Global action on climate change

Greenhouse gas emissions have global consequences. Therefore dealing with climate change requires coordinated action by nations around the world.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The UNFCCC was created in 1992 as the main forum for international agreement on climate change. It aims to:

  • prevent dangerous human interference in the climate system
  • allow ecosystems to adapt
  • prevent threats to food production
  • encourage sustainable economic development

195 countries have joined the international treaty. Negotiations focus on four key areas:

  • mitigation (reduction) of greenhouse gas emissions
  • adapting to climate change
  • Reporting of national emissions
  • financing mitigation and adaptation technology

The Kyoto Protocol

UNFCCC negotiations led to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The Kyoto Protocol set a target to reduce emissions to 5% below 1990 levels, for the period of 2008 to 2012. 37 countries committed to this target, including the UK. In fact, the UK committed to a 12.5% reduction and went on to reduce emissions by 27% up to 2011.

Overall, the 37 countries reduced global emissions by 5%. But this has not been enough to offset the increasing emissions from other countries.

A second Kyoto commitment period was agreed from 2013 to 2020. Fewer countries signed the second commitment agreement. The UK and the EU are participating. Many other UNFCCC countries have made voluntary pledges to cut their emissions by 2020.

The Paris Agreement

The UNFCCC led a process that culminated in the Paris Agreement in December 2015.

The Paris Agreement is the first truly global effort to reduce emissions.

The main aim of the Paris Agreement is to prevent average global temperatures rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels (pre-1750). It also aims to pursue efforts to limit average warming to 1.5°C.

Over 160 UNFCCC parties have pledged to reduce emissions up to 2030, including China, the US and the European Union (on behalf of the UK and other EU nations).

Overall, the current pledges would lead to lower global emissions compared to previous expectations. But further action will be required to keep average warming to below 2°C.

Therefore, the Paris Agreement scheduled a review in 2018 to raise ambition. There will be another review in 2023 and further reviews every five years after that.

Adapting to climate change

The UNFCCC also commits all signatory nations to formulate, implement, publish and update adaptation measures, as well as to cooperate on adaptation. It also 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.

The Paris Agreement places significant emphasis on the need for adaptation action around the world.