by the beginning of the 21st century.

The Declaration contains specific proposals for action on emissions, funding, and research and monitoring. These proposals relate to:

Carbon dioxide In addition to collective action within the framework of the IPCC, countries should also take individual measures to reduce CO2 emissions by promoting better energy conservation and using environmentally sound energy sources. Industrial countries in particular were urged to work towards these aims. The need of developing countries for time to implement response measures was recognized, but the declaration also called upon them to make such efforts as were within their capabilities.

CFCs The Conference welcomed the efforts made within the framework of the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol for protecting the ozone layer and urged all states to become parties to these instruments (fact sheet 224).

Other greenhouse gases As with CO2, efforts should be made to limit atmospheric concentrations of other greenhouse gases.

Funding Like many other conference statements, the Noordwijk Declaration recognized that financial assistance to developing countries is needed to help them cope with the causes and effects of climate change and to enable them to participate in the international climate negotiations. It recommended that existing development institutions give more weight to climate problems when planning their projects and that additional funds be made available. Funded projects should initially focus on, among other things, phasing out CFCs, improving energy efficiency, and reforesting the land.

Research and monitoring More research should be undertaken on sources and sinks of greenhouse gases other than CO2. The Declaration urged all states to cooperate in research and monitoring activities.


1 Reprinted in "American University Journal of International Law and Policy", Vol. 5 (1990), pp. 592-601.

2 For example, the UN/ECE Bergen Conference (1990) and the 1989 Cairo Conference on the atmosphere. (See relevant fact sheets.)

3 See communication from the EC Commission to the Council on community policy targets on the greenhouse issue, 16 March 1990 (Document SEC(90) final).

Last revised 1 May 1993 by the Information Unit on Climate Change (IUCC), UNEP, P.O. Box 356, CH-1219 Ch‰telaine, Switzerland. Tel. (41 22) 979 9111. Fax (41 22) 797 3464. E-mail