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Background on the UNFCCC: The international response to climate change

Delegates at Bonn session

In 1992, countries joined an international treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, as a framework for international cooperation to combat climate change by limiting average global temperature increases and the resulting climate change, and coping with impacts that were, by then, inevitable.

By 1995, countries launched negotiations to strengthen the global response to climate change, and, two years later, adopted the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol legally binds developed country Parties to emission reduction targets. The Protocol’s first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012. The second commitment period began on 1 January 2013 and will end in 2020.

There are now 197 Parties to the Convention and 192 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

The 2015 Paris Agreement, adopted in Paris on 12 December 2015, marks the latest step in the evolution of the UN climate change regime and builds on the work undertaken under the Convention. The Paris Agreement charts a new course in the global effort to combat climate change. ADP 2-12 Plenary

ADP 2-12 Plenary  The Paris Agreement seeks to accelerate and intensify the actions and investment needed for a sustainable low carbon future. Its central 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. The Agreement also aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.

To reach these ambitious goals, appropriate financial flows, including by, before 2025, setting a new goal on the provision of finance from the USD 100 billion floor, and an enhanced capacity building framework, including an Initiative for Capacity Building, 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 will also enhance transparency of action and support through a more robust transparency framework.

The UNFCCC secretariat supports all institutions involved in the international climate change negotiations, particularly the Conference of the Parties (COP), the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties (CMP), the subsidiary bodies (which advise the COP/CMP), and the COP/CMP Bureau (which deals mainly with procedural and organizational issues arising from the COP/CMP and also has technical functions). For a brief depiction of how these various bodies are related to one another, please see Bodies.
Climate change in context
This time line detailing the international response to climate change provides a contextual entry point to the Essential Background. You can also use the links on the left-hand column under Essential Background to navigate this section.

2015 - Intensive negotiations took place under the Ad Hoc Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) throughout 2012-2015 and culminated in the adoption of the Paris Agreement by the COP on 12 December 2015. More on the Paris Agreement.

2014 - At COP 20 in Lima in 2014, Parties adopted the ‘Lima Call for Action’, which elaborated key elements of the forthcoming agreement in Paris. More on the Lima Call for Action.

2013 - Key decisions adopted at COP 19/CMP 9 include decisions on further advancing the Durban Platform, the Green Climate Fund and Long-Term Finance, the Warsaw Framework for REDD Plus and the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage. Under the Durban Platform, Parties agreed to submit “intended nationally determined contributions”, known as INDCs, well before the Paris conference. More on the Warsaw Outcomes.

2012 - The Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol is adopted by the CMP at CMP 8. More on the Doha Amendment. Several decisions taken opening a gateway to greater ambition and action on all levels. More on the Doha Climate Gateway.  

2011 — The Durban Platform for Enhanced Action drafted and accepted by the COP, at COP17. More on the Durban outcomes.

2010 — Cancun Agreements drafted and largely accepted by the COP, at COP 16. More on the Cancun Agreements.

2009 — Copenhagen Accord drafted at COP 15 in Copenhagen. This was taken note of by the COP. Countries later submitted emissions reductions pledges or mitigation action pledges, all non-binding.

2007 — IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report released. Climate science entered into popular consciousness. At COP 13, Parties agreed on the Bali Road Map, which charted the way towards a post-2012 outcome in two work streams: the AWG-KP, and another under the Convention, known as the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action Under the Convention. More about the Bali Road Map.

2005 — Entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol. The first Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (MOP 1) takes place in Montreal. In accordance with Kyoto Protocol requirements, Parties launched negotiations on the next phase of the KP under the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP). What was to become the Nairobi Work Programme on Adaptation (it would receive its name in 2006, one year later) is accepted and agreed on. More about the Nairobi Work Programme.

2001 — Release of IPCC's Third Assessment Report. Bonn Agreements adopted, based on the Buenos Aires Plan of Action of 1998. Marrakesh Accords adopted at COP 7, detailing rules for implementation of Kyoto Protocol, setting up new funding and planning instruments for adaptation, and establishing a technology transfer framework.

1997 — Kyoto Protocol formally adopted in December at COP 3. More about the Kyoto Protocol.

1996 — The UNFCCC Secretariat is set up to support action under the Convention. More on the Secretariat.

1995 — The first Conference of the Parties (COP 1) takes place in Berlin.

1994 — UNFCCC enters into force. An introduction to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

1992 — The INC adopts UNFCCC text. At the Earth Summit in Rio, the UNFCCC is opened for signature along with its sister Rio Conventions, UNCBD and UNCCD. More about the two other Rio Conventions: UNCBD and UNCCD.

1991 — First meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) takes place.

1990 — IPCC's first assessment report released. IPCC and second World Climate Conference call for a global treaty on climate change. United Nations General Assembly negotiations on a framework convention begin.

1988 — The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is set up. More about the science of climate change.

1979 — The first World Climate Conference (WCC) takes place.

Key texts and steps

Core texts

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

The Kyoto Protocol

The Paris Agreement

Key steps

The Bali Road Map

The Cancun Agreements

The Durban Platform for Enhanced Action

The Doha Climate Gateway

Warsaw Outcomes

Lima Call to Action

The Paris Agreement

Getting us there: The AWGs

Ad hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP)
The work of the AWG-KP concluded at the end of 2012.

Ad hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action Under the Convention (AWG-LCA)
The work of the AWG-LCA concluded at the end of 2012.

Ad hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP)
The work of the ADP concluded at the end of 2015.

Status of Ratification

Currently, there are 197 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and 192 Parties to its Kyoto Protocol.

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