What Are The Parties To The UNFCCC And Climate Conferences?

by Jack Johnson

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was the primary achievement of the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit [1]. The UNFCCC is a United Nations treaty, which recognises climate change as a global problem and sets the objective of keeping greenhouse gas emissions at sustainable levels [2]. In 1992, 154 countries and the European Union signed the UNFCCC. These signatories became known as the Parties to the Convention. Since 1992, more countries have ratified the Convention and there are currently 197 Parties to the UNFCCC. 

Party Categories under the UNFCCC

The UNFCCC crucially recognises that developed countries have disproportionately contributed to the climate crisis [2]. Therefore, the Convention puts the onus on industrialised countries to lead the way on climate action. In order to identify the countries which have a greater responsibility for action, the UNFCCC categorises signatories into Annex I, Annex II, and Non-Annex Parties [3]. 

Annex I countries include all countries that belong to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and 12 states from Central and Eastern Europe (economies in transition countries – EITs) [2]. Annex I countries are mandated to lead the charge on domestic emission reductions [2]. Annex II countries include only OECD countries, and are designated to provide overseas climate finance to developing countries [3]. Finally, non-Annex countries are those outside of Annexes I and II, and are usually identified as developing countries [3].

Meeting of the Parties

Since the UNFCCC entered into force in 1994, the 197 Parties meet annually at the Conference of the Parties (COP) to review climate progress and forward new targets to meet the UNFCCC objectives. At these annual meetings, additional treaties are sometimes negotiated which extend the mandate of the UNFCCC. The two major agreements which have sprung from previous COPs are the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and the Paris Agreement in 2015.

A shrewd reader might identify that both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement only have 192 Parties – 5 Parties fewer than the UNFCCC [4, 5]. The reason for this incongruence is that all UNFCCC Parties need not agree to the additional climate treaties developed at COPs. For example, the United States (a Party to the UNFCCC) refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, claiming that the Protocol’s provisions would harm the US economy and unfairly exempt developing countries from emissions cuts [6]. Another example is Iran (a Party to the UNFCCC) which hasn’t ratified the Paris Agreement because of Iran’s heavy dependency on oil for economic productivity [7].

Overall, what is important to recognise is that UNFCCC Parties are slightly different to the Parties of other international climate treaties. So, when you see a reference to ‘Parties’, ask yourself which treaty is being referred to.


Featured image courtesy of the UNFCCC’s Flickr Account

[1] United Nations, ‘United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 3-14 June 1992’ Available at: https://www.un.org/en/conferences/environment/rio1992 [accessed 24 October 2021].
[2] United Nations, ‘What is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change?’ Available at: https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-convention/what-is-the-united-nations-framework-convention-on-climate-change [accessed 24 October 2021].
[3] United Nations, ‘Parties & Observers’ Available at: https://unfccc.int/parties-observers [accessed 24 October 2021].
[4] United Nations, ‘The Kyoto Protocol – Status of Ratification’ https://unfccc.int/process/the-kyoto-protocol/status-of-ratification#:~:text=Currently%2C%20there%20are%20192%20Parties,Kyoto%20Protocol%20to%20the%20UNFCCC. [accessed 24 October 2021]. 
[5] United Nations, ‘The Paris Agreement’ Available at: https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/paris-agreement#:~:text=Today%2C%20192%20Parties%20 [accessed 24 October 2021].
[6] West, L., (2017), ‘What Is The Kyoto Protocol?’ Available at: https://www.treehugger.com/what-is-the-kyoto-protocol-1204061 [accessed 24 October 2021].
[7] Asadnabizadeh, M. (2019), ‘Understanding the Iran Security Dilemma in the Paris Climate Change Agreement: A Neo Realist Relative Gains Theory’ International Journal of Political Science, 5(3), pp: 06-14. Available at: https://www.arcjournals.org/pdfs/ijps/v5-i4/2.pdf [accessed 03 November 2021]
Categories COP26

Tell us what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.