United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994. Today, it has near-universal membership. The 197 countries that have ratified the Convention are called Parties to the Convention.. The ultimate objective of the Convention is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations "at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system." It states that "such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.

Introduction

The UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994. Today, it has near-universal membership. The 197 countries that have ratified the Convention are called Parties to the Convention. The UNFCCC is a “Rio Convention”, one of three adopted at the “Rio Earth Summit” in 1992. Its sister Rio Conventions are the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention to Combat Desertification.

Preventing “dangerous” human interference with the climate system is the ultimate aim of the UNFCCC.

The ultimate objective of the Convention is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations "at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system." It states that "such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner."

Industrialized nations agree under the Convention to support climate change activities in developing countries by providing financial support for action on climate change-- above and beyond any financial assistance they already provide to these countries. A system of grants and loans has been set up through the Convention and is managed by the Global Environment Facility. Industrialized countries also agree to share technology with less-advanced nations.

Developing countries (Non-Annex I Parties) report in more general terms on their actions both to address climate change and to adapt to its impacts - but less regularly than Annex I Parties do, and their reporting is contingent on their getting funding for the preparation of the reports, particularly in the case of the Least Developed Countries.

Adaptation

The Convention acknowledges the vulnerability of all countries to the effects of climate change and calls for special efforts to ease the consequences, especially in developing countries which lack the resources to do so on their own. In the early years of the Convention, adaptation received less attention than mitigation, as Parties wanted more certainty on impacts of and vulnerability to climate change. When IPCC's Third Assessment Report was released, adaptation gained traction, and Parties agreed on a process to address adverse effects and to establish funding arrangements for adaptation. Currently, work on adaptation takes place under different Convention bodies. The Adaptation Committee, which Parties agreed to set up under the Cancun Adaptation Framework as part of the Cancun Agreements, is a major step towards a cohesive, Convention-based approach to adaptation.

Mitigation

Societies can respond to climate change by reducing GHG emissions and enhancing sinks and reservoirs. The capacity to do so depends on socio-economic and environmental circumstances and the availability of information and technology. To this end, a wide variety of policies and instruments are available to governments to create the incentives for mitigation action. Mitigation is essential to meet the UNFCCC's objective of stabilizing GHG concentrations in the atmosphere. Among others, the Convention:

  • Requires all Parties, taking into account their responsibilities and capabilities, to formulate and implement programmes containing measures to mitigate climate change
  • Also requires all Parties to develop and periodically update national inventories of GHG emissions and removals
  • Commits all Parties to promote, and cooperate in, the development, application and diffusion of climate friendly technologies
  • Requires developed countries to adopt national policies and measures to limit GHG emissions and protect and enhance sinks and reservoirs
  • States that the extent to which developing countries will implement their commitments will depend on financial resources and transfer of technology

The UNFCCC webpages on mitigation highlight the range of issues that are being addressed by Parties under the various Convention bodies, including:

Action on mitigation: reducing emissions and enhancing sinks. A range of policies and various economy-wide packages of policy instruments have been effective in reducing GHG emissions in different sectors and many countries. According to the IPCC AR4, there is substantial technical and economic potential for the mitigation of global GHG emissions over the coming decades, that could offset the projected growth of global emissions or reduce emissions below current levels. Changes in lifestyle and behaviour patterns and management practices can contribute to climate change mitigation across all sectors.

Reporting on national implementation and MRV. Parties to the Convention have agreed to submit to the Conference of the Parties (COP) national reports on implementation of the Convention which include commitments and activities relating to mitigation. The required contents and level of details of national reports and/or the timetable for their submission are different for developed and -developing countries. This is in accordance with the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" enshrined in the Convention

Resources. A number of resources relevant to mitigation is available to Parties and the general public. By navigating to this link you will find more information on data on greenhouse gases reported by Parties to the UNFCCC; the REDD platform; training material; and the IPCC guidelines for national greenhouse inventories.

Treaties and Agreements under the UNFCCC: Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement

The most important objective of the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system. An important pillar of the Climate Convention is the commitment of the Parties to take action to ensure a comprehensive response to climate change, taking into consideration their ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ in line with the respective capabilities of countries. This is strengthened and reflected by the commitment of all Parties to submit to the Conference of the Parties (COP) National Communications under Articles 4 and 12 of the Convention.

Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which commits its Parties by setting internationally binding emission reduction targets.  Recognizing that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, the Protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities." The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. The detailed rules for the implementation of the Protocol were adopted at COP 7 in Marrakesh, Morocco, in 2001, and are referred to as the "Marrakesh Accords." Its first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012. In Doha, Qatar, on 8 December 2012, the "Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol" was adopted.

During the first commitment period, 37 industrialized countries and the European Community committed to reduce GHG emissions to an average of five percent against 1990 levels. During the second commitment period, Parties committed to reduce GHG emissions by at least 18 percent below 1990 levels in the eight-year period from 2013 to 2020; however, the composition of Parties in the second commitment period is different from the first. Under the Protocol, countries must meet their targets primarily through national measures. However, the Protocol also offers them an additional means to meet their targets by way of three market-based mechanisms.

The Kyoto mechanisms are:

The Kyoto Protocol, like the Convention, is also designed to assist countries in adapting to the adverse effects of climate change. It facilitates the development and deployment of technologies that can help increase resilience to the impacts of climate change. The Adaptation Fund was established to finance adaptation projects and programmes in developing countries that are Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. In the first commitment period, the Fund was financed mainly with a share of proceeds from CDM project activities. In Doha, in 2012, it was decided that for the second commitment period, international emissions trading and joint implementation would also provide the Adaptation Fund with a 2 percent share of proceeds.

Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016, thirty days after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 % of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession with the Depositary.

The Paris Agreement’s aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change. To reach these ambitious goals, appropriate financial flows, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity building framework will be put in place, thus supporting action by developing countries and the most vulnerable countries, in line with their own national objectives. The Agreement also provides for enhanced transparency of action and support through a more robust transparency framework. There will be a global stocktake every 5 years to assess the collective progress towards achieving the purpose of the Agreement and to inform further individual actions by Parties. Further information on key aspects of the Agreement can be found here.

Nationally determined contributions

The Paris Agreement requires all Parties to put forward their best efforts through “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) and to strengthen these efforts in the years ahead. This includes requirements that all Parties report regularly on their emissions and on their implementation efforts.

Further information on NDCs can be found here

 

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