Global Action on Climate Change

Like the UK, many other countries are proceeding with national legislation to tackle climate change.

But greenhouse gas emissions have global consequences, regardless of where they come from. Tackling climate change therefore requires coordinated action by nations around the world. The UK and the EU are party to international legislation that aims to achieve this.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

The UNFCCC was created in 1992 as the main forum for international agreement on tackling climate change. 195 countries have now joined the international treaty. Negotiations focus on four key areas:

  • Adapting to climate change
  • Finance to enable action on mitigation and adaptation
  • Mitigation (i.e. reduction) of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Technology development and transfer to allow green development

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Industrialised countries are encouraged to reduce their emissions under the UNFCCC, and some have committed themselves to do so. Recognising their burden of responsibility for emissions in the past, 37 industrialised countries set legal emissions commitments under the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

The Kyoto Protocol set a 5% reduction below 1990 levels for the first commitment period (2008-2012). This has been achieved but has not been enough to offset the rapidly increasing emissions from other countries without legal commitments.

The UK’s commitment under the Protocol was a 12.5% reduction and has been achieved, with emissions being reduced by 27% by 2011.

A second Kyoto commitment period has been agreed from 2013 to 2020. Fewer countries remain signatories although the UK and the EU are participating. Many other UNFCCC countries have made voluntary pledges to cut their emissions by 2020.

Work continues on building a stronger international regime. The UNFCCC has agreed to aim for a new “protocol, legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force… applicable to all Parties” by 2015. Countries have also recognised that reductions should be rapid enough to keep global temperature within 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The UK’s 2050 target is broadly consistent with a global effort to achieve this.

Adapting to climate change

The UNFCCC commits all Parties to formulate, implement, publish and update adaptation measures, as well as to cooperate on adaptation. It provides for a variety of support mechanisms for the implementation of adaptation measures in developing countries.

In 2010 the Cancun Adaptation Framework was adopted, and it was agreed that adaptation must be given the same priority as mitigation. The Framework calls for further action on adaptation including reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience in developing country Parties.


For further information on international action on climate change please see the UNFCCC website.