Background for Beginners

Background on the Negotiations

In 1994, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) entered into force. The international treaty set an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenges posed by climate change. Under the Convention, governments:

  • Gather and share information on greenhouse gas emissions, national policies and best practices;
  • Launch national strategies for addressing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to expected impacts, including the provision of financial and technological support to developing countries;
  • Cooperate in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change.

Today 192 countries have ratified the treaty, making its membership nearly universal. For more information, please consult the UNFCCC website.

The Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement under the Convention that sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European Community for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These amount to an average reduction of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012. The major distinction between the Protocol and the Convention is that while the Convention encouraged industrialized countries to stabilize GHG emissions, the Protocol commits signatories to do so.

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. A total of 191 Parties of the Convention have ratified the Protocol to date-the exception being the USA. Detailed rules for the implementation of the Protocol were adopted at COP 7 in Marrakesh in 2001, and are called the "Marrakesh Accords".

Institutions and Organisations

The highest decision-making authority of the Convention is the Conference of the Parties (COP), which is made up of all countries that are Parties to the Convention. The COP is responsible for keeping efforts to address climate change on track and meets every year, unless the Parties decide otherwise.

The Convention also established two permanent subsidiary bodies: the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI). These bodies give advice to the COP and each has a specific mandate. The SBSTA and the SBI traditionally meet in parallel, at least twice a year.

The SBSTA's tasks include promoting the development and transfer of environmentally-friendly technologies, conducting technical work to improve the guidelines for preparing national communications and emission inventories, and carrying out methodological work in specific areas, such as the land use, land use change and sector, and adaptation and vulnerability.

The SBI gives advice to the COP on all matters concerning the implementation of the Convention. A particularly important task in this respect is to examine the information in the national communications and emission inventories submitted by Parties in order to assess the Convention's overall effectiveness. The SBI reviews the financial assistance given to Parties to help them implement their Convention commitments, and provides advice to the COP on guidance to the financial mechanism, operated by the Global Environment Facility.

For more information, please consult the UNFCCC website.

Post-2012 Policy and the Bali Road Map: Building a New Agreement

Because of first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012, and because of the ongoing need to bring the USA into discussions, parties at the 13th COP in Bali agreed on a Road Map to guide discussions with the aim of creating a new agreement to tackle climate change post-2012.

The resulting "Bali Road Map" was significant for a number of reasons:

  • It recognized climate change as definitely man-made (IPCC 2007 Fourth Assessment Report)
  • It recognized that actions to address climate change intimately linked to economic growth and countries' sustainable development needs and priorities
  • It was a breakthrough in international policy: it created a mandate for a shared vision of common efforts by both developed & developing countries (long-term global goal for emission reductions under Bali Action Plan)
  • It set a deadline of COP-15 (Copenhagen), 2009

For more info please visit our Bali Road Map page.