United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was created to address possible solutions and worldwide changes that United Nations Members could take part in to "reduce global warming and cope with whatever temperature increases were inevitable." 

The UNFCCC sets an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change.  It recognizes that the climate system is a shared resource whose stability can be affected by industrial and other emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.  Under the Convention, governments gather and share information on greenhouse gas emissions, national policies and best practices.  Governments also launch national strategies for addressing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to expected impacts, including the provision of financial and technological support to developing countries.  The governments work together to cooperate in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was created during the Fifth session, Part II, of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, held in New York from April 30 – May 9, 1992.  It was created as a response to the problems being faced globally by climate change.  The Convention was adopted at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on May 9, 1992.

Pursuant to Article 20 of the Convention, the UNFCCC was open for signatures by State Members of the United Nations, any specialized agencies, and Parties to the Statute of the International Court of Justice at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil during the Untied Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) from June 4 – 14, 1992.  The Convention remained open for signatures after Rio’s signature period at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from June 20, 1992 until June 19, 1993.  By the end of this period, the Convention had received 166 signatures. 

The Convention entered into force on March 21, 1994 in accordance with Article 23: on the ninetieth day after the date of deposit of the fiftieth instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.

Currently, there are 195 Parties, which consist of 194 States and 1 regional economic integration organization, to the UNFCCC.


As reqiured by Article 22 of the Convetion, all States and regional economic integration organizations must ratify, accept, and approve or accede to the Convention for it to be put into effect within that State.  States and regional economic integration organizations must still accede to the Convention at any time without signing.

Objective of the Convention

The Convention and any related legal tools adopted by the Conference of the Parties (CoP) was designed with the purpose of finding means to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at level that would prevent "dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."  Once that level is determined, it must be achieved within a time frame that allows ecosystens to adapt naturally to climate change without threatening the sustainability of food production or economic development.

Article 3: Principles

The UNFCCC has five basic principles built in that Parties are to be guided by in order to carryout the objective of the Convention.  These include:

  1. protection of the climate system by the Parties for the benefit of present and future generations;
  2. consideration of specific needs and special circumstances of developing country Parties that would have to bear a disproportionate burden under the Convention;
  3. undertaking precautionary measures to anticipate, prevent or minimize the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse effects;
  4. the right of Parties to promote sustainable development; and,
  5. cooperation by Parties to promote a supportive and open international economic system that would lead to sustainable economic growth and development for all parties.

Article 4: Commitments

The UNFCCC establishes commitments on the Parties, seperated between commitments required by all, commitments required by Annex I developed country Parties, and commitments required by Annex II developed country Parties, in Article 4 of the Convention text.  This is a necessary separation as not all country Parties have access to similar resources and financial backing to implement the same type of procedures or conduct the same depth of research.  By differentiating between Annex I and II developed country Parties and developing country Parties, the Convention is able to combat climate change on a larger scale.

Commitments required for all Parties include, but are not limited to, promote sustainable management, cooperate in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change, communicate information related to implementation with the CoP, and to take climate change considerations inito account in their relevant social, economic and environmental policies.

The Convention additionally requires separate commitments from Annex I and II Parties.  Annex I Parties must adopt national policies and measurements to mitigate climate change by limiting anthropological emissions of greenhouse gases and communicate such information within six months of the Conventions entry into force.  When reviewing the adequacy of their policies, Annex I Parties must review in light of the best available scientific information and assessments on climate change and its impacts.  Annex II parties must also assist developing countries in meeting adaptation costs associated with their Convention obligations.  The developed country Parties and other developed Parties included in Annex II must also take all practicable steps to promote, facilitate and finance, as appropriate, the transfer of, or access to, environmentally sound technologies and know-how to other Parties, particularly developing country Parties, to enable them to implement the provisions of the Convention. In this process, the developed country Parties shall support the development and enhancement of endogenous capacities and technologies of developing country Parties.

Conference of the Parties and Subsidiary Bodies

The Convention requires that the Parties establish a Conference of the Parties (CoP) as the supreme body of the Convetion responsible for adopting decisions necessary to promote the effective implementation of the Convention.  The CoP is set to meet annually unless otherwise agreed upon by the Parties.

The Convention also established two subsidiary bodies, each with a specific mandate designed to aid giving advice to the CoP: the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI).  Both bodies are open to participation by any Party.  These bodies work together combining their areas of expertise on issues that are bridged between their two interests.  Generally, both bodies meet at least twice per year.

The SBSTA's task is to provide the CoP with advice on scientific, technological and methodological matters.  The SBSTA works to carry out many functions in these matters, such as to promote the development and transfer or environmentally-friendly technologies and to conduct technical work to improve guidelines for preparing national communications and emission inventories.  One of the key aspects of the SBSTA is to provide a link beween the political needs and goals of the CoP and the scientific information providied by field experts sources.

The SBI is responsible for providing the CoP with advice concerning implementing the Convention and budgetary and administrative matters.  The SBI examines the information in the national communcations and emission inventories submitted by Parties in order to assess the Convetion's effectiveness overall.  The SBI is also responsible for reviewing the financial assistance provided to non-Annex I Parties used to help them achieve their Convention commitments.

Further Reading



Mangino, K. (2012). United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Retrieved from


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