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United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change & Conference of Parties


  • The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international environmental treaty (currently the only international climate policy venue with broad legitimacy, due in part to its virtually universal membership) negotiated at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), informally known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June 1992.
  • The objective of the treaty is to "stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system
  • The treaty itself set no binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries and contains no enforcement mechanisms. In that sense, the treaty is considered legally non-binding. Instead, the treaty provides a framework for negotiating specific international treaties (called "protocols") that may set binding limits on greenhouse gases.
  • The UNFCCC was adopted on 9 May 1992, and opened for signature on 4 June 1992, after an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee produced the text of the Framework Convention as a report following its meeting in New York from 30 April to 9 May 1992. It entered into force on 21 March 1994.
  • As of March 2014, UNFCCC has 196 parties.
  • The parties to the convention have met annually from 1995 in Conferences of the Parties (COP) to assess progress in dealing with climate change.
  • In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was concluded and established legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The 2010 Cancún agreements state that future global warming should be limited to below 2.0 °C (3.6 °F) relative to the pre-industrial level. The 20th COP took place in Peru in 2014.


UNFCCC COP21 in Paris, France from 30 November to 11 December 2015

The twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) and the eleventh session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP) will take place from 30 November to 11 December 2015, in Paris, France.


COP - What’s it all about?

The international political response to climate change began at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, where the ‘Rio Convention’ included the adoption of the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This convention set out a framework for action aimed at stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” The UNFCCC which entered into force on 21 March 1994, now has a near-universal membership of 195 parties.

The main objective of the annual Conference of Parties (COP) is to:

  • Review the Convention’s implementation. The first COP took place in Berlin in 1995 and significant meetings since then have included COP3 where the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, COP11 where the Montreal Action Plan was produced
  • COP15 in Copenhagen where an agreement to success Kyoto Protocol was unfortunately not realised and COP17 in Durban where the Green Climate Fund was created.
  • In 2015 COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, will, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.
  • France will play a leading international role in hosting this seminal conference, and COP21 will be one of the largest international conferences ever held in the country. The conference is expected to attract close to 50,000 participants including 25,000 official delegates from government, intergovernmental organizations, UN agencies, NGOs and civil society.


What was the outcome of COP20 in Lima?

  • In 2014, COP20 held in Lima attracted over 15,000 official delegates, and negotiators concluded talks with the ‘Lima Call For Climate Action’, a draft document that lays the foundations for a new global climate deal.
  • Alongside COP20, there were more than 400 conferences in which new research projects and initiatives were presented.
  • The Sustainable Innovation Forum 2014 was the largest commercially-focused event during COP20, attracting high profile speakers, celebrities and over 500 pre-approved delegates representing private sector, government, NGO, UN agencies and civil society.
  • During the two weeks of COP20, over 140 press conferences were held and more than 900 journalists from around the world covered the international event.


IUCN’s key policy recommendations on climate change in 2015

  • Be ambitious, fair and balanced – it should, at the very least, enable the rise in global average temperature to be held below 2°C above pre-industrial levels
  • Be comprehensive in its coverage of greenhouse gas (GHG) sources and sinks, taking into account all major economic sectors, including the land sector 
  • Facilitates global efforts to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, decarbonise energy systems, and expand the use of renewable and other low-carbon sources of energy in a manner that improves human and ecosystem well-being 
  • Clearly recognises and supports the substantial and effective role of healthy ecosystems – terrestrial, marine and coastal – as natural sinks and reservoirs of GHGs 
  • Advances the important role that ecosystem-based approaches and nature-based solutions can play in both climate change mitigation and adaptation 
  • Respects gender equality and human rights, taking into account local, indigenous and traditional knowledge, and the needs of the most vulnerable communities 
  • Catalyses more ambitious action on climate change by all actors across all sectors, particularly from the business community  
  • Ensures that climate finance provisions enable the enhanced uptake of all ecosystem-based mitigation and adaptation measures across all levels, noting the agreed overall international goal of mobilizing US$ 100 billion per year by 2020  

With respect to the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) being prepared and communicated by countries ahead of Paris for the post-2020 period, it is important that these: 

  • Incorporate specific and ambitious ecosystem-based mitigation and adaptation measures. Taking into account that ambitious action is also needed in the pre-2020 period, these could include, for example: 
  • Joining international efforts to combat forest loss and degradation including those launched under the New York Declaration on Forests to halve global natural forest loss by 2020, and end it by 2030
  • Contributing towards the restoration of 150 million hectares of degraded landscapes and forestlands by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030 through the extended Bonn Challenge, noting also the commitment made to achieve land degradation neutrality under the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) 
  • Expanding the existing coverage of terrestrial, coastal and marine protected areas consistent with Aichi Biodiversity Targets 11 and 15 
  • Ensuring the conservation of other natural ecosystems and carbon reservoirs such as oceans and wetlands (i.e. blue carbon), when not already included within existing mechanisms  

IUCN’s overall message is that while biodiversity and ecosystems are threatened by climate change, their conservation, restoration and sustainable management generate significant and practical nature-based solutions to climate change. These cost-effective solutions can contribute to both mitigation and adaptation objectives while also yielding other important economic, social and environmental co-benefits.

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