The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC) is an international environmental treaty negotiated at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), informally known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro from June 3 to 14, 1992. The objective of the treaty is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

The treaty itself set no binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries and contains no enforcement mechanisms. In that sense, the treaty is considered legally non-binding. Instead, the treaty provides a framework for negotiating specific international treaties (called “protocols”) that may set binding limits on greenhouse gases.

The UNFCCC was opened for signature on May 9, 1992, after an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee produced the text of the Framework Convention as a report following its meeting in New York from April 30 to May 9, 1992. It entered into force on March 21, 1994. As of May 2011, UNFCCC has 194 parties.

The parties to the convention have met annually from 1995 in Conferences of the Parties (COP) to assess progress in dealing with climate change. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was concluded and established legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.[2] The 2010 Cancún agreements state that future global warming should be limited to below 2.0 °C (3.6 °F) relative to the pre-industrial level.

Parties to UNFCCC are classified as:

Annex I countries: Industrialized countries and economies in transition

Annex II countries: Developed countries which pay for costs of developing countries

Non – Annex I countriesDeveloping Countries.

Annex I countries which have ratified the Protocol have committed to reduce their emission levels of greenhouse gasses to targets that are mainly set below their 1990 levels. They may do this by allocating reduced annual allowances to the major operators within their borders. These operators can only exceed their allocations if they buy emission allowances, or offset their excesses through a mechanism that is agreed by all the parties to UNFCCC.

Annex II countries are a sub-group of the Annex I countries. They comprise the OECD members, excluding those that were economies in transition in 1992.

Developing countries are not required to reduce emission levels unless developed countries supply enough funding and technology. Setting no immediate restrictions under UNFCCC serves three purposes:

it avoids restrictions on their development, because emissions are strongly linked to industrial capacity they can sell emissions credits to nations whose operators have difficulty meeting their emissions targets they get money and technologies for low-carbon investments from Annex II countries.

Developing countries may volunteer to become Annex I countries when they are sufficiently developed.

There are 41 Annex I countries and the European Union is also a member.

There are 24 Annex II countries and the European Union. Turkey was removed from the Annex II list in 2001 at its request to recognize its economy as a transition economy. These countries are classified as developed countries which pay for costs of developing countries:

Conferences of the Parties:

1995: COP 1, The Berlin Mandate

The first UNFCCC Conference of Parties took place in 28 March – 7 April 1995 in Berlin, Germany. It voiced concerns about the adequacy of countries’ abilities to meet commitments under the Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI).

1996: COP 2 took place in July 1996 in Geneva, Switzerland. Its Ministerial Declaration was noted (but not adopted) July 18, 1996, and reflected a U.S. position statement presented by Timothy Wirth, former Under Secretary for Global Affairs for the U.S. State Department at that meeting, which:

Accepted the scientific findings on climate change proffered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its second assessment (1995); Rejected uniform “harmonized policies” in favor of flexibility; Called for “legally binding mid-term targets”.

1997: COP 3 took place in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan. After intensive negotiations, it adopted the Kyoto Protocol, which outlined the greenhouse gas emissions reduction obligation for Annex I countries, along with what came to be known as Kyoto mechanisms such as emissions trading, clean development mechanism and joint implementation. Most industrialized countries and some central European economies in transition (all defined as Annex B countries) agreed to legally binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of an average of 6 to 8% below 1990 levels between the years 2008–2012, defined as the first emissions budget period. The United States would be required to reduce its total emissions an average of 7% below 1990 levels; however Congress did not ratify the treaty after Clinton signed it. The Bush administration explicitly rejected the protocol in 2001.

1998: COP 4 took place in November 1998 in Buenos Aires. It had been expected that the remaining issues unresolved in Kyoto would be finalized at this meeting. However, the complexity and difficulty of finding agreement on these issues proved insurmountable, and instead the parties adopted a 2-year “Plan of Action” to advance efforts and to devise mechanisms for implementing the Kyoto Protocol, to be completed by 2000. During COP4, Argentina and Kazakhstan expressed their commitment to take on the greenhouse gas emissions reduction obligation, the first two non-Annex countries to do so.

1999: COP 5 took place between October 25 and November 5, 1999, in Bonn, Germany.

2000COP 6, The Hague, Netherlands

2001COP 6, Bonn, Germany (resumed from Hague).

The Agreements Included:

Flexible Mechanisms: The “flexibility” mechanisms which the United States had strongly favored when the Protocol was initially put together, including emissions trading; Joint Implementation (JI); and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) which allow industrialized countries to fund emissions reduction activities in developing countries as an alternative to domestic emission reductions.

2001: COP 7, Marrakech, Morocco

2002: COP 8, New Delhi, India. COP 8 adopted the Delhi Ministerial Declaration that, amongst others, called for efforts by developed countries to transfer technology and minimize the impact of climate change on developing countries.

2003: COP 9, Milan, Italy

2004: COP 10, Buenos Aires, Argentina

2005: COP 11/MOP 1, Montreal, Canada.

It was the first Meeting of the Parties (MOP-1) to the Kyoto Protocol since their initial meeting in Kyoto in 1997. It was therefore one of the largest intergovernmental conferences on climate change ever. The event marked the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol.

2006: COP 12/MOP 2, Nairobi, Kenya

2007: COP 13/MOP 3, Bali, Indonesia

Agreement on a timeline and structured negotiation on the post-2012 framework (the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol) was achieved with the adoption of the Bali Action Plan.

2008: COP 14/MOP 4, Poznań, Poland

2010: COP 16/MOP 6, Cancún, Mexico

The outcome of the summit was an agreement adopted by the states’ parties that called for the 100 billion USD per annum “Green Climate Fund”, and a “Climate Technology Centre” and network. However the funding of the Green Climate Fund was not agreed upon.

2011: COP 17/MOP 7, Durban, South Africa

The conference agreed to a legally binding deal comprising all countries, which will be prepared by 2015, and to take effect in 2020. There was also progress regarding the creation of a Green Climate Fund (GCF) for which a management framework was adopted. The fund is to distribute US$100 billion per year to help poor countries adapt to climate impacts

2012: COP 18/MOP 8, Doha, Qatar

The Conference produced a package of documents collectively titled The Doha Climate Gateway over objections from Russia and other countries at the session. The documents collectively contained:

  • An eight year extension of the Kyoto Protocol until 2020 limited in scope to only 15% of the global carbon dioxide emissions due to the lack of participation of Canada, Japan, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, New Zealand nor the United States and due to the fact that developing countries like China (the world’s largest emitter), India and Brazil are not subject to any emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol. Language on loss and damage, formalized for the first time in the conference documents.
  • The conference made little progress towards the funding of the Green Climate Fund.
  • The United Nations Climate Change secretariat has launched a new initiative that will showcase efforts by individuals, companies and governments that are achieving real results in transitioning to climate neutrality.
  • Momentum for Change: Climate Neutral Now brings together two of the secretariat’s flagship activities that recognize leadership in tackling climate change by non-Party stakeholders.
  • In December 2011, the secretariat launched its Momentum for Change initiative to shine a light on the enormous groundswell of activities underway across the globe that are moving the world toward a highly resilient, low-carbon future. In September 2015, the secretariat launched its Climate Neutral Now initiative to urge individuals, companies and governments to measure their climate footprint, reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible, and offset what they cannot reduce using UN-certified emissions reductions.