United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and climate negotiations

The UNFCCC – ratified by 196 countries in the world and headquartered in Bonn – is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Convention was adopted at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro and has since been ratified by most states.

The Convention entered into force in 1994. It identifies climate change as a serious global problem and commits the international community to combat it. The Parties to the Convention aim to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human-induced interference with the climate system (global warming). In order to achieve this goal, the Convention defines the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” of industrialised and developing countries in order to take account of their different capabilities and current (as well as historical) emission volumes.

The UNFCCC’s most important body is its Conference of the Parties (COP), which meets once a year. Based on reports compiled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it decides on the measures which the parties to the Convention will take to reach their climate targets. 

The Kyoto Protocol adopted in December 1997 at the 3rd COP is the most important piece of legislation at a global level enacted to date for the protection of the global ecosystem. At the climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, irreconcilable positions prevented the hoped-for global climate change agreement from being negotiated. In Cancún in December 2010 (COP 16) the states parties managed to agree on provisions for a future climate regime, in particular on funding, deforestation and technological cooperation, as well as the 2˚C limit for global warming. Furthermore, a Green Climate Fund was established and it was agreed that a Technology Executive Committee (TEC) would be set up. At the COP 17 which took place in Durban in late 2011, the countries pledged to negotiate a new global climate change agreement by 2015.

Next climate conference to take place in December 2015

The climate conference (COP 21) at which these negotiations are set to take place will be held at the level of Heads of State and Government in Paris in December 2015. The aim is to reduce emissions through a climate change agreement which is generally-applicable and legally-binding for the entire international community. The agreement is due to enter into force in 2020 and should also contain regulations on adapting to climate change, funding climate protection, transparency for commitments made by countries and capacity-building. Linked to this is the question of fair burden-sharing between industrial and developing nations.

The formal negotiations are being supported and flanked by numerous informal fora, such as the Major Economies Forum, the Cartagena Dialogue and the Petersberg Climate Dialogue (most recently in July 2014, the next meeting will take place in May 2015, both in Berlin).

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Last updated 18.02.2015

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