The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC) is an international environmental treaty negotiated at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), informally known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro from June 3 to 14, 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 opened for signature on May 9, 1992, after an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee produced the text of the Framework Convention as a report following its meeting in New York from April 30 to May 9, 1992. It entered into force on March 21, 1994. As of May 2011, UNFCCC has 194 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.
One of the first tasks set by the UNFCCC was for signatory nations to establish national greenhouse gas inventories of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and removals, which were used to create the 1990 benchmark levels for accession of Annex I countries to the Kyoto Protocol and for the commitment of those countries to GHG reductions. Updated inventories must be regularly submitted by Annex I countries.
The UNFCCC is also the name of the United Nations Secretariat charged with supporting the operation of the Convention, with offices in Bonn, Germany.
The Kyoto Protocol
The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) sets binding obligations on industrialised countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The UNFCCC is an international environmental treaty with the goal of achieving the stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.
The Protocol was adopted on 11 December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, and entered into force on 16 February 2005. As of September 2011, 191 states have signed and ratified the protocol.
Under the Protocol, 37 industrialized countries and the then European Community (the European Union-15, made up of 15 states at the time of the Kyoto negotiations) ("Annex I Parties") commit themselves to limit or reduce their emissions of four greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride) and two groups of gases (hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons). All member countries give general commitments.
At negotiations, Annex I countries collectively agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% on average for the period 2008-2012, relative to their annual emissions in a base year, usually 1990. Since the US has not ratified the treaty, the collective emissions reduction of Annex I Kyoto countries falls from 5.2% to 4.2% below base year.
Emission limits do not include emissions by international aviation and shipping.
The Protocol allows for several "flexible mechanisms", such as emissions trading, the clean development mechanism (CDM) and joint implementation to allow Annex I countries to meet their GHG emission limitations by purchasing GHG emission reductions credits from elsewhere, through financial exchanges, projects that reduce emissions in non-Annex I countries, from other Annex I countries, or from annex I countries with excess allowances.
Each Annex I country is required to submit an annual report of inventories of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions from sources and removals from sinks under UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. These countries nominate a person (called a "designated national authority") to create and manage its greenhouse gas inventory. Virtually all of the non-Annex I countries have also established a designated national authority to manage its Kyoto obligations, specifically the "CDM process" that determines which GHG projects they wish to propose for accreditation by the CDM Executive Board.
At the 2012 Doha climate change talks, Parties to the Kyoto Protocol agreed to a second commitment period of emissions reductions from 1 January 2013 to 31 December 2020.