International response to climate change



The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) of 1992 is the international response to climate change. It has near-universal membership. 197 countries have ratified the Convention. It entered into force in March 1994.

In 1995, countries joined together to strengthen the global response to climate change, resulting in the Kyoto Protocol. It legally binds developed countries to reduce emission targets.

The Protocol’s first commitment started in 2008 and ended in 2012. The second commitment started in 2013 and will end in 2020.

The latest development on climate change is the Paris Agreement of 2015, which builds on the work of the UNFCCC. Its aim is to accelerate actions and investment needed for a low carbon future.

The UNFCCC refers to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer of 1989 in a lot of its text, in the form of anything that is “not controlled by the Montreal Protocol”. It is therefore important to understand what the Montreal Protocol is. The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer of 1989 was designed to protect the Earth’s fragile ozone layer. There were many adjustments to this Protocol, being adjusted six times. It is one of the few treaties that has been ratified by 197 Parties.

The three core texts on climate change

1. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992) formed to stabilise the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level which would prevent dangerous interference in the climate change system. The stabilisation should be done in a time frame to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally, to ensure food production is not threatened and to enable economic development in a sustainable manner.

What do Parties need to do?

  • Develop, update and publish national inventories of anthropogenic emissions.
  • Formulate, implement and publish regional measures to mitigate climate change.
  • Promote and co-operate in development, application and diffusion of practices and processes that control, prevent or reduce anthropogenic emissions.
  • Promote sustainable management and promote conservation.
  • Co-operate in preparing for adapting to the impacts of climate change. In particular, areas in Africa affected by droughts, desertification and floods.  
  • Take climate change into consideration when addressed in relevant social, economical and environmental policies.
  • Promote and co-operate in scientific, technological, technical and socio-economical research and development of data archives.
  • Promote and co-operate in full, open and prompt exchange of information related to the climate change system.
  • Promote and co-operate in education, training and public awareness related to climate change.

2. Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1995) outlined more specific measures on climate change to strengthen the commitment to climate change, which bound the Parties to emission reduction targets. These commitments include:

  • Enhancement of energy efficiency in relevance to the economy.
  • Protection and enhancement of sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases.
  • Promotion of sustainable forms of agriculture being mindful to climate change.
  • Research, promotion and increased used of new and renewable forms of energy and advanced environmentally sound technologies.
  • Progressive reduction or phasing out of greenhouse gas emitting sectors that is counter to the objective of the UNFCCC.
  • Reform and encourage relevant sectors to promote policies that limit or reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • Measures to limit and/or reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • Limit and/or reduce methane emissions through recovery and use in waste management.

There are currently 192 Parties (191 States and 1 regional economic integration organisation) to the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC.

In 2012, the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol was adopted at a UN Climate Change conference in Doha, Qatar. The amendment included new commitments for parties joining the second commitment period from 2013 to 2020, and a revised list of greenhouse gases to be reported by these parties.

3. The Paris Agreement (2015) builds on the UNFCCC and brings all nations into a common cause: to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.

There are currently 144 Parties that have ratified of 197 Parties to the Convention. The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4th November 2016.

Specific measures to this Agreement includes:

  • Holding the increase of global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.
  • Increase the ability to adapt to the impacts of climate change, fostering climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development that does not threaten food production.
  • Making finance flows consistent with a pathway to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Areas of co-operation to enhance understanding, action and support include:

  • Early warning systems
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Slow onset events
  • Events that may involve permanent loss of damage
  • Comprehensive risk assessment
  • Risk insurance facilities
  • Non-economic losses
  • Resilience of communities, livelihoods and ecosystems