Framework Convention on Climate Change

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the United Nation's international, multilateral agreement on climate change. Its aim is to prevent a danger-ous anthropogenic, that is human-made, interference with the climate system. The UNFCCC was created in 1992 as part of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro and entered into force two years later. 197 countries, and thus almost every country on earth, have ratified the UNFCCC.

The goals in detail

Blauer Himmel mit Wolken und Sonne

In the context of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the parties agreed not only to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system but also to achieve a stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations. This should occur at a level that allows "eco-systems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner" (Article 2 of the Convention).

Precisely what constitutes "dangerous" interference with the climate system is left open to interpretation by the Convention. As early as COP16 in Cancún in 2010, the parties decided to restrict the global temperature rise to a maximum 2 celsius compared with pre-industrial lev-els. It was phrased to explicitly allow for the possibility of limiting the rise to 1.5 celsius, a key demand of small island states. The existence of several small island states is threatened by rising sea levels due to climate change.

The Paris Agreement of 2015 established three concrete goals, which need to be achieved in tandem with sustainable development goals and efforts to combat poverty: First, the in-crease in the average global temperature should be kept well below 2 celsius compared to pre-industrial levels and efforts will be made to limit the increase to 1.5 celsius. This would consid-erably lower the risks and impacts of climate change. Second, both the capacity to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and resilience against these impacts need to be strengthened, and low-emission development with a view to greenhouse gases must be pro-moted so that food production will not be at risk. Third, finance flows need to be aligned with development that will ensure lower greenhouse gas emissions and more resilience to changes in the climate.


The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the supreme decision-making body of the Convention, and it is also referred to as climate change conference, climate summit or UN climate confer-ence. Once a year, the parties to the convention get together to promote the effective implementation of the convention and advance international climate action. To that end, the parties can adopt amendments or even independent agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol or the Paris Agreement. The COP also makes important decisions in order to fulfil its tasks. The decisions refer to measures regarding climate action, adaptation to climate change, funding climate action or technological development and transfer. The UNFCCC Secretariat in Bonn provides administrative support for the COP such as drawing up reports and coordinating with other relevant international organisations.

In addition to the annual COP, there are also two subsidiary bodies, one of which focuses on scientific and technical issues (Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice / SBSTA) while the other addresses implementation issues (Subsidiary Body for Implementation / SBI). The subsidiary bodies meet twice a year – once in Bonn in the summer and during the COP at the end of the year.

The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities

zwei gebräunte faltige Hände halten ein Modell einer Weltkugel, vor braunem Sand

By signing the Framework Convention on Climate Change, all parties to the convention have committed themselves to reporting regularly on their GHG emissions and to initiating mitigation measures. Article 3 of the convention stipulates the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC). This means that global climate action is a joint task for all countries, but that the individual countries should contribute in line with their respective emissions and capabilities. With a view to the CBDR principle, the convention itself distinguishes between only two groups of countries: industrialised countries and developing countries. Industrialised countries are listed in Annex I, the first annex to the Climate Convention. The parties to the convention agreed on far-reaching yet non-binding commitments for Annex I countries. These commitments concern reporting, implementation of mitigation measures and, for the wealthier industrialised countries, financial and other support for measures in developing countries. The Annex I countries comprise mainly the OECD countries as of 1990, also including the member states of the European Union, as major emitters of climate damaging greenhouse gases. Developing countries (non-Annex I countries), which at the time also including emerging economies like Brazil, China and India, did not commit to concrete reduction obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. For this reason, industrialised countries were assigned a leading role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with the polluter pays principle, which formed the basis, for example, for the legally binding reduction obligation for industrialised countries in the Kyoto Protocol.

Since then, China has now become the largest emitter of CO2, followed by the US, the 27 EU member states, India, Russia and Japan.

Per-capita emissions in China are now comparable to those of many industrialised countries. For this reason, the Paris Agreement of 2015 takes into account the strong increase in eco-nomic capacities of emerging economies and their growing shares in global emissions: all countries contribute nationally determined contributions to emission reductions. This reflects the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities taking into account the different national circumstances. For the first time ever, all countries have made commitments to climate action.