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United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international environmental treaty (also known as a multilateral environmental agreement) that was opened for signature at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and came into force in 1994.

The ultimate objective of the Convention is to “stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human 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.“ 194 countries signed the UNFCCC showing near universal agreement that there is a problem and that action is required against climate change.

The treaty itself is not legally binding as it does not set mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries and doesn’t contain any enforcement mechanisms.

Kyoto Protocol


Countries  that have ratified the

Countries in green have ratified the Kyoto Protocol

The Convention was complemented by the 1997, legally binding, Kyoto Protocol, which has 192 Parties, shown in green on the map to the right. Under this treaty, 37 industrialised countries and the European Community have committed to reducing their emissions by an average of 5% by 2012 against 1990 levels. Industrialized countries must first and foremost take domestic action against climate change. But the Protocol also allows them to meet their emission reduction commitments abroad through so-called “market-based mechanisms”.

[More in depth information] The Kyoto Protocol

One of the initial tasks of the treaty was to establish national greenhouse gas inventories of emissions and removals for industrialized countries. With a few exceptions, these were used as the 1990 “base year” levels. Developing countries are also encouraged to produce inventories. Developed countries must regularly submit greenhouse gas inventories to the UNFCCC.

Countries ratifying the treaty agree to take climate change into account in such matters as agriculture, industry, energy, natural resources, and activities involving sea coasts. They agree to develop national programmes to slow climate change.

The Convention encourages all Parties to take action on two prongs:

Mitigation: - Taking action to prevent and limit further climate change by developing, gathering and sharing information on greenhouse gas emissions, national policies and best practices.

Adaptation: - Taking action to protect and adapt to the impacts of climate change by launching national strategies including the provision of financial and technological support to developing countries and cooperating in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change.

The parties to the convention meet each year in the Conferences of the Parties (COP) to assess progress in dealing with climate change.

Conference of Parties

The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the "supreme body" of the Convention, that is, its highest decision-making authority. It is an association of all the countries that are Parties to the Convention.

The COP is responsible for keeping international efforts to address climate change on track. It reviews the implementation of the Convention and examines the commitments of Parties in light of the Convention’s objective, new scientific findings and experience gained in implementing climate change policies. A key task for the COP is to review the national communications and emission inventories submitted by Parties. Based on this information, the COP assesses the effects of the measures taken by Parties and the progress made in achieving the ultimate objective of the Convention.

The COP meets every year, unless the Parties decide otherwise. The COP meets in Bonn, the seat of the secretariat, unless a Party offers to host the session. Just as the COP Presidency rotates among the five recognized UN regions - that is, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe and Western Europe and Others – there is a tendency for the venue of the COP to also shift among these groups.

[Technical information] COP meetings

[More in depth information] about WMO’s attendance at the COPS (publications and papers) can be found here.

Subsidiary Bodies

The Convention established two permanent subsidiary bodies: the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI). These bodies give advice to the COP and each has a specific mandate. They are both open to participation by any Party and governments often send representatives who are experts in the fields of the respective bodies.

Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA)

The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) was created to provide UNFCCC's Conference of the Parties with advice on scientific, technological and methodological matters. Two key areas are promoting the development and transfer of environmentally-friendly technologies, and conducting technical work to improve the guidelines for preparing national communications and emission inventories. In addition, the SBSTA plays an important role as the link between the scientific information provided by expert sources such as the IPCC on the one hand, and the policy-oriented needs of the COP on the other. The SBSTA works closely with the IPCC, sometimes requesting specific information or reports from it, and also collaborates with other relevant international organizations that share the common objective of sustainable development.

Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI)

The SBI gives advice to the COP on all matters concerning the implementation of the Convention. A particularly important task in this respect is to examine the information in the national communications and emission inventories submitted by Parties in order to assess the Convention’s overall effectiveness. The SBI reviews the financial assistance given to developing country Parties to help them implement their Convention commitments, and provides advice to the COP on guidance to the financial mechanism (operated by the Global Environment Facility (GEF)). The SBI also advises the COP on budgetary and administrative matters.

The SBSTA and SBI work together on cross-cutting issues that touch on both their areas of expertise. These include capacity building, the vulnerability of developing countries to climate change and response measures, and the Kyoto Protocol mechanisms.

The SBSTA and the SBI have traditionally met in parallel, at least twice a year. When they are not meeting in conjunction with the COP, the subsidiary bodies usually convene at the seat of the secretariat.

Convention Amendments and Additions

The Convention recognizes that it is a "framework" document - something to be amended or augmented over time so that efforts to deal with global warming and climate change can be focused and made more effective. Some of these amendments or additions are described below:

Bali Action Plan

The thirteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 13) in Bali, December 2007 Adopted the Bali Action Plan (BAP), a two-year process designed to finalize a binding agreement at the COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. The  BAP identifies five key building blocks required (shared vision, mitigation, adaptation, technology and financial resources) for a strengthened future response to climate change and to enable the full, effective and sustained implementation of the Convention, now, up to and beyond 2012.

[Technical information] The Bail Action Plan

Nairobi Work Programme

In 2004, in Buenos Aires, UNFCCC Parties decided to elaborate a five-year work Programme under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). Details of the work programme were finalized in 2006 in Nairobi, where the programme was renamed the Nairobi work programme on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change.

The aim of the Nairobi work programme is to assist all Parties, in particular developing countries, including the least developed countries and small island developing states, to: improve their understanding and assessment of impacts, vulnerability and adaptation; make informed decisions on practical adaptation actions and measures to respond to climate change on a sound scientific, technical and socio-economic basis, taking into account current and future climate change and variability.

[Technical information] The Nairobi Work Programme

[More in depth information] Concept Paper on WMO’s Role in the Nairobi work plan

National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs)

In 2001, the 7th COP of the UNFCCC recognised that developing countries needed assistance in developing plans to address the adverse effects of climate change. In particular, the COP decided that the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) “should be assisted in preparing National Adaptation Programs of Action (NAPAs) to address urgent and immediate needs and concerns related to adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change.”

“NAPA” should be considered as  a process and not as a single document. It is a mean for LDCs to communicate and disseminate their proposed programmes to address their  adaptation needs. Support for priority activities identified in the NAPA is available through the Global Environment Facility (GEF)'s LDC Fund.

[Technical information] on NAPAs for each country can be found in the NAPA Priorities database



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