Background on the UNFCCC: The international response to climate change

In 1992, countries joined an international treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to cooperatively consider what they could do to limit average global temperature increases and the resulting climate change, and to cope with whatever impacts were, by then, inevitable.

By 1995, countries realized that emission reductions provisions in the Convention were inadequate. They launched negotiations to strengthen the global response to climate change, and, two years later, adopted the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol legally binds developed countries to emission reduction targets. The Protocol’s first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012. The second commitment period began on 1 January 2013 and will end in 2020.

There are now 195 Parties to the Convention and 192 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. The UNFCCC secretariat supports all institutions involved in the international climate change negotiations, particularly the Conference of the Parties (COP), the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties (CMP), the subsidiary bodies (which advise the COP/CMP), and the COP/CMP Bureau (which deals mainly with procedural and organizational issues arising from the COP/CMP and also has technical functions). For a brief depiction of how these various bodies are related to one another, please see Bodies.

The question of what happens beyond 2020 was answered by Parties in Durban in 2011. For more information on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, click here.

Climate change is a complex problem, which, although environmental in nature, has consequences for all spheres of existence on our planet. It either impacts on-- or is impacted by-- global issues, including poverty, economic development, population growth, sustainable development and resource management. It is not surprising, then, that solutions come from all disciplines and fields of research and development.

At the very heart of the response to climate change, however, lies the need to reduce emissions. In 2010, governments agreed that emissions need to be reduced so that global temperature increases are limited to below 2 degrees Celsius.

Climate change in context

This time line detailing the international response to climate change provides a contextual entry point to the Essential Background. You can also use the links on the left-hand column under Essential Background to navigate this section.

2013 - Key decisions adopted at COP19/CMP9 include decisions on further advancing the Durban Platform, the Green Climate Fund and Long-Term Finance, the Warsaw Framework for REDD Plus and the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage. More on the Warsaw Outcomes

2012 - The Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol is adopted by the CMP at CMP8. More on the Doha Amendment. Several decisions taken opening a gateway to greater ambition and action on all levels.More on the Doha Climate Gateway.  

2011 — The Durban Platform for Enhanced Action drafted and accepted by the COP, at COP17. More on the Durban outcomes.

2010 — Cancun Agreements drafted and largely accepted by the COP, at COP16. More on the Cancun Agreements.

2009 — Copenhagen Accord drafted at COP15 in Copenhagen. This was taken note of by the COP. Countries later submitted emissions reductions pledges or mitigation action pledges, all non-binding.

2007 — IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report released. Climate science entered into popular consciousness. At COP13, Parties agreed on the Bali Road Map, which charted the way towards a post-2012 outcome in two work streams: the AWG-KP, and another under the Convention, known as the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action Under the ConventionMore about the Bali Road Map.

2005 — Entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol. The first Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (MOP 1) takes place in Montreal. In accordance with Kyoto Protocol requirements, Parties launched negotiations on the next phase of the KP under the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP). What was to become the Nairobi Work Programme on Adaptation (it would receive its name in 2006, one year later) is accepted and agreed on. More about the Nairobi Work Programme.

2001 — Release of IPCC's Third Assessment Report. Bonn Agreements adopted, based on the Buenos Aires Plan of Action of 1998. Marrakesh Accords adopted at COP7, detailing rules for implementation of Kyoto Protocol, setting up new funding and planning instruments for adaptation, and establishing a technology transfer framework.

1997 — Kyoto Protocol formally adopted in December at COP3. More about the Kyoto Protocol

1996 — The UNFCCC Secretariat is set up to support action under the Convention. More on the Secretariat.

1995 — The first Conference of the Parties (COP 1) takes place in Berlin.

1994 — UNFCCC enters into force. An introduction to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

1992 — The INC adopts UNFCCC text. At the Earth Summit in Rio, the UNFCCC is opened for signature along with its sister Rio Conventions, UNCBD and UNCCD. More about the two other Rio Conventions: UNCBD and UNCCD.

1991 — First meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) takes place.

1990 — IPCC's first assessment report released. IPCC and second World Climate Conference call for a global treaty on climate change. United Nations General Assembly negotiations on a framework convention begin.

1988 — The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is set up. More about the science of climate change.

1979 — The first World Climate Conference (WCC) takes place.

Speech by His Excellency President Maithripala Sirisena

As a developing country and a tropical island nation, Sri Lanka is highly exposed to the impact of climate change.

Changes of temperature, rainfall variation, and sea level rise will directly impact almost all sectors of our economy, including agriculture, fisheries, livestock, water, biodiversity, health, human settlements, tourism and transport.

Occurrences of natural disasters due to extreme weather conditions such as droughts, floods and landslides frequently deprive lives and livelihoods of the people in Sri Lanka.

We consider that transfer of technology to developing countries will ensure that people will be able to address the need of adaptation and nationally suitable mitigation actions.

Even though our per capita emission is low and insignificant in the global sense, we have contributed and will contribute to global mitigation efforts. On the domestic front, I am glad to declare that Sri Lanka has launched several Climate Smart Initiatives.

We recognize the historic initiative of Malta in 1988 which led to the launching of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Sri Lanka has communicated our intended nationally determined contributions to the UNFCCC as part of the upcoming Climate Agreement.

It is necessary to have deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions by the developed countries considering the historical responsibility.

We need to embrace the principle of common but different responsibilities and respective capabilities in order to keep the temperature increase below two degrees Celsius in this century.

The Sri Lankan Delegation looks forward to the success of COP21 in Paris and to have agreement on an extended legally binding climate agreement with deep emission-cuts to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions, and to reduce the global warming and unprecedented climate change impacts.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman it is Sri Lanka’s fervent hope that for the sake of both present and future generations, the Commonwealth Climate Action, would help to bridge the large void that clouds this debate at the moment.

As a Buddhist I strongly believe that Gautama Buddha was the greatest environmentalist who was born to this world. Lord Buddha was the first visionary to speak about the concept of sustainable development.

On behalf of my delegation I wish to thank the organizers for the kind hospitality and helping to make this event a success.

Thank you.