United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

What is the convention?

 The Convention on Climate Change sets an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change. It recognizes that the climate system is a shared resource whose stability can be affected by industrial and other emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Elma Okic
UNFCCC Climate talks in Bangkok.
© WWF-Canon / Elma Okic

History

Almost two decades ago, countries joined an international treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to cooperatively consider what they could do to limit average global temperature increases and the resulting climate change, and to cope with whatever impacts were, by then, inevitable. This was in 1992.

By 1995, countries realized that emission reductions provisions in the Convention were inadequate. They launched negotiations to strengthen the global response to climate change, and, two years later, adopted the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol legally binds developed countries to emission reduction targets. The Protocol’s first commitment period started in 2008 and ends in 2012.

The UNFCCC secretariat supports all institutions involved in the international climate change negotiations, particularly the Conference of the Parties (COP), the subsidiary bodies (which advise the COP), and the COP Bureau (which deals mainly with procedural and organizational issues arising from the COP and also has technical functions). For a brief depiction of how these various bodies are related to one another, please see Convention Bodies.

What happens beyond 2012 is one of the key issues governments of the 195 Parties to the Convention are currently negotiating. Climate change is a complex problem, which, although environmental in nature, has consequences for all spheres of existence on our planet. It either impacts on-- or is impacted by-- global issues, including poverty, economic development, population growth, sustainable development and resource management. It is not surprising, then, that solutions come from all disciplines and fields of research and development.

At the very heart of the response to climate change, however, lies the need to reduce emissions. In 2010, governments agreed that emissions need to be reduced so that global temperature increases are limited to below 2 degrees Celsius.

This time line detailing the international response to climate change provides a contextual entry point to the Essential Background. You can also use the links on the left-hand column under Essential Background to navigate this section.The UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994. Today, it has near-universal membership. The 195 countries that have ratified the Convention are called Parties to the Convention.


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