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United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) refers to the legally binding international treaty created to address climate change at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992.
The agreement broadly sets out a negotiating framework on international cooperation on climate change, under the auspices of the United Nations. It also sets out some key principles to help guide these negotiations and also contains guidance on implementation and monitoring of the agreement.
In total, the Convention contains 26 articles. As an end product of a multilateral negotiation process, the UNFCCC was shaped to encourage wide consensus. In doing so, many gaps were left open to ongoing interpretation, often leaving barriers to implementation and enforcement.
Development of the Convention
Countries attending the Earth Summit in 1992 agreed to cooperate together under the international Convention to find ways to reduce the increases in average global temperature. At this stage it was already understood that the impacts of temperature increase were inevitable.
The UNFCCC took effect in 21 March, 1994. It has been ratified by a majority of the world's countries, including the United States; there are 195 Parties to the Convention. A list of the ratifying countries can be found at: http://unfccc.int/essential_background/convention/status_of_ratification/items/2631.php.
The Convention has an ultimate objective of the "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system". The interpretation of what this means is the subject of much debate and discussion.
Protocols to the Convention
By 1995, it became clear that the emission reductions provisions in the UNFCCC were inadequate. The Convention had envisaged the creation of a series of protocols over the coming decades to give more clarity and concrete targets to the framework Convention. Pursuant to this, in 1997 the countries agreed to a binding protocol on emissions reduction targets, known as the Kyoto Protocol. It has 192 Parties. The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol began in 2008 through to 2012. Its second commitment period began on 1 January 2013 and will continue until 2020.
Post 2020 was discussed at the meeting in Durban in 2011. See further: http://unfccc.int/key_steps/durban_outcomes/items/6825.php/
In Cancun in 2010, an agreement was reached on the need to limit emissions to keep global temperature increases to below 2 degrees Celsius.
The COP and CMP
The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the Convention's negotiating body. it is the main decision-making body under the Convention. States that are Parties to the Convention are represented at the COP. The COP meetings serve to discuss and review the Convention's implementation and related instruments and decisions.
The Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol is known as the CMP. All States that are Parties to the Kyoto Protocol are represented at this meeting while non-party States participate as observers.
The UNFCCC secretariat
The UNFCCC secretariat supports the Parties to the Convention. This includes the COP, the subsidiary bodies that advise the COP and the CMP, and the COP/CMP Bureau.
Coverage of the Convention
The 26 articles of the Convention broadly cover the following:
- Article 2 sets out the objective of the Convention
- Article 3 sets out the principles aimed at guiding the Parties in achieving the objective under Article 2
- Articles 4 to 6 refer to the commitments of the Parties. This includes climate change policy measures, support for scientific research, collection and assessment of relevant data, and the promotion of public awareness, education and training. Article 6 has an important role to play in the encouragement of public participation in climate governance.
- Article 7 deals with the establishment of the COP and its yearly meeting requirement to oversee the Convention's implementation
- Articles 8-10 cover the establishment of the UNFCCC secretariat and the two subsidiary bodies (one on scientific and technological advice and the other on implementation)
- Article 11 covers a financial mechanism
- Article 12 discusses communications on the implementation of the Convention by each Party
- Articles 14-16 cover disputes settlement, amendments to the Convention and the addition of annexes
- Article 17 covers the ability for the COP to create protocols to the Convention
- The remaining Articles refer to the treaty itself.
Key principles under the UNFCCC
Five key principles are set forth under Article 3 of the Convention.
Article 3(1) provides: The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof. This relates to common but differentiated responsibilities and intergenerational equity.
Article 3(2) refers to the special needs of developing countries.
Article 3(3) refers to the precautionary principle.
Article 3(4) refers to sustainable development.
Article 3(5) refers to sustainable economic growth.
Public participation in climate governance and public access to information relating to climate change and the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, are also important principles under the UNFCCC (see Article 6). This importance was only recently re-emphasised by governments at the 2014 COP to the UNFCCC in Decision 19/CP.20 of The Lima Ministerial Declaration on Education and Awareness-Raising.
Sources and citations
- A copy of the UNFCCC can be found here: https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/conveng.pdf