What is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)?

by Vincent Diringer

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international treaty that is an integral part of the global fight against the climate crisis. The UNFCCC’s main objective is to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions and stabilise the concentrations within the atmosphere to prevent further deregulations of the climate [1]. 

Furthermore, the convention intends to enact change in a manner that ensures that critical aspects of infrastructure – such as food production and economic growth – are not threatened, while promoting more sustainable development models [1]. This has been reflected by the various policies enacted through the UNFCCC, including but not limited to: the Kyoto Protocol (1996), the Warsaw Mechanism (2013), and the Paris Agreement (2015) [2,3].

When and how was the UNFCCC negotiated? 

Negotiated in 1992 during the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, the Convention was signed by 154 countries and the European Union with the aim of mitigating the wide-ranging issues caused by climate change, and uniting global governments to find workable solutions [4]. Since entering into force in 1994, the UNFCCC has grown to include 197 parties which have assembled every year since – barring major incidents – to discuss their progress on objectives and how to build upon them. 

What is included in the UNFCCC treaty?

The treaty document itself includes 26 Articles that  outline what signatory parties agree to  work towards and what provisions the UNFCCC carries. This includes how countries carry out research (Article 5), or raise public awareness (Article 6), and describes how the UNFCCC establishes a Conference of the Parties (COP; Article 7), a Secretariat (Article 8), as well as support structures such as the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA; Article 9) [5]. On top of this, the treaty also defines countries’ responsibilities through their economic output, grouping them as either Annex I or Annex II countries. 

Annex I nations are those who were members of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) in 1992, and those with economies in transition (EIT), while Annex II assembles the OECD nations of Annex I without those with EIT [6]. Developing countries that do not meet these criteria are classified as non-Annex I. Countries within Annex II have more responsibilities and are expected to provide financial aid to Annex I and non-Annex nations though the UNFCCC’s funding financial mechanisms as they are defined in Article 11 of the treaty [5,6].

The UNFCCC events and meetings

The UNFCCC’s governing body, the Conference of the Parties, is  responsible for the implementation of the Convention and therefore, driving climate action through establishing international climate policies. The annual COP is the most important UNFCCC international summit on climate of the year. During this time, global delegates descend on a single location to review their progress on climate and environmental goals, prior to determining their next course of action and negotiating further targets and plans of action.

The UNFCCC’s Secretariat is an independent body consisting of over 450 international staff who help with the organisation, technical expertise, and implementation of the UNFCCC’s goals through the aforementioned events, working groups, and related support structures [7]. The UNFCCC’s secretariat organises several events and summits throughout the year, like the Sessions for the Subsidiary Bodies or the Climate Dialogues [7,8].

These events also feature a wide range of working groups that were established in the UNFCCC treaty, including the Subsidiary Bodies, who can provide technical and scientific support on a wide range of topics, or the Adaptation Committee, who focus on best practice for adaptation measures [7]. Through collaborations with other global entities like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the COP is able to provide the latest information for decision makers to build overarching goals and targets, prior to crafting national policies aimed at achieving them. 


[1] UNFCCC, NDL, “What is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change?”,  https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-convention/what-is-the-united-nations-framework-convention-on-climate-change (Accessed 16/06/2021).
[2] Climate Policy Info Hub, NDL, “History of the UN Climate Negotiations – Part 1 – from the 1980’s to 2010”,  https://climatepolicyinfohub.eu/history-un-climate-negotiations-part-1-1980s-2010 (Accessed 16/06/2021).
[3] Climate Policy Info Hub, NDL, “History of the UN Climate Negotiations – Part 2 – from 2011 to 2015”,  https://climatepolicyinfohub.eu/history-un-climate-negotiations-part-2-2011-2015 (Accessed 16/06/2021).
[4] United Nations, NDL, “United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 3-14 June 1992”,  https://www.un.org/en/conferences/environment/rio1992 (Accessed 16/06/2021).
[5] United Nations, 1992, “United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change”,  https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/conveng.pdf (Accessed 21/06/2021).
[6] UNFCCC, NDL, “Parties & Observers”, https://unfccc.int/parties-observers (Accessed 21/06/2021).
[7] UNFCCC, NDL, “About the Secretariat”, https://unfccc.int/about-us/about-the-secretariat (Accessed 16/06/2021).
[8] UNFCCC, NDL, “Processes & Meetings”, https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings (Accessed 16/06/2021).
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