United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
TypeMultilateral environmental agreement
Drafted9 May 1992 (1992-05-09)
Signed4–14 June 1992
20 June 1992 – 19 June 1993
LocationRio de Janeiro, Brazil
New York, United States
Effective21 March 1994 (1994-03-21)
ConditionRatification by 50 states
DepositarySecretary-General of the United Nations
Full text
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at Wikisource

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the UN process for negotiating an agreement to limit dangerous climate change. It is an international treaty among countries to combat "dangerous human interference with the climate system". The main way to do this is limiting the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.[1] It was signed in 1992 by 154 states at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), informally known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro. The treaty entered into force on 21 March 1994.[2] "UNFCCC" is also the name of the Secretariat charged with supporting the operation of the convention, with offices on the UN Campus in Bonn, Germany.[3]

The convention's main objective is explained in Article 2. It is the "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [i.e., human-caused] interference with the climate system".[1] The treaty calls for continuing scientific research into the climate. This sresearchspuports meetings and negotiations to lead to agreements. The aim is to allow ecosystems to adapt to climate change. At the same time it aims to ensure there are no threats to food production from climate change or measures to address it. And it aims to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.[2][4]

The UNFCCC's work currently focuses on implementing the Paris Agreement. This agreement entered into force in 2016.[5][6] It aims to limit the rise in global temperature to well below 2 °C (3.6 °F) above levels before the Industrial Revolution, and even aiming to hold it at 1.5 °C (2.7 °F). The Paris Agreement superseded the UNFCCC's Kyoto Protocol which had been signed in 1997 and ran from 2005 to 2020.

By 2022, the UNFCCC had 198 parties. Its supreme decision-making body, the Conference of the Parties (COP), meets every year. Other meetings at the regional and technical level take place throughout the year.[7][8] The Paris Agreement mandates a review or "global stocktake" of progress towards meetings its goals every five years. The first of these took place at COP28 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2023.

The treaty sets out responsibilities for three categories of states. These are developed countries, developed countries with special financial responsibilities, and developing countries.[4] The developed countries are called Annex I countries. At first there were 38 of them. Annex I countries should adopt national policies and take corresponding measures to limit their emissions of greenhouse gases. They should also report on steps for returning individually or jointly to their 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels.[4]

It is problematic that key signatory states are not adhering to their individual commitments. For this reason, the UNFCCC has been criticized as being unsuccessful in reducing greenhouse gas emission since its adoption.[9] Parties to the convention have not agreed on a process allowing for majority voting. All decisions are taken by consensus, giving individual parties or countries a veto.[10] The effectiveness of the Paris Agreement to reach its climate goals is also under debate, especially with regards to its more ambitious goal of keeping the global temperature rise to under 1.5 °C.[11][12]


The IPCC's First Assessment Report appeared in 1990. The report gave a broad overview of climate change science and the scientific consensus to date. It discussed uncertainties and provided evidence of warming. The authors said they are certain that greenhouse gases are increasing in the atmosphere because of human activity. This is resulting in more warming of the Earth's surface.[13][14] The report led to the establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).[15]

Convention Agreement in 1992

The text of the Convention was produced during the meeting of an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in New York from 30 April to 9 May 1992. The Convention was adopted on 9 May 1992 and opened for signature on 4 June 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro (known by its popular title, the Earth Summit).[16] On 12 June 1992, 154 nations signed the UNFCCC, which upon ratification committed signatories' governments to reduce atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases with the goal of "preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference with Earth's climate system". This commitment would require substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (see the later section, "Stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations").[1][7] Parties to the Convention have met annually from 1995 in Conferences of the Parties (COPs) to assess progress in dealing with climate change.[8]

Article 3(1) of the Convention[17] states that Parties should act to protect the climate system on the basis of "common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities", and that developed country Parties should "take the lead" in addressing climate change. Under Article 4, all Parties make general commitments to address climate change through, for example, climate change mitigation and adapting to the eventual impacts of climate change.[18] Article 4(7) states:[19]

The extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments under the Convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country Parties of their commitments under the Convention related to financial resources and transfer of technology and will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties.

The Convention specifies the aim of Annex I Parties was stabilizing their greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide and other anthropogenic greenhouse gases not regulated under the Montreal Protocol) at 1990 levels, by 2000.[20]

Overarching objective

The ultimate objective of the Framework Convention is specified in Article 2: "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [i.e., human-caused] interference with the climate system".[1] Article 2 of the convention says this "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".[1]

Six priority areas (Action for Climate Empowerment)

Main article: Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE)

Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) is a term adopted by the UNFCCC in 2015 to have a better name for this topic than "Article 6". It refers to Article 6 of the convention's original text (1992), focusing on six priority areas: education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information, and international cooperation on these issues. The implementation of all six areas has been identified as the pivotal factor for everyone to understand and participate in solving the challenges presented by climate change. ACE calls on governments to develop and implement educational and public awareness programmes, train scientific, technical and managerial personnel, foster access to information, and promote public participation in addressing climate change and its effects. It also urges countries to cooperate in this process, by exchanging good practices and lessons learned, and strengthening national institutions. This wide scope of activities is guided by specific objectives that, together, are seen as crucial for effectively implementing climate adaptation and mitigation actions, and for achieving the ultimate objective of the UNFCCC.[21]

Key agreements and protocols

Kyoto Protocol

A map of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol
  Annex B parties with binding targets in the second period
  Annex B parties with binding targets in the first period but not the second
  Non-Annex B parties without binding targets
  Annex B parties with binding targets in the first period but which withdrew from the Protocol
  Signatories to the Protocol that have not ratified
  Other UN member states and observers that are not party to the Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol (Japanese: 京都議定書, Hepburn: Kyōto Giteisho) was an international treaty which extended the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that commits state parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, based on the scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and that human-made CO2 emissions are driving it. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. There were 192 parties (Canada withdrew from the protocol, effective December 2012)[22] to the Protocol in 2020.

The Kyoto Protocol implemented the objective of the UNFCCC to reduce the onset of global warming by reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to "a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system" (Article 2). The Kyoto Protocol applied to the seven greenhouse gases listed in Annex A: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), nitrogen trifluoride (NF3).[23] Nitrogen trifluoride was added for the second compliance period during the Doha Round.[24]

The Protocol was based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities: it acknowledged that individual countries have different capabilities in combating climate change, owing to economic development, and therefore placed the obligation to reduce current emissions on developed countries on the basis that they are historically responsible for the current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The Protocol's first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012. All 36 countries that fully participated in the first commitment period complied with the Protocol. However, nine countries had to resort to the flexibility mechanisms by funding emission reductions in other countries because their national emissions were slightly greater than their targets. The financial crisis of 2007–08 reduced emissions. The greatest emission reductions were seen in the former Eastern Bloc countries because the dissolution of the Soviet Union reduced their emissions in the early 1990s.[25] Even though the 36 developed countries reduced their emissions, the global emissions increased by 32% from 1990 to 2010.[26]

Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement (or Paris Accords, Paris Climate Accords) is an international treaty on climate change that was adopted in 2015. The treaty covers climate change mitigation, adaptation, and finance. The Paris Agreement was negotiated by 196 parties at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference near Paris, France. As of February 2023, 195 members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are parties to the agreement. Of the three UNFCCC member states which have not ratified the agreement, the only major emitter is Iran. The United States withdrew from the agreement in 2020, but rejoined in 2021.

The Paris Agreement has a long-term temperature goal which is to keep the rise in global surface temperature to well below 2 °C (3.6 °F) above pre-industrial levels. The treaty also states that preferably the limit of the increase should only be 1.5 °C (2.7 °F). The lower the temperature increase, the smaller the effects of climate change can expected to be. To achieve this temperature goal, greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced as soon as, and by as much as, possible. They should even reach net zero by the middle of the 21st century.[27] To stay below 1.5 °C of global warming, emissions need to be cut by roughly 50% by 2030. This figure takes into account each country's documented pledges.[28]

It aims to help countries adapt to climate change effects, and mobilize enough finance. Under the agreement, each country must determine, plan, and regularly report on its contributions. No mechanism forces a country to set specific emissions targets, but each target should go beyond previous targets. In contrast to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the distinction between developed and developing countries is blurred, so that the latter also have to submit plans for emission reductions.

The Paris Agreement was opened for signature on 22 April 2016 (Earth Day) at a ceremony inside the UN Headquarters in New York. After the European Union ratified the agreement, sufficient countries had ratified the agreement responsible for enough of the world's greenhouse gases for the agreement to enter into force on 4 November 2016.

Further commitments

In addition to the Kyoto Protocol (and its amendment) and the Paris Agreement, parties to the Convention have agreed to further commitments during UNFCCC Conferences of the Parties. These include the Bali Action Plan (2007),[29] the Copenhagen Accord (2009),[30] the Cancún agreements (2010),[31] and the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (2012).[32]

Bali Action Plan

Further information: Bali Road Map

As part of the Bali Action Plan, adopted in 2007, all developed country Parties have agreed to "quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives, while ensuring the comparability of efforts among them, taking into account differences in their national circumstances".[33] Developing country Parties agreed to "[nationally] appropriate mitigation actions context of sustainable development, supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity-building, in a measurable, reportable and verifiable manner."[33] 42 developed countries have submitted mitigation targets to the UNFCCC secretariat,[34] as have 57 developing countries and the African Group (a group of countries within the UN).[35]

Copenhagen Accord and Cancún agreements

Further information: Copenhagen Accord and 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference

As part of the 2009 Copenhagen negotiations, a number of countries produced the Copenhagen Accord.[30] The Accord states that global warming should be limited to below 2.0 °C (3.6 °F).[30] The Accord does not specify what the baseline is for these temperature targets (e.g., relative to pre-industrial or 1990 temperatures). According to the UNFCCC, these targets are relative to pre-industrial temperatures.[36]

114 countries agreed to the Accord.[30] The UNFCCC secretariat notes that "Some Parties ... stated in their communications to the secretariat specific understandings on the nature of the Accord and related matters, based on which they have agreed to [the Accord]." The Accord was not formally adopted by the Conference of the Parties. Instead, the COP "took note of the Copenhagen Accord."[30]

As part of the Accord, 17 developed country Parties and the EU-27 submitted mitigation targets,[37] as did 45 developing country Parties.[38] Some developing country Parties noted the need for international support in their plans.

As part of the Cancún agreements, developed and developing countries submitted mitigation plans to the UNFCCC.[39][40] These plans were compiled with those made as part of the Bali Action Plan.

UN Race-to-Zero Emissions Breakthroughs

At the 2021 annual meeting UNFCCC launched the 'UN Race-to-Zero Emissions Breakthroughs'. The aim of the campaign is to transform 20 sectors of the economy in order to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions. At least 20% of each sector should take specific measures, and 10 sectors should be transformed before COP 26 in Glasgow. According to the organizers, 20% is a tipping point, after which the whole sector begins to irreversibly change.[41][42]

Developing countries

At Berlin,[43] Cancún,[44] and Durban,[45] the development needs of developing country parties were reiterated. For example, the Durban Platform reaffirms that:[45]

[...] social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing country Parties, and that a low-emission development strategy is central to sustainable development, and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs.

Green Climate Fund

World map for Sustainable Development Goal 13 Indicator 13.A.1: Green Climate Fund mobilization of $100 billion, 2018

The UN Sustainable Development Goal 13 (SDG 13) includes a target about the UNFCCC and explains how the Green Climate Fund is meant to be used: One of the five target under SDG 13, which is meant to be achieved by 2030, states: "Implement the commitment undertaken by developed-country parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to a goal of mobilizing jointly $100 billion annually by 2020 from all sources to address the needs of developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation and fully operationalize the Green Climate Fund through its capitalization as soon as possible."[46] This target only has one indicator: Indicator 13.a is the "Amounts provided and mobilized in United States dollars per year in relation to the continued existing collective mobilization goal of the $100 billion commitment through to 2025".[47]

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is a fund for climate finance that was established within the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Its objective is to assist developing countries with climate change adaptation and mitigation activities. The GFC is an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the UNFCCC. It is based in Incheon, South Korea. It is governed by a Board of 24 members and supported by a Secretariat.

The Green Climate Fund supports projects and other activities in developing countries using thematic funding windows.[48] It is intended that the Green Climate Fund be the centrepiece of efforts to raise climate finance under the UNFCCC. There are four other, smaller multilateral climate funds for paying out money in climate finance which are coordinated by the UNFCCC. These include the Adaptation Fund (AF), the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF), the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The GFC is the largest of these five funds.[49][50]

As of Dec 2023, the GFC had a portfolio of 13.5 billion USD (51.9 billion USD including co-financing).[51]

The process of designing the GCF has raised several issues. These include ongoing questions on how funds will be raised,[52] the role of the private sector,[53] the level of "country ownership" of resources,[54] and the transparency of the Board itself.[55] Also, this additional international climate institution might further fragment taxpayer's money that is put towards climate action.[56]

The Fund's former director Héla Cheikhrouhou has complained in 2016 that the Fund is backing too many "business-as-usual types of investment proposals". This view is echoed by a number of civil society organizations.[57]

Secretariat and offices

UN Campus, Bonn, seat of the secretariat

"UNFCCC" is also the name of the Secretariat charged with supporting the operation of the convention, with offices on the UN Campus in Bonn, Germany. Offices were formerly located in Haus Carstanjen and in a building on the UN Campus known as Langer Eugen.

The secretariat is established under Article 8 of the Convention and headed by the Executive Secretary. The secretariat, augmented through the parallel efforts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), aims to gain consensus through meetings and the discussion of various strategies. Since the signing of the UNFCCC treaty, Conferences of the Parties (COPs) have discussed how to achieve the treaty's aims.

From 2010 to 2016 the head of the secretariat was Christiana Figueres, following by Patricia Espinosa who was appointed Executive Secretary on 18 May 2016 by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and took office on 18 July 2016.[58] Espinosa retired on 16 July 2022.[58] UN Under Secretary General Ibrahim Thiaw served as the acting Executive Secretary in the interim.[59] On 15 August 2022, Secretary-General António Guterres appointed former Grenadian climate minister Simon Stiell as Executive Secretary, replacing Espinosa.[60]

Current and former executive secretaries are:

List of Executive Secretaries of the UNFCCC
Sr Executive Secretary Country Tenure Other offices held
From To
1 Michael Zammit Cutajar Malta Malta 1995 2002
2 Joke Waller-Hunter Netherlands Netherlands 2002 2005 United Nations Director for Sustainable Development (1994-98)
3 Yvo de Boer 10 August 2006 1 July 2010
4 Christiana Figueres Costa Rica Costa Rica 1 July 2010 18 July 2016
5 Patricia Espinosa Mexico Mexico 18 July 2016 16 July 2022 Mexico Secretary of Foreign Affairs (2006-12)
Mexico Ambassador to Germany (2013-16)
Acting Ibrahim Thiaw Mauritania Mauritania 17 July 2022[62] 14 August 2022 United Nations Under Secretary General of the United Nations and UNCCD Executive Secretary (2019-)
6 Simon Stiell Grenada Grenada 15 August 2022[60][63][64] current Grenada Environment minister (2017-22)[64]


Relationship with IPCC reports

The reports published by IPCC play a key role in the annual climate negotiations held by the UNFCCC.[65][66] For example, the UNFCCC invited the IPCC to prepare a report on global warming of 1.5 °C. The IPCC subsequently released the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C (SR15) in 2018.[67] The report showed that it was possible to keep warming below 1.5 °C during the 21st century. But this would mean deep cuts in emissions. It would also mean rapid, far-reaching changes in all aspects of society.[68] The report showed warming of 2 °C would have much more severe impacts than 1.5 °C. In other words: every bit of warming matters. SR15 had an unprecedented impact for an IPCC report in the media and with the public.[69] It put the 1.5 °C target at the center of climate activism.[70]

Conferences of the Parties (CoP)

Main article: United Nations Climate Change conference

The United Nations Climate Change Conference are yearly conferences held in the framework of the UNFCCC. They serve as the formal meeting of the UNFCCC Parties (Conferences of the Parties) (COP) to assess progress in dealing with climate change, and beginning in the mid-1990s, to negotiate the Kyoto Protocol to establish legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.[8] Since 2005 the Conferences also served as the Meetings of Parties of the Kyoto Protocol (CMP) and since 2016 the Conferences also serve as Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA).

The first conference (COP1) was held in 1995 in Berlin. The 3rd conference (COP3) was held in Kyoto and resulted in the Kyoto protocol, which was amended during the 2012 Doha Conference (COP18, CMP 8). The COP21 (CMP11) conference was held in Paris in 2015 and resulted in adoption of the Paris Agreement. COP28 took place in the United Arab Emirates in 2023 and included the first global stocktake under the Paris Agreement. The UAE nominated Sultan al-Jaber, who is also head of Abu Dhabi's national oil company ADNOC, to preside over COP28.[71] Azerbaijan will host COP29 in 2024.

Subsidiary bodies

A subsidiary body is a committee that assists the Conference of the Parties. Subsidiary bodies include:[72]

National communication

A "National Communication" is a type of report submitted by the countries that have ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).[76] Developed countries are required to submit National Communications every four years and developing countries should do so.[77][78][79] Some Least Developed Countries have not submitted National Communications in the past 5–15 years,[80] largely due to capacity constraints.

National Communication reports are often several hundred pages long and cover a country's measures to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions as well as a description of its vulnerabilities and impacts from climate change.[81] National Communications are prepared according to guidelines that have been agreed by the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC. The (Intended) Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that form the basis of the Paris Agreement are shorter and less detailed but also follow a standardized structure and are subject to technical review by experts.

Nationally Determined Contributions

Main article: Nationally Determined Contributions

At the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties in Warsaw in 2013, the UNFCCC created a mechanism for Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to be submitted in the run up to the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties in Paris (COP21) in 2015.[82] Countries were given freedom and flexibility to ensure that these climate change mitigation and adaptation plans were nationally appropriate.[83] This flexibility, especially regarding the types of actions to be undertaken, allowed for developing countries to tailor their plans to their specific adaptation and mitigation needs, as well as towards other needs.

In the aftermath of COP21, these INDCs became Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as each country ratified the Paris Agreement, unless a new NDC was submitted to the UNFCCC at the same time.[84] The 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP22) in Marrakesh focused on these Nationally Determined Contributions and their implementation, after the Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016.[85]

Membership and participation

Parties to the UNFCCC
  Annex I and II parties
  Annex I parties
  Non-annex parties
  Observer states

Main article: List of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

As of 2022, the UNFCCC has 198 parties including all United Nations member states, United Nations General Assembly observers the State of Palestine and the Holy See, UN non-member states Niue and the Cook Islands, and the supranational union European Union.[86][87]

Classification of Parties and their commitments

Parties to the UNFCCC are classified as:

Parties: Annexes, EU, OECD, EITs[93]

List of parties

Annex I countries

There are 43 Annex I Parties including the European Union.[88] These countries are classified as industrialized countries and economies in transition.[89] Of these, 24 are also Annex II Parties, including the European Union,[91] and 14 are Economies in Transition.[90]

Annex I countries (24 of these are also Annex II Parties):

  1. Australia Australia[a]
  2. Austria Austria[a]
  3. Belgium Belgium[a]
  4. Canada Canada[a]
  5. Cyprus Cyprus
  6. Denmark Denmark[a]
  7. European Union EU[a]
  8. Finland Finland[a]
  9. France France[a]
  10. Germany Germany[a]
  11. Greece Greece[a]
  12. Iceland Iceland[a]
  13. Republic of Ireland Ireland[a]
  14. Italy Italy[a]
  15. Japan Japan[a]
  16. Liechtenstein Liechtenstein
  17. Luxembourg Luxembourg[a]
  18. Malta Malta
  19. Monaco Monaco
  20. Netherlands Netherlands[a]
  21. New Zealand New Zealand[a]
  22. Norway Norway[a]
  23. Portugal Portugal[a]
  24. Spain Spain[a]
  25. Sweden Sweden[a]
  26. Switzerland Switzerland[a]
  27. Turkey Turkey
  28. United Kingdom United Kingdom[a]
  29. United States United States of America[a]

Annex I countries that are Economies in Transition:

  1. Belarus Belarus
  2. Bulgaria Bulgaria
  3. Croatia Croatia
  4. Czech Republic Czech Republic
  5. Estonia Estonia
  6. Hungary Hungary
  7. Latvia Latvia
  8. Lithuania Lithuania
  9. Poland Poland
  10. Romania Romania
  11. Russia Russian Federation
  12. Slovakia Slovakia
  13. Slovenia Slovenia
  14. Ukraine Ukraine
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Annex II Party

Engagement of civil society

In 2014, The UN with Peru and France created the Global Climate Action Portal NAZCA for writing and checking all the climate commitments.[94][95]

Thousands of observers from civil society, business and academia attend the COPs. They organize a huge programme of activities including officially coordinated "side events". These complement and inform the official negotiations.

Civil Society Observers under the UNFCCC have organized themselves in loose groups, covering about 90% of all admitted organisations. Some groups remain outside these broad groupings, such as faith groups or national parliamentarians.[96] The UNFCCC secretariat also recognizes the following groups as informal NGO groups (2016):[97] Faith-based organizations, Education and Capacity Building and Outreach NGOs, parliamentarians.

An overview is given in the table below:[96]

Name Abbreviation Admitted since
Business and industry NGOs BINGO 1992
Environmental NGOs ENGO 1992
Local government and municipal authorities LGMA COP1 (1995)
Indigenous peoples organizations IPO Archived 1 April 2022 at the Wayback Machine COP7 (2001)
Research and independent NGOs RINGO COP9 (2003)
Trade union NGOs TUNGO Before COP 14 (2008)
Women and gender WGC Shortly before COP17 (2011)
Youth NGOs YOUNGO Archived 19 September 2020 at the Wayback Machine Shortly before COP17 (2011)
Farmers Farmers (2014)


Interpreting ultimate objective in Article 2

Further information: Climate change mitigation and Effects of climate change

A "family photo" in 2016, organized by Greenpeace, at the entrance to the United Nations, with a banner reading "We Will Move Ahead". It highlighted the resolve, despite all the differences, that we will continue to pursue strong climate action, moving towards 100 per cent renewals and aiming for 1.5C target.

The ultimate objective of the Framework Convention contains some key words that are discussed further below and shown here in italics: "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [i.e., human-caused] interference with the climate system".[1]

To stabilize atmospheric GHG concentrations, global anthropogenic GHG emissions would need to peak then decline (see climate change mitigation).[98] Lower stabilization levels would require emissions to peak and decline earlier compared to higher stabilization levels.[98] These lower stabilization levels are associated with lower magnitudes of global warming compared to higher stabilization levels.[98]

There are a range of views over what level of climate change is dangerous.[99]: 29–33  Scientific analysis can provide information on the risks of climate change, but deciding which risks are dangerous requires value judgements.[100]

The global warming that has already occurred poses a risk to some human and natural systems.[101] Higher magnitudes of global warming will generally increase the risk of negative impacts.[102] Climate change risks are "considerable" with 1 to 2 °C of global warming, relative to pre-industrial levels. 4 °C warming would lead to significantly increased risks, with potential impacts including widespread loss of biodiversity and reduced global and regional food security.[102]

Climate change policies may lead to costs that are relevant to the article 2.[100] For example, more stringent policies to control GHG emissions may reduce the risk of more severe climate change, but may also be more expensive to implement.[102][103][104]

In decision making, the precautionary principle is considered when possibly dangerous, irreversible, or catastrophic events are identified, but scientific evaluation of the potential damage is not sufficiently certain.[105]: 655–656  The precautionary principle implies an emphasis on the need to prevent such adverse effects. Following the precautionary principle, uncertainty (about the exact effects of climate change) is not a reason for inaction, and this is acknowledged in Article 3.3 of the UNFCCC.[105]: 656 


Benchmarking is the setting of a policy target based on some frame of reference.[106] An example of benchmarking is the UNFCCC's original target of Annex I Parties limiting their greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by 2000. Goldemberg et al. (1996)[107] commented on the economic implications of this target. Although the target applies equally to all Annex I Parties, the economic costs of meeting the target would likely vary between Parties. For example, countries with initially high levels of energy efficiency might find it more costly to meet the target than countries with lower levels of energy efficiency. From this perspective, the UNFCCC target could be viewed as inequitable, i.e., unfair.

Benchmarking has also been discussed in relation to the first-round emissions targets specified in the Kyoto Protocol (see views on the Kyoto Protocol and Kyoto Protocol and government action).

International trade

Academics and environmentalists criticize article 3(5) of the convention, which states that any climate measures that would restrict international trade should be avoided.[citation needed]


Criticism of processes

See also: Criticism of the Kyoto Protocol

The overall umbrella and processes of the UNFCCC and the adopted Kyoto Protocol have been criticized by some as not having achieved their stated goals of reducing the emission of greenhouse gases.[9] The UNFCCC is a multilateral body concerned with climate change and can be an inefficient system for enacting international policy: Because the framework system includes over 190 countries and because negotiations are governed by consensus, small groups of countries can often block progress.[108][109]

There has been a failure to achieve effective greenhouse gas emission reduction policy treaties since 1992. This has driven some countries like the United States to hold back from ratifying the UNFCCC's most important agreement—the Kyoto Protocol—in large part because the treaty did not cover developing countries which now include the largest CO2 emitters. However, this failed to take into account both the historical responsibility for climate change since industrialization, which is a contentious issue in the talks, and also responsibility for emissions from consumption and importation of goods (see carbon footprint).[110] It has also led Canada to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol in 2011 out of a wish not to make its citizens pay penalties that would result in wealth transfers out of Canada.[111] Both the US and Canada are looking at internal Voluntary Emissions Reduction schemes to curb carbon dioxide emissions outside the Kyoto Protocol.[112]

The perceived lack of progress has also led some countries to seek and focus on alternative high-value activities like the creation of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants which seeks to regulate short-lived pollutants such as methane, black carbon and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which together are believed to account for up to one third of current global warming but whose regulation is not as fraught with wide economic impacts and opposition.[113]

In 2010, Japan stated that it will not sign up to a second Kyoto term, because it would impose restrictions on it not faced by its main economic competitors, China, India and Indonesia.[114] A similar indication was given by the Prime Minister of New Zealand in November 2012.[115] At the 2012 conference, last-minute objections at the conference by Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan were ignored by the governing officials, and they have indicated that they will likely withdraw or not ratify the treaty.[116] These defections place additional pressures on the UNFCCC process that is seen by some as cumbersome and expensive: in the UK alone, the climate change department has taken over 3,000 flights in two years at a cost of over £1,300,000 (British pounds sterling).[117]

Further, the UNFCCC (mainly during the Kyoto protocol) failed to facilitate the transfer of environmentally sound technologies (SETs) which are mechanisms used to decrease the vulnerability of the human race against the unfavorable effects of climate change. One of the more widely used of these being renewable energy sources. The UNFCCC created the body "technology mechanism" who would distribute these resources to developing countries; however this distribution was too moderate and, coupled with the failings of the first commitment period of the Kyoto protocol,[118] led to low ratification numbers for the second commitment (resulting in it not going ahead).

Before the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, National Geographic magazine added to the criticism, writing: "Since 1992, when the world's nations agreed at Rio de Janeiro to avoid 'dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system,' they've met 20 times without moving the needle on carbon emissions. In that interval we've added almost as much carbon to the atmosphere as we did in the previous century."[119]

Criticism of effectiveness of Paris Agreement

Scenarios of global greenhouse gas emissions. If all countries achieve their current Paris Agreement pledges, average warming by 2100 would still exceed the maximum 2°C target set by the agreement.

The effectiveness of the Paris Agreement to reach its climate goals is under debate, with most experts saying it is insufficient for its more ambitious goal of keeping global temperature rise under 1.5 °C.[120][121] Many of the exact provisions of the Paris Agreement have yet to be straightened out, so that it may be too early to judge effectiveness.[120] According to the 2020 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), with the current climate commitments of the Paris Agreement, global mean temperatures will likely rise by more than 3 °C by the end of the 21st century. Newer net zero commitments were not included in the Nationally Determined Contributions, and may bring down temperatures a further 0.5 °C.[122]

With initial pledges by countries inadequate, faster and more expensive future mitigation would be needed to still reach the targets.[123] Furthermore, there is a gap between pledges by countries in their NDCs and implementation of these pledges; one third of the emission gap between the lowest-costs and actual reductions in emissions would be closed by implementing existing pledges.[124] A pair of studies in Nature found that as of 2017 none of the major industrialized nations were implementing the policies they had pledged, and none met their pledged emission reduction targets,[125] and even if they had, the sum of all member pledges (as of 2016) would not keep global temperature rise "well below 2 °C".[126][127]

In 2021, a study using a probabilistic model concluded that the rates of emissions reductions would have to increase by 80% beyond NDCs to likely meet the 2 °C upper target of the Paris Agreement, that the probabilities of major emitters meeting their NDCs without such an increase is very low. It estimated that with current trends the probability of staying below 2 °C of warming is 5% – and 26% if NDCs were met and continued post-2030 by all signatories.[128]

As of 2020, there is little scientific literature on the topics of the effectiveness of the Paris Agreement on capacity building and adaptation, even though they feature prominently in the Paris Agreement. The literature available is mostly mixed in its conclusions about loss and damage, and adaptation.[120]

According to the stocktake report, the agreement has a significant effect: while in 2010 the expected temperature rise by 2100 was 3.7–4.8 °C, at COP 27 it was 2.4–2.6°C and if all countries will fulfill their long-term pledges even 1.7–2.1 °C. Despite it, the world is still very far from reaching the aim of the agreement: limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. For doing this, emissions must peak by 2025.[129][130]


In 2016, the UNFCCC received the "Prince or Princess of Asturias Award for International Cooperation" by the Princess of Asturias Awards.[131]

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