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Guide to the Climate Change Negotiation Process

The Climate Change Convention

The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a Framework Convention on Climate Change (INC) met for the first time in February 1991. After just 15 months, on 9 May 1992, the INC adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Convention was opened for signature at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), the so-called "Earth Summit", in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 4 June 1992, and came into force on 21 March 1994. Today, 186 governments and the European Community are (PDF) Parties to the Convention (131 kB) . To become a Party, a country must ratify, accept, approve, or accede to, the Convention. Parties meet regularly at the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to review the implementation of the Convention and continue talks on how best to tackle climate change.

The Convention sets an "ultimate objective" of stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at safe levels. Such levels, which the Convention does not quantify, 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. To achieve this objective, all countries have a general commitment to address climate change, adapt to its effects, and report on the action they are taking to implement the Convention. The Convention then divides countries into two groups: those listed in its Annex I (known as "Annex I Parties") and those that are not so listed (so-called "non-Annex I Parties").

Annex I Parties

The Annex I Parties (see table below) are the industrialized countries who have historically contributed the most to climate change. They include both the relatively wealthy countries that were members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1992, and countries with "economies in transition" (known as EITs), that is, the Russian Federation and several other Central and Eastern European countries.

The per capita emissions of Annex I Parties are higher than those of most developing countries and they have greater financial and institutional capacity to address climate change. The principles of equity and "common but differentiated responsibilities" enshrined in the Convention therefore require these Parties to take the lead in modifying longer-term trends in emissions. To this end, Annex I Parties are committed to adopting national policies and measures with the non-legally binding aim of returning their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000.

The Convention allows EITs "a certain degree of flexibility" in implementing their commitments, owing to the major economic and political upheavals that have taken place in these countries. Several EITs have invoked this clause to choose a baseline earlier than 1990, that is, before the economic changes which led to big reductions in their emissions.

Annex I Parties must submit regular reports, known as National Communications, detailing their climate change policies and measures. Most Annex I Parties have now submitted two National Communications and the third is due on 30 November 2001. In addition, Annex I Parties must submit an annual greenhouse gas Emission Inventory, including data for their base year (1990 except for some EITs) and up to the last but one year prior to the year of submission. This means that inventories submitted in 2002 should contain the data needed to assess the extent to which Annex I Parties have succeeded in returning their emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000. National Communications are subject to an individual In-Depth Review by teams of experts and a trial period is also underway for a technical review of annual Emission Inventories.

The OECD members of Annex I are also listed in the ConventionÌs Annex II (see table below). These countries have a special obligation to provide "new and additional financial resources" to developing countries to help them tackle climate change, as well as to facilitate the transfer of climate-friendly technologies to both developing countries and EITs.

Countries included in Annex I to the Convention








Czech Republic*



European Community
















New Zealand





Russian Federation*








United Kingdom

United States of America

* Countries with economies in transition

Bold denotes countries also included in Annex II

Underline denotes countries added to Annex I at COP 3

Italics denote a country that has not yet ratified the Convention.

Non-Annex I Parties

All remaining countries, basically, the developing countries, make up the group of non-Annex I Parties. These countries must report in more general terms on their actions to address climate change and adapt to its effects. The time frame for the submission of their initial National Communications, including their Emission Inventories, is less tight than for Annex I Parties and is contingent on the receipt of funding from the ConventionÌs financial mechanism, operated by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Because of this, non-Annex I Parties started to submit their National Communications later than Annex I Parties. Over 50 non-Annex I Parties have now submitted their National Communications.

A Consultative Group of Experts on Non-Annex I Party National Communications (CGE) was established by COP 5 in 1999, in order to help improve those communications. The CGE is composed of five experts from each of the developing country regions (Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean), six experts from Annex I Parties, and three experts from organizations with relevant experience. It meets twice a year, in conjunction with sessions of the Convention bodies, and reports to the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) on its work.

The Convention recognises that financial assistance and technology transfer are critical to enabling non-Annex I Parties to address climate change and adapt to its effects, in the context of their sustainable development. Financial assistance is provided by Annex II Parties and mostly channelled through the ConventionÌs financial mechanism, operated by the GEF. Greater emphasis is now also being placed on supporting capacity-building initiatives in both non-Annex I Parties and EITs.