The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – one of the major Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) – provides the basis for concerted international action to mitigate climate change and to adapt to its impacts. Its provisions are far-sighted, innovative and firmly embedded in the concept of sustainable development. 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. The Convention enjoys near universal membership, with 192 countries having ratified it.
The UNFCCC was signed in June 1992 by 154 states at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit. Poland ratified the UNFCCC on 28 July 1994.
The Convention’s ultimate objective is to achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. According to the principles set forth in this MEA, States shall cooperate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth's ecosystem. In view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation, States have common but differentiated responsibilities in preventing climate change and minimizing any negative effects thereof.
Several institutions and bodies work within the framework of the Convention. These include those established by the Convention – the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP), the subsidiary bodies (SBs), the Bureau and the secretariat. They also include other bodies established by the COP: committees, working groups and expert bodies.
The COP is responsible for reviewing the implementation of the Convention and any related legal instruments, and has to make the decisions necessary to promote the effective implementation of the Convention.
The Convention’s history and evolution
1979 – The First World Climate Conference identified climate change as an urgent world problem and issued a declaration calling on governments to anticipate and guard against potential climate hazards. A World Climate Programme was set up, steered by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU). Several intergovernmental conferences on climate change followed.
1988 - The Toronto Conference on the Changing Atmosphere advanced public debate, when more than 340 participants from 46 countries all recommended developing a comprehensive global framework convention to protect the atmosphere.
The WMO and UNEP established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to assess the magnitude and timing of changes, estimate their impacts and present strategies for how to respond.
1990 - The IPCC published the First Assessment Report on the state of the global climate, which had a potent effect on policy makers and on public opinion.
The Second World Climate Conference met in Geneva in November, and, unlike the 1979 Climate Conference, included ministers as well as scientists.
The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a Framework Convention on Climate Change (INC) was established under the auspices of the General Assembly to negotiate the Convention text.
1992 - The INC finalized the Convention text in just 15 months, in time for its adoption in New York on 9 May and its full launch in June at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, where 154 states signed it.
1994 - The Convention entered into force on 21 March, 90 days after the fiftieth state’s instrument of ratification had been deposited. The Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP) became the Convention’s ultimate authority.
1995 - COP1 was held in Berlin
1996 - The IPCC finalized its Second Assessment Report in time for COP 2 in Geneva in June. It concluded that on the balance of available evidence there was indeed a discernible human influence on global climate that posed hazards to human and economic development. It recommended cost-effective steps, consistent with sustainable development and designed to provide “no regrets” safeguards against such risks. Steps should also be compatible with food security, social justice and the wealth of nations.
1997 - COP3 in Tokyo.
COP 3 adopted the Kyoto Protocol in December. The Kyoto Protocol sets individual, legally binding targets for industrialized countries prepared to take positive steps to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) from sources within their remit.
1998 - COP4 in Buenos Aires
1999 - COP5 in Bonn.
2000 - COP6 in The Hague. Since not all the issues relating to the operational rules for the Protocol could be resolved at COP 6 in November in The Hague, the meeting was suspended.
2001 - COP 6 resumed in Bonn in late July and reached an outline agreement – the so-called Bonn Agreements – on an emissions trading system, on a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), on rules for accounting for emissions reductions from carbon “sinks” and on a compliance regime. It also outlined a package of financial and technological support to help developing countries contribute to global action on climate change and address its adverse effects.
Detailed legal texts based on these decisions were on the negotiating table at COP 7, held in Marrakech in late 2001. COP 7 adopted the respective decisions, the so-called Marrakech Accords.
2002 - COP8 in New Delhi.
2003 - COP9 in Milan.
2004 - COP10 in Buenos Aires.
2005 - The Kyoto Protocol came into force on 16 February. The first Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP/MOP1), was held with COP 11 in Montreal in November and December. It was one of the most successful to date, with an important political break-through being the decision by Parties to start a dialogue on strategic long-term cooperative action.
2006 - COP12 in Nairobi.
2007 - COP13 was held on 3-15 December the 3rd Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP13/CMP3) was held in Bali, Indonesia. During that Conference the international community took crucial decisions on counteracting climate change and adaptation to this change beyond 2012.
The Bali Conference succeeded, and, although it did not set out any scope for reduction of emissions as required in the mid-term horizon, i.e. between 2012 and 2050, it however culminated in three critical goals, including: the general consent to launch negotiations on the global agreement concerning climate change issues; the agenda for the aforementioned negotiations; and the consent to conclude the negotiations by the end of 2009. The Bali Roadmap was approved which includes the Bali Action Plan to comprise those three goals and to chart the course for a new negotiating process which will ultimately lead to a post-2012 international agreement on climate change. The Action Plan includes also recognition of the outcomes of the IPPC Report and related long-term vision of the global emission reduction and the four thematic blocks for the future negotiations: delaying climate change, adaptation to the change, technology transfer, and financing action aimed at delaying of climate change and the adaptation processes. The first commitment period expires in 2012. The consent to entering the negotiations for a new agreement was expressed by the Parties in Bali. In the two years to come, the EU and the international community has to bear a burden of intensive works consultations and negotiations leading to development of a new global agreement on the further commitment period beyond 2012. The works will be started already in January 2008 and will have to be completed by the end of 2009, so that the new agreement be ratified and entered into force by the end of 2012. Therefore, the next two years will be decisive for the global action to be taken on climate change.
2008 - COP14 in Poznan. On 1-12 December 2008, the 14th Conference of the Parties to Climate Convention - COP14 - serving as the 4th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP14/MOP4) will be held in Poznan, Poland. The Convention output achieved so far, as well as that under the Kyoto Protocol, will be summarized there. Poland will make its best efforts in order to arrange this important international meeting in a manner leading to achievement of specific results aimed at stopping climate change and adaptation to inevitable changes. The Poznan meeting is also a milestone on the way towards consensus on the commitments concerning GHGs reduction that is to be reached during the Copenhagen COP in 2009.
During the Poznan Conference, particular emphasis will be put on identification of specific examples of successful technology transfer and of the actions on adaptation to climate change, so that these good practices could be promulgated. The Conference will attract about 10,000-12,000 participants from 190 countries. In connection with the Convention panels, it will form an important step leading towards specific actions aimed at the protection of the Earth climate. In his recent address delivered at the UN General Assembly, Professor Maciej Nowicki, Polish Environmental Minister, declared to organise a world exhibition in Poznan that will present innovative inventions and management solutions serving for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, beginning from the simplest solutions trough the most advanced technologies.
Source: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: Handbook. Bonn, Germany: Climate Change Secretariat, Bonn, Germany, 2006;