- 14 May 2019
- 15 min read
Last Updated: July 2022
The UNFCCC secretariat (UN Climate Change) is the United Nations entity tasked with supporting the global response to the threat of climate change. UNFCCC stands for United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Where did it Originate?
- The UNFCCC, signed in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development also known as the Earth Summit, the Rio Summit or the Rio Conference
- The UNFCCC entered into force on March 21, 1994.
The Convention has near universal membership (197 Parties) and is the parent treaty of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The original secretariat was in Geneva. Since 1996, the secretariat has been located in Bonn, Germany.
What is the Objective of UNFCCC?
- According to Article 2, the Convention’s ultimate objective is “to achieve, stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.
- This objective is qualified in that it “should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems 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”.
What are UNFCCC’s Institutional Arrangements?
- The Conference of the Parties (COP)
- Article 7.2 defines the COP as the “supreme body” of the Convention, as it is its highest decision-making authority. The climate change process revolves around the annual sessions of the COP.
- COP President and Bureau
- The office of the COP President normally rotates among the five United Nations regional groups. The President is usually the environment minister of his or her home country. S/he is elected by acclamation immediately after the opening of a COP session. Their role is to facilitate the work of the COP and promote agreements among Parties.
- The work of the COP and each subsidiary body is guided by an elected Bureau. To ensure continuity, it serves not only during sessions, but between sessions as well.
- Subsidiary Bodies (SBs)
- The Convention establishes two permanent subsidiary bodies (SBs), namely the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), by Article 9, and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), by Article 10. These bodies advise the COP.
- The SBSTA’s task is to provide the COP “with timely advice on scientific and technological matters relating to the Convention”.
- The SBI’s task is to assist the COP “in the assessment and review of the effective implementation of the Convention”
- The Secretariat
- The secretariat, also known as the Climate Change Secretariat, services the COP, the SBs, the Bureau and other bodies established by the COP.
- Other Bodies
- Other bodies have been set up by the COP to undertake specific tasks. These bodies report back to the COP when they complete their work
- COP 1 established two ad hoc groups to conduct negotiations on specific issues.
- COP 11 established the “Dialogue” to exchange experiences and analyse strategic approaches for long-term cooperative action to address climate change.
|Timeline of Important Events|
|1979||First World Climate Conference (WCC)|
|1990||In November IPCC and second WCC call for global treaty on climate change and in December UN General Assembly Negotiations on a Framework Convention Begin.|
|1992||The text of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is adopted at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.|
|1994||UNFCCC enters into force|
|1995||COP 1 (Berlin, Germany)|
COP 3 (Kyoto, Japan)
|1998||Buenos Aires Plan of Action|
COP 6-2(second part of 6th COP)
COP 7 (Marrakesh, Morocco)
|2002||COP 8 (New Delhi, India) Delhi Declaration. The Delhi Declaration focuses on the development needs of the poorest countries and the need for technology transfer for mitigating climate change.|
|2005||(February 16) Entry of Kyoto Protocol into force with the Russian Federation ratification to the Kyoto Protocol, sealing its entry into force.|
In January the Clean Development Mechanism, a key mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol, opens for business.
COP 14, Poznan (Poland)
COP 16 (Cancun)
COP 17 (Durban)
COP 21 (Paris)
COP23, Bonn (Germany)
COP 24, Katowice (Poland)
COP25, Madrid (Spain)
COP 26, Glasgow (UK)
COP 27 Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
What are the Shortcomings within UNFCCC?
- Non-inclusive: Most scientists agree the most dangerous environmental air pollutants today are microscopic particulates that come from car engines and combustion-based power plants, but these pollutants are largely ignored by the Kyoto Protocol.
- Slow progress: It took a long time for COP to bring Russia to agree into participating in the Kyoto Protocol. (until 2005)
- UNFCCC failed to persuade USA to ratify the Kyoto protocol thereby keeping one of the largest emitter of greenhouse gases away from commitments.
- Unsustainable targets: The world reached at almost 1degree Celsius warming post industrialization and the Paris contributions are not enough to maintain 2 degree Celsius levels.
- Unsatisfactory Response: Many countries argued for a tougher target of 1.5C - including leaders of low-lying countries that face unsustainable sea levels rises in a warming world.
- Financial Constraints: The agreement requires rich nations to maintain a $100bn a year funding pledge beyond 2020, which is not enough as highlighted by several pacific island countries.
- Non-binding agreement: The US withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, citing, that the deal punished" the US and would cost millions of American jobs”, has created new barriers and more pressure on rest of the nations in achieving the targets of Paris agreement.
- As part of the US withdrawal, USA has stopped the payment of the extra $2bn that had been promised in to the Green Climate Fund.
- No enforcement mechanism: Under the Paris agreement, each country determines, plans, and reports its own efforts to mitigate global warming. The only penalty for non-compliance is a so-called “name and shame” — or “name and encourage” — system whereby countries that fall out of compliance are called out and encouraged to improve.
What are the Achievements of UNFCCC?
- Kyoto protocol only required wealthy nations to cut emissions, which was a bone of contention; however this anomaly was corrected with the signing of Paris agreement in 2015.
- UNFCCC initiatives helped create Public awareness regarding climate change, which is much higher today than in the late 90s.
- Although climate science in the late 90s was certainly strong enough—to negotiate an international treaty, it is hard to deny that the scientific understanding of the climate crisis has improved considerably over the past two decades in which UNFCCC played a significant role.
- UNFCCC has enabled planning and implementation of concrete adaptation activities under the National Adaptations Programme of Action (NAPAs) and the Nairobi work programme.
- UNFCCC helped create innovative ideas in mitigating climate change like the Clean Development mechanism (CDM) under which developing country’s projects that reduce emissions earn credits that can be sold to countries or companies with a commitment to reduce emissions.
- Since the establishment of UNFCCC national governments have encouraged and increased cooperation on the development and transfer of technology.
- UNFCCC efforts support the developing countries in combating climate change by providing a platform for finance, technology transfers, discussions, global partnerships, etc.