The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an intergovernmental treaty developed to address the problem of climate change. The Convention, which sets out an agreed framework for dealing with the issue, was negotiated from February 1991 to May 1992 and opened for signature at the June 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) — also known as the Rio Earth Summit. The UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994, ninety days after the 50th country’s ratification had been received. By December 2007, it had been ratified by 192 countries.
Parties to the Convention continue to meet regularly to take stock of progress in implementing their obligations under the treaty, and to consider further actions to address the climate change threat. They have also negotiated a protocol to the Convention. The Kyoto Protocol was first agreed in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, although ongoing discussions were needed between 1998 and 2004 to finalize the “fine print” of the agreement. The Protocol obliges industrialized countries and countries of the former Soviet bloc (known collectively as “Annex I Parties”) to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases by an average of about 5% for the period 2008-2012 compared with 1990 levels. However, under the terms agreed in Kyoto, the Protocol only enters into force following ratification by 55 Parties to the UNFCCC, and if these 55 countries included a sufficient number of Annex I Parties that at least 55% of that group’s total carbon dioxide emissions for 1990 were represented. Although the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the United States, rejected the Kyoto Treaty in 2001 after the election of President George W. Bush, a majority of other Annex I Parties, including Canada, Japan, and the countries of the European Union ratified the treaty. In November 2004, the Russian Federation also ratified the Protocol, thus reaching the 55% threshold. The Protocol finally entered into force as a legally-binding document on 16 February 2005. By December 2007, the Protocol had been ratified by 177 countries, including Annex I parties representing 63.7% of Annex I greenhouse gas emissions in 1990.
With the immediate future of the Kyoto Protocol secured by Russia’s ratification, an increasing focus of discussions since 2005 has been on the multilateral response to climate change post-2012, when the Protocol’s first commitment period expires. At the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali in December 2007, delegates agreed on a “roadmap” for 2008 and 2009 designed to bring about an agreement by December 2009.
Conference of the Parties
Parties to the UNFCCC continue to adopt decisions, review progress and consider further action through regular meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP). The Conference of Parties is the highest-decision making body of the Convention, and usually meets annually.
The Conference of Parties and the Convention goals are supported by various bodies and organizations. This includes a Permanent Secretariat with various duties set out under Article 8 of the UNFCCC. Since 1996, the Secretariat has been based in Bonn, Germany, after an offer to host it was accepted by Parties to the first meeting of the COP in 1995.
Financing and the Global Environment Facility
The UNFCCC includes provision under Article 10 for a financial mechanism to support developing countries and countries with economies in transition to a market economy in implementing the Convention. Parties to the UNFCCC decided that the Global Environment Facility (GEF) should act as the financial mechanism, given its expertise in this area.
Expert Groups and Other Constituted Bodies
The Convention is also supported by a number of expert groups and other constituted bodies. These include the Consultative Group of Experts (CGE) on national communications from “non-Annex I” Parties (a group composed mostly of developing countries). Other bodies include the Least Developed Country Expert Group (LEG), the Expert Group on Technology Transfer, and the Executive Board of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation Supervisory Committee.