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A Guide to the UNFCCC and its Processes Understanding the UNFCCCThe ConventionThe Kyoto ProtocolThe Paris AgreementAdaptationClimate FinanceTechnology TransferMitigationCapacity-BuildingINDCsTransparencyScienceNegotiations


Get the Big Picture

This guide seeks to provide a starting point for newcomers to help them take in the ‘big picture’ of the United Nations climate change regime, which is at the forefront of international action to combat climate change. It guides the newcomer through the various issues covered by the regime, such as mitigation, adaptation and finance, in order to gain a better understanding of the global efforts to combat climate change. The guide also tries to explain and demystify the negotiation processes where Parties of the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol come together to consider on-going efforts and take further steps to enhance those efforts.

We hope the guide will enable you to increase knowledge and ownership of climate change issues that are of fundamental importance to us all.

This guide has been made possible by the generous support of the Government of Singapore.


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How does this interactive guide work?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (referred to as the UNFCCC or sometimes simply the Convention) provides the centrepiece for multilateral action to combat climate change and its impacts on humanity and ecosystems. The objective of the UNFCCC is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. The UNFCCC sets out a framework and a process for agreeing to specific actions over time—a starting point for further action in the future. It establishes a framework of general principles and institutions, and sets up a process through which governments meet regularly to discuss climate change action.

This interactive guide seeks to provide a starting point that will help new readers take in the ‘big picture’ of the United Nations climate change regime, the UNFCCC negotiating process and the global effort to combat climate change. This interactive guide provides short summaries of many of the key topics of the UNFCCC process, along with visual aids and hyperlinked guides to the extensive climate change information available on the UNFCCC website.

Science: why is there a need to act?

The international climate regime is built upon a clear understanding of the threats posed by climate change. A century and a half of industrialization, along with the clear-felling of forests and certain farming methods, has increased quantities of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. There are some basic well-established scientific links:

  • The concentration of GHGs in the earth’s atmosphere is directly linked to the average global temperature on earth;

  • The concentration has been rising steadily, and mean global temperatures along with it, since the time of the Industrial Revolution;

  • The most abundant GHG, carbon dioxide (CO2), is the product of burning fossil fuels.

This understanding is centred on the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. The IPCC now has a well-established role. It reviews worldwide research, issues regular assessment reports and compiles special reports and technical papers. The findings of the IPCC reflect global scientific consensus and are apolitical in character. Its assessment reports reflect the work and observations of thousands of scientists from around the world. The IPCC reports are frequently used as the basis for decisions under the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol.

The year 2013 provided more clarity about human-generated climate change than ever before. The IPCC released the Working Group I contribution to its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), which looks at the science of climate change. It is categorical in its conclusion: climate change is real and human activities are the main cause. AR5, part 1, took stock of where we are and what we now know. For the first time, Working Group I could provide a comprehensive assessment of sea level rise, and its causes, over the past few decades. It was also able to estimate cumulative CO2 emissions since pre-industrial times and provide a CO2 budget for future emissions to limit warming to less than 2 °C. About half of this maximum amount was already emitted by 2011. Thanks to the IPCC, this is what we know:

From 1880 to 2012, the average global temperature increased by 0.85 °C.

Oceans have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished and the sea level has risen. From 1901 to 2010, the global average sea level rose by 19 cm as oceans expanded due to warming and ice melted. The sea ice extent in the Arctic has shrunk in every successive decade since 1979, with 1.07 × 106 km² of ice loss per decade.

Given current concentrations and ongoing emissions of GHGs, it is likely that the end of this century will see a 1–2 °C increase in global mean temperature above the 1990 level (about 1.5–2.5 °C above the pre-industrial level). The world’s oceans will warm and ice melt will continue. Average sea level rise is predicted to be 24–30 cm by 2065 and 40–63 cm by 2100 relative to the reference period of 1986–2005. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries, even if emissions are stopped.

  • Science
  • Impacts

What does the UNFCCC regime do?

Climate change is inherently global in nature. The emissions of long-lived GHGs into the atmosphere from sources anywhere on the globe will affect atmospheric concentrations. As the dynamics of the climate system are globally integrated, the potential impacts of climate change can affect all parts of the globe. Human emissions of GHGs occur primarily from the production and use of energy by individuals, businesses and governments, and from land use—these are all activities that are essential for modern life and for raising the standard of living for people everywhere. With the composition of the world’s atmosphere being determined by aggregating actions of all nations, there is motivation for collective, global action under the UNFCCC. Global action that calls for decision-making on many levels: by intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), national, regional and local governments, individuals, multinational firms and local enterprises.

Under the UNFCCC, governments:

  • Gather and share information on GHG emissions, national policies and best practices;
  • Launch national strategies and measures for reducing GHGs and adapting to the expected adverse impacts of climate change, including developing financial and technical support to developing countries;
  • Cooperate in preparation for taking mitigation measures (actions to reduce the flow of GHG emissions into the atmosphere) and adaptation measures (actions needed to respond to the impacts of climate change).

The governments that have ratified the UNFCCC—known as Parties to the Convention—have met annually as the Conference of the Parties (the COP) since 1995 to take stock of their progress, monitor the implementation of their obligations and continue talks on how best to tackle climate change. Currently, there are 196 Parties to the Convention.

Governments have also negotiated a protocol to the Convention. The Kyoto Protocol was agreed in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan. It puts the obligation to reduce current emissions on developed countries, as they are historically responsible for the current GHG levels. Since 2005, meetings of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (the CMP) have also been held to review the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol.

The Convention established two permanent subsidiary bodies namely the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), to support the COP. The SBI and the SBSTA also serve the CMP.

The many decisions taken by the COP and the CMP at their annual sessions now make up a detailed rulebook for the effective implementation of the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol. Through these decisions, the COP and CMP established a number of specialised bodies, often referred to as 'constituted bodies', to support Parties, such as the Adaptation Committee and Standing Committee on Finance. An overview of all Convention and Kyoto Protocol bodies can be found here. Thus a complex architecture for global climate governance has been developed under the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol.

Under this architecture, Parties agree to further actions on such matters as agriculture, energy and natural resources as they develop national programmes to slow climate change and adapt to its impacts, as well as on support for such actions. The Convention also obliges Parties to share technology and to cooperate in other ways to reduce GHGs emissions, especially from energy, transport, industry, agriculture, forestry and waste management, which together produce nearly all GHG emissions attributable to human activities.

The architecture also calls on each Party to report on its national efforts to combat climate change and to develop GHG inventories that list its national sources (such as factories and transport) and its sinks (forests and other natural ecosystems that absorb GHGs from the atmosphere).

Currently, in order to further enhance implementation of the Convention, Parties are negotiating “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change applicable to all Parties”, which is due to be adopted by the COP at its twenty-first session (COP 21) in Paris in December 2015. For more information on these negotiations, please see the section on the ADP.

  • How does the UNFCCC work?

the Convention

Summary of the Convention

The Convention recognized that there was a serious problem, which was remarkable for its time. In 1994, when the UNFCCC entered into force, there was less scientific evidence than there is now. The UNFCCC borrowed an important concept from one of the most successful multilateral environmental treaties in history (the Montreal Protocol, 1987): it bound Member States to act in the interests of human safety, even in the face of scientific uncertainty.

The ultimate objective of the Convention is to stabilize GHG concentrations “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system”. It also states “such a level 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”.

The Convention puts the onus on developed countries to lead the way. As they are the source of most past and current GHG emissions, industrialized countries are expected to do the most to reduce emissions, that is, to implement measures to mitigate climate change. They are called Parties included in Annex I to the Convention (Annex I Parties), and belong to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. They include 12 countries with economies in transition from Central and Eastern Europe.

The Convention also charts the beginnings of a path to strike a delicate balance. Economic development is particularly vital to the world's poorer countries. Such progress is difficult to achieve, even without the complications added by climate change. The Convention takes this into consideration by accepting that the share of GHG emissions produced by developing nations will grow in the coming years. Nonetheless, in the interests of fulfilling its ultimate goal, the Convention seeks to help such countries limit emissions in ways that will not hinder their economic progress.

Recognizing that even with efficient mitigation efforts, the need to adapt to the impacts of climate change is unavoidable, the Convention catalyses adaptation to climate change and provides overall guidance on its assessment, planning and implementation. It acknowledges the vulnerability of all countries to the effects of climate change and calls for special efforts to ease the consequences, especially in developing countries that lack financial resources.

In the early years of the Convention, adaptation received less attention than mitigation, as Parties wanted more certainty on the impacts of and vulnerability to climate change. When the IPCC Third Assessment Report was released, adaptation gained traction, and Parties agreed on a process to address adverse effects and to establish funding arrangements for adaptation. Currently, work on adaptation takes place under different Convention bodies. The Adaptation Committee (AC), established under the Cancun Adaptation Framework (CAF), is a major step towards coherence in addressing adaptation.

The Convention also establishes a financial mechanism to provide financial resources to developing country Parties to assist them in their climate change actions.


UNFCCC – 20 Years of Effort and Achievement

November 1988

IPCC Established

November 1990

IPCC and Second World Climate Conference Call for Global Treaty

April 1995

UNFCCC Entry into force COP 1 Berlin

August 1996

UNFCCC Secretariat Moves to Bonn

January 2005

EU Emissions Trading Launches

December 2005


January 2006

Clean Development Mechanism Opens

November 2006


December 2007


January 2008

Joint Implementation Mechanism Starts

December 2008


See the complete UNFCCC timeline for more details

Summary of the Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted on 11 December 1997. Owing to a complex ratification process, it entered into force on 16 February 2005. Currently, there are 192 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. In short, the Kyoto Protocol operationalizes the Convention. It commits industrialized countries to stabilize GHG emissions based on the principles of the Convention. The Convention itself only encourages countries to do so.

The Kyoto Protocol sets binding emission reduction targets for 36 industrialized countries and the European Union. Overall, these targets add up to an average 5 per cent emission reduction compared to 1990 levels over the five year period 2008–2012 (the first commitment period). The Kyoto Protocol was structured on the principles of the Convention. It only binds developed countries, and it places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities”, because it recognizes that they are largely responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere. In 2012, the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol was adopted for a second commitment period, starting in 2013 and lasting until 2020. However, the Doha Amendment has not yet entered into force; a total of 144 instruments of acceptance are required for entry into force of the amendment.

The Kyoto Protocol architecture was built and shaped on the basis of nearly two decades of experience, hard work and political will. There are two essential elements for the Kyoto Protocol.

The first element was the binding emission reduction commitments for developed country Parties. This meant the space to pollute was limited, and what is scarce and essential commanded a price. GHGs—most prevalently CO2—became a new commodity. The Kyoto Protocol began to internalize what was recognized as an unpriced externality.

The second element was the establishment of flexible market mechanisms, which are based on the trade of emissions permits. Kyoto Protocol Parties bound to targets are required to meet them largely through domestic action—that is, by reducing their emissions at home. But they can meet part of their targets through three market-based mechanisms that ideally encourage GHG abatement to start where it is most cost-effective, for example, in the developing world. It does not matter where emissions are reduced, as long as they are removed from the atmosphere. This has the parallel benefits of stimulating green investment in developing countries and including the private sector in this endeavour to cut and hold steady GHG emissions at a safe level. It also makes leap-frogging—that is, the possibility of skipping the use of older, dirtier technology for newer, cleaner infrastructure and systems, with obvious longer-term benefits—more economical. The Kyoto Protocol also established a rigorous monitoring, review and verification system, as well as a compliance system to ensure transparency and hold Parties to account. Further information on the Kyoto Protocol can be found here.

Summary of the Paris Agreement

At COP 21 in Paris, Parties to the UNFCCC reached a landmark agreement to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. The Paris Agreement builds upon the Convention and – for the first time – brings all nations into a common cause to undertake take ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. As such, it charts a new course in the global climate effort.

The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change. To reach these ambitious goals, appropriate financial flows, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity building framework will be put in place, thus supporting action by developing countries and the most vulnerable countries, in line with their own national objectives. The Agreement also provides for enhanced transparency of action and support through a more robust transparency framework.

The Paris Agreement requires all Parties to put forward their best efforts through “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) and to strengthen these efforts in the years ahead. This includes requirements that all Parties report regularly on their emissions and on their implementation efforts. There will also be a global stocktake every 5 years to assess the collective progress towards achieving the purpose of the agreement and to inform further individual actions by Parties.

In terms of next steps, the Paris Agreement will be open for signature on 22 April 2016 – Earth Day – at UN Headquarters in New York. The agreement will enter into force 30 days after 55 countries that account for at least 55% of global emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification.

Pending entry into force, a new Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement will prepare for the entry into force of the Agreement and the first session of the governing body of the Paris Agreement, namely the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA).

Essential Elements

The Paris Agreement, adopted through Decision 1/CP.21, addresses crucial areas necessary to combat climate change. Some of the key aspects of the agreement are set out below:

  • Long-term temperature goal (Art. 2) – The Paris Agreement, in seeking to strengthen the global response to climate change, reaffirms the goal of limiting global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius, while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees.
  • Global peaking (Art. 4) –To achieve this temperature goal, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of the century.
  • Mitigation (Art. 4) – The Paris Agreement establishes binding commitments by all Parties to prepare, communicate and maintain a nationally determined contribution (NDC) and to pursue domestic measures to achieve them. It also prescribes that Parties shall communicate their NDCs every 5 years and provide information necessary for clarity and transparency. To set a firm foundation for higher ambition, each successive NDC will represent a progression beyond the previous one and reflect the highest possible ambition. Developed countries should continue to take the lead by undertaking absolute economy-wide reduction targets, while developing countries should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts, and are encouraged to move toward economy-wide targets over time in the light of different national circumstances.
  • Sinks and reservoirs (Art.5) –The Paris Agreement also encourages Parties to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases as referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1(d) of the Convention, including forests.
  • Market and non-markets (Art. 6) – The Paris Agreement establishes a mechanism to contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable development, as well as defining a framework for non-market approaches to sustainable development.
  • Adaptation (Art. 7) – The Paris Agreement establishes a global goal to significantly strengthen national adaptation efforts – enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reduction of vulnerability to climate change – through support and international cooperation. It also recognizes that adaptation is a global challenge faced by all. All Parties should submit and update periodically an adaptation communication on their priorities, implementation and support needs, plans and actions. Developing country Parties will receive enhanced support for adaptation actions.
  • Loss and damage (Art. 8) – The Paris Agreement significantly enhances the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage, which will develop approaches to help vulnerable countries cope with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow-onset events such as sea-level rise. The Agreement now provides a framework for Parties to enhance understanding, action and support with regard to loss and damage.
  • Support (Art. 9, 10 and 11) – The Paris Agreement reaffirms the obligations of developed countries to support the efforts of developing country Parties to build clean, climate-resilient futures, while for the first time encouraging voluntary contributions by other Parties. Provision of resources should also aim to achieve a balance between adaptation and mitigation. In addition to reporting on finance already provided, developed country Parties commit to submit indicative information on future support every two years, including projected levels of public finance. The agreement also provides that the Financial Mechanism of the Convention, including the Green Climate Fund (GCF), shall serve the Agreement. International cooperation on climate-safe technology development and transfer and building capacity in the developing world are also strengthened: a technology framework is established under the agreement and capacity building activities will be enhanced through, inter alia, enhanced support for capacity building actions in developing country Parties and appropriate institutional arrangements.
  • Transparency (Art. 13) – The Paris Agreement relies on a robust transparency and accounting system to provide clarity on action and support by Parties, with flexibility for their differing capabilities. In addition to reporting information on mitigation, adaptation and support, the agreement requires that the information submitted by each Party undergoes international review. The Agreement also includes a mechanism that will facilitate implementation and promote compliance in a non-adversarial and non-punitive manner, and will report annually to the COP.
  • Global Stocktake (Art. 14) – A “global stocktake”, to take place in 2023 and every 5 years thereafter, will assess collective progress toward meeting the purpose of the Agreement in a comprehensive and facilitative manner. Its outcomes will inform Parties in updating and enhancing their actions and support and enhancing international cooperation.
  • Decision 1/CP.21 also sets out a number of measures to enhance action prior to 2020, including strengthening the technical examination process, enhancement of provision of urgent finance, technology and support and measures to strengthen high-level engagement.

The decision also welcomed the efforts of all non-Party stakeholders to address and respond to climate change, including those of civil society, the private sector, financial institutions, cities and other sub-national authorities. These stakeholders were requested to scale up their efforts and showcase them via the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action platform (link to Parties also recognized the need to strengthen the knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples, as well as the important role of providing incentives through tools such as domestic policies and carbon pricing.


What is adaptation?

Adapting to the adverse effects of climate change is, along with mitigation, a major area of action under the Convention. The world is already experiencing changes in mean temperature, shifts in the seasons and an increasing frequency of extreme weather events. As the climate changes, societies will have to learn to adapt. The faster the climate changes, the harder it could be.

Adaptation, in the simplest terms, refers to the actions that countries will need to take to respond to the impacts of climate change that are already happening, while at the same time preparing for future impacts. It refers to changes in processes, practices and structures that can reduce our vulnerability to climate change impacts, such as sea level rise or food insecurity. It also includes making the most of any beneficial opportunities associated with climate change, such as increased crop yields or longer growing seasons in some regions.

Adaptation solutions take many shapes and forms, depending on the unique context of a community, business, organization, country or region. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all-solution’—adaptation can range from building flood defences, setting up early warning systems for cyclones and switching to drought-resistant crops, to redesigning communication systems, business operations and government policies. Many nations and communities are already taking steps to build resilient societies and economies, but far greater action and ambition will be needed to cost effectively manage the risks, both now and in the future.

Successful adaptation activities also call for the effective engagement of stakeholders—including national, regional, multilateral and international organizations, the public and private sectors, and civil society—and the management of knowledge for adaptation at each step.

  • Adaptation

How do Parties address adaptation?

Framework for adaptation

Adaptation activities under the UNFCCC include the following general components:

  • Assessing impacts, vulnerability and risks.

    • An initial assessment is needed of the extent to which climate change is affecting or will affect natural systems (e.g. by altering water availability, thus affecting agriculture and food security) and human societies (e.g. by increasing temperature, thus encouraging the spread of climate-sensitive diseases).

  • Planning for adaptation.

    • Identification of adaptation activities and their appraisal, including through assessing costs and benefits, is undertaken in order to choose appropriately between the options available. Comprehensive planning should ensure avoiding the duplication of activities, preventing maladaptation and enhancing sustainable development.

  • Implementing adaptation measures.

    • Implementation takes place at various levels, including national, regional and local, and through different means, including projects, programmes, policies or strategies. It may be a stand-alone process or be fully integrated or mainstreamed with sectoral policies and sustainable development plans.

  • Monitoring and evaluating adaptation.

    • These steps can be undertaken throughout the adaptation process, and the knowledge and information gained can be fed back into the process to ensure learning and that future adaptation efforts are successful. While monitoring seeks to keep a record of progress made in implementation, evaluation seeks to determine the effectiveness of the adaptation effort.

Parties carry out these activities within the adaptation regime under the UNFCCC, as well as many activities mandated towards the implementation of the Convention. Key components of the adaptation regime include:

  • Least Developed Countries work programme:

    • In 2001, at COP 7 in Marrakesh, Parties acknowledged the specific needs of least developed countries (LDCs), in that they are least capable of dealing with the adverse effects of climate change, and adopted a dedicated package of decisions to support them. The LDC work programme includes, among other things, national adaptation programmes of action (NAPAs). Through their NAPAs, the LDCs identify priority activities that respond to their urgent and immediate adaptation needs. The Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) was established to support the programme’s implementation. The LDCs are also supported by a Least Developed Countries Expert Group (LEG) that provides technical support and advice.

  • Nairobi work programme on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change:

    • The Nairobi work programme (NWP) was established at COP11 (December 2005), under the SBSTA, to facilitate and catalyze the development and dissemination of information and knowledge that would inform and support adaptation policies and practices. Through its diverse range of modalities, the NWP provides unique opportunities for linking relevant institutions, processes, resources and expertise outside the Convention to respond to adaptation knowledge needs arising from the implementation of the various workstreams under the Convention and identified by Parties.

  • Cancun Adaptation Framework:

    • The CAF was established at COP 16, in Cancun. Activities under the CAF relate to the following five clusters: implementation (including a process to enable the LDC Parties to formulate and implement national adaptation plans, and a work programme to consider approaches to address loss and damage); support; institutions (including the establishment of an AC at a global level, as well as regional and national level arrangements); principles; and stakeholder engagement.

  • Adaptation Committee:

    • As part of the CAF, the COP established the AC to promote the implementation of enhanced action on adaptation in a coherent manner under the Convention. The functions of the AC include: providing technical support and guidance to the Parties; sharing relevant information, knowledge, experience and good practices; promoting synergy and strengthening engagement; providing information and recommendations for consideration by the COP; and considering information communicated by Parties on their monitoring and review of adaptation actions.

  • National Adaptation Plans:

    • The national adaptation plan (NAP) process was established under the Cancun Adaptation Framework (CAF). It enables Parties to formulate and implement national adaptation plans (NAPs) as a means of identifying medium- and long-term adaptation needs and developing and implementing strategies and programmes to address those needs. It is a continuous, progressive and iterative process which follows a country-driven, gender-sensitive, participatory and fully transparent approach.

  • Loss and damage:

    • As part of the CAF, the COP initiated, in 2010, consideration on approaches to address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts. Following two years of deliberations, COP 19 in 2013 established the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts as the main vehicle under the Convention to promote the implementation of approaches to address loss and damage in a comprehensive, integrated and coherent manner. Parties established an executive committee to guide the implementation of the functions of the mechanism.

How are stakeholders engaged on adaptation under the UNFCCC, and how is knowledge management addressed?

Effective engagement of stakeholders and management of knowledge for adaptation is vital in supporting all adaptation activities at each step in the process. Under the Cancun Adaptation Framework (CAF), relevant multilateral, international, regional and national organizations, public and private sectors, civil society and other relevant stakeholders are invited to undertake and support enhanced action on adaptation at all levels. All adaptation components offer opportunities for Parties and stakeholders to engage. In particular, the Nairobi Work Programme (NWP) provides a platform for Parties and stakeholders from a range of organizations to collaborate on adaptation activities in various sectors, levels and regions, and to build and manage knowledge on adaptation. The LDC Expert Group (LEG), Adaptation Committee (AC) and NWP have developed many resources, including the LDC portal, online databases and a range of printed publications.

climate finance

What is climate finance?

Climate finance refers to local, national or transnational financing—drawn from public, private and alternative sources of financing—that seeks to support mitigation and adaptation actions that will address climate change. The Convention and its Kyoto Protocol call for financial assistance from Parties with more financial resources to those that are less endowed and more vulnerable. This recognizes that the contribution of countries to climate change and their capacity to prevent it and cope with its consequences vary enormously. Climate finance is needed for mitigation, because large-scale investments are required to significantly reduce emissions. Climate finance is equally important for adaptation, as significant financial resources are needed to adapt to the adverse effects and reduce the impacts of a changing climate.

In accordance with the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities” set out in the Convention, developed country Parties are to provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties in implementing the objectives of the UNFCCC. It is important for all governments and stakeholders to understand and assess the financial needs of developing countries, as well as to understand how these financial resources can be mobilized.

What is the financial mechanism? What are the other funds?

To facilitate the provision of climate finance, the Convention established a financial mechanism to provide funds to developing country Parties. The financial mechanism also serves the Kyoto Protocol.

The Convention states that the operation of the financial mechanism can be entrusted to one or more existing international entities. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) has served as an operating entity of the financial mechanism for many years and at COP 17 in 2011, Parties also decided to designate the Green Climate Fund (GCF) as an operating entity of the financial mechanism. The financial mechanism is accountable to the COP, which decides on its policies, programme priorities and eligibility criteria for funding.

In addition to providing guidance to the GEF and the GCF, Parties have established two special funds—the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) and the LDCF, both managed by the GEF—and the Adaptation Fund (AF) under the Kyoto Protocol.

  • Finance

What is the Standing Committee on Finance? What is the long-term finance process?

  • Standing Committee on Finance
  • Long-term climate finance

At COP 16 in 2010, Parties decided to establish the Standing Committee on Finance (SCF) to assist the COP in exercising its functions in relation to the financial mechanism of the Convention.

Currently, it has four specific functions: assisting the COP in improving coherence and coordination in the delivery of climate change financing; assisting the COP in rationalization of the financial mechanism of the UNFCCC; supporting the COP in the mobilization of financial resources for climate financing; and supporting the COP in the measurement, reporting and verification of support provided to developing country Parties. The Committee is also tasked to organize an annual forum on climate finance, provide the COP with draft guidance for the operating entities, provide expert input into the conduct of the periodic reviews of the financial mechanism and prepare a biennial assessment and overview of climate finance flows. Furthermore, the SCF is designed to improve the linkages and to promote the coordination with climate finance related actors and initiatives both within and outside of the Convention.

The long-term finance process is aimed at progressing on the mobilization and scaling up of climate finance of resources originating from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources. The COP decided on the following activities through to 2020: organization, by the secretariat, of annual in-session workshops; developed countries providing, on a biennial basis, information on strategies and approaches for scaling up climate finance; and convening of biennial high-level ministerial dialogue on climate finance.

What is the finance portal?

The UNFCCC website includes a climate finance portal with helpful explanations, information, graphics and figures for understanding the climate finance process provided to developing countries. The finance portal comprises three modules, each of which includes information made available by Parties to the Convention and the operating entities of the financial mechanism of the Convention.

The first module, the National Communications Module, presents information communicated by contributing countries on the provision of financial resources, in the context of regular reporting to the Convention. The second module, the Fast-start Finance Module, includes information on resources provided by developed countries in the context of their commitment to provide approximately USD 30 billion over the period 2010–2012. The third module, the Funds Managed by the GEF, is a joint effort between the secretariat of the UNFCCC and the GEF and contains information on climate finance flows of the GEF in its role as one of the operating entities of the financial mechanism to the Convention. Additionally, information on projects and programmes of the AF can be found in the finance portal. This fund was established under the Kyoto Protocol to finance concrete adaptation projects and programmes in developing countries that are Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

technology development
and transfer

What is technology transfer to support climate action?

The development and transfer of climate technologies is critical for achieving the ultimate objective of the Convention. The Convention notes that all Parties shall promote and cooperate in the development and transfer of technologies that reduce emissions of GHGs. It also urges developed country Parties to take all practicable steps to promote, facilitate and finance the transfer of, or access to, climate technologies to other Parties, particularly to developing countries. Furthermore, the Convention states that the extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments will depend on the effective implementation by developed country Parties of their commitments under the Convention related to financial resources and transfer of technology.

What are the key institutions and mechanisms?

Technology Mechanism:

To support action on technology under the Convention, in 2010, the COP established the Technology Mechanism, with the objective of accelerating and enhancing climate technology development and transfer. It consists of two complementary bodies that work together: the Technology Executive Committee (TEC) and the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN).

Technology Executive Committee

The TEC is the Technology Mechanism’s policy arm and it addresses policy issues related to climate technology development and transfer. It analyses these issues and provides recommendations that support countries in enhancing climate technology action. The TEC is an executive committee consisting of 20 technology experts representing both developing and developed countries. The TEC meets multiple times a year and holds climate technology events that support efforts to address key technology policy issues.

The Climate Technology Centre and Network

The CTCN is the implementation arm of the Technology Mechanism and it supports countries to enhance the implementation of climate technology projects and programmes. It has three core services: providing technical assistance to developing countries; creating access to knowledge on climate technologies; and fostering collaboration among climate technology stakeholders. The CTCN is hosted by the United Nations Environmental Programme, in collaboration with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, and is supported by 11 partner institutions with expertise in climate technologies. The Centre facilitates a network of national, regional, sectoral and international technology centres, networks, organizations and private sector entities. More than 130 Parties have submitted their national designated entities (NDEs) for climate technology and transfer, which are also part of the network. Developing country Parties may submit requests for technical assistance to the CTCN through their NDEs.

Technology needs assessments:

Technology needs assessments (TNAs) assist developing countries to identify and analyse their priority climate technology needs. These needs can be the basis for a portfolio of climate technology projects and programmes that facilitate the transfer and access to technologies and know-how. Since 2001, more than 85 developing countries have undertaken TNAs to identify their technology needs for mitigation and adaptation. More recently, from 2010, as part of their TNAs, developing countries have also developed technology action plans (TAPs), which are concrete action plans for the implementation of their prioritized technology needs. The GEF provides support for developing countries to undertake TNAs through its Poznan Strategic Program on Technology Transfer.

What other steps have Parties taken to address technology?

Technology transfer framework

Prior to the establishment of the Technology Mechanism, in 2001, as part of the Marrakesh Accords, Parties created the technology transfer framework for meaningful and effective technology actions. The framework aims to develop actions to implement Article 4.5 of the Convention by increasing and improving the transfer of environmentally sound technologies (ESTs) and know-how and comprises five key themes. At COP 13, four sub-themes were added under one of the key themes of the framework. With the Technology Mechanism’s establishment in 2010, Parties mandated the TEC to further implement the technology transfer framework.


The online technology information clearinghouse, TT:CLEAR, aims to provide information in support of ongoing technology transfer activities under the Convention. It also aims to enhance the generation and flow of, and access to, reliable technical, economic, environmental and regulatory information relating to climate technology development and transfer. A subsite of the UNFCCC website, TT:CLEAR also contains the Technology Portal, which is a database that showcases developing country Technology Needs Assessments (TNA) results, such as TAPs and project ideas, seeking support for implementation.

Poznan Strategic Program on Technology Transfer

Adopted in 2008, the GEF Poznan Strategic Program on Technology Transfer has the aim of scaling up the level of investment for climate technology transfer. The GEF is now undertaking the long-term implementation of the strategic programme, which includes elements related to: support for climate technology centres and a climate technology network; pilot technology projects; public–private partnerships; TNAs; and GEF as a catalytic supporting institution for technology transfer.


What is mitigation?

The Convention requires all Parties, keeping in mind their responsibilities and capabilities, to formulate and implement programmes containing measures to mitigate climate change—actions taken to reduce the flow of heat-trapping GHG emissions into the atmosphere. These actions can be economy-wide, and can cover several or single sectors, such as energy supply and demand, transport, buildings, industry, agriculture, forestry and waste management. There are a number of mitigation options for Parties to take. Mitigation can mean using new technology and renewable energy, making older equipment more energy efficient or changing management practices and consumer behaviour. It can mean expanding forests and other sinks to remove greater amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere or simply making improvements to a cookstove design.

  • Mitigation

What are Parties doing to mitigate climate change?

For developed countries, mitigation policies and measures have focused mostly on the sectors with the highest emissions, such as energy and transport, and have included steps such as more stringent emission reduction requirements and increased investments.

As a further step towards increased mitigation, the Kyoto Protocol operationalizes the Convention by committing industrialized countries to limit GHG emissions. Market-based instruments, such as GHG emissions trading schemes, have also been used to complement regulatory and fiscal instruments.

More recently, under the Convention, developed countries have communicated quantified economy-wide emission targets for 2020 and are in the process of submitting intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs). In addition, Parties to the Kyoto Protocol adopted a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol.

Developing countries have been contributing to global mitigation efforts in several ways. The clean development mechanism (CDM) has been an important avenue of action for these countries to implement project activities that reduce emissions and enhance sinks. More recently, developing countries have agreed to implement nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) with support from developed countries and are also in the process of submitting INDCs.

Parties to the Convention have also recognized the need to reduce GHG emissions from deforestation in developing countries. Developing countries are encouraged to contribute to mitigation actions in the forest sector by undertaking activities to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, conserve forest carbon stocks, implement sustainable management of forests and enhance forest carbon stocks (REDD-plus).

Emissions from international aviation and maritime transport contribute increasingly to global emissions. To address these emissions, there has been ongoing work in the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization, as well as cooperation between these two organizations and the UNFCCC.

All over the world, many measures are being taken to mitigate climate change by countries trying to live up to their commitments under the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol. According to the Convention, Parties shall take into consideration the specific needs and concerns of developing country Parties arising from the impact of response measures. The Kyoto Protocol commits Parties to strive to minimize adverse economic, social and environmental impacts on other Parties, especially developing country Parties.

What are market mechanisms?

Market mechanisms apply economic principles to enhance the cost-effectiveness of mitigation actions. Economic instruments also help to channel flows of finance, technology and capacity support, particularly from developed to developing country Parties. These include the three mechanisms established under the Kyoto Protocol—the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), joint implementation (JI) and international emissions trading (IET)—as well as approaches that Parties are elaborating independently or jointly. Currently the CDM, JI and IET make use of an international system for logging transactions, known as the international transaction log.

Parties are also developing new market mechanisms. The new market-based mechanism (NMM) will seek “to enhance the cost-effectiveness of, and to promote, mitigation actions, bearing in mind different circumstances of developed and developing countries”. The NMM may also be used to assist developed country Parties to meet part of their mitigation targets or commitments under the Convention. The NMM is being further developed, with the SBSTA conducting a work programme to elaborate modalities and procedures. Other mechanisms, known as non-market-based approaches and various approaches, are also being elaborated with a view to delivering real, permanent, additional and verified mitigation outcomes.

education and

What is capacity-building?

Addressing climate change in a sustainable way requires considerable efforts, and not all countries have the capacity—the knowledge, the tools, the public support, the scientific expertise and the political know-how—to do so. Capacity-building is about enhancing the ability of individuals, organizations and institutions in developing countries and in countries with economies in transition to identify, plan and implement ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Capacity-building under the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol takes place on three levels:

  • Individual:

    • developing educational, training and awareness-raising activities;

  • Institutional:

    • fostering the development of organizations and institutions, including their missions, mandates, cultures, structures, competencies, and human and financial resources, as well as the cooperation between organizations, institutions and sectors;

  • Systemic:

    • creating enabling environments through economic and regulatory policies and accountability frameworks in which institutions and individuals operate.

How do governments build capacity?

Frameworks for capacity-building

In 2001, Parties adopted two frameworks for capacity-building that address the needs, conditions and priorities of two key groups: developing countries and countries with economies in transition. The frameworks provide a set of guiding principles and approaches to capacity-building, such as being a ‘country-driven’ process, involving ‘learning by doing’, and building on existing activities. They also contain a list of priority areas for action on capacity-building, including the specific needs of the LDCs and small island developing States. They reaffirm that capacity-building is essential to enable these countries to implement the objective of the Convention.

The frameworks set out a way forwards for capacity-building activities, such as developing and strengthening skills and knowledge, as well as providing opportunities for stakeholders and organizations to share their experiences, and increasing their awareness to enable them to participate more fully in the climate change process.

The frameworks also provide guidance on the support of financial and technical resources to be addressed by the GEF, bilateral and multilateral agencies, and other IGOs. The frameworks call for developing countries and countries with economies in transition to provide information on their specific needs and priorities through national communications (NCs) and submissions, while promoting cooperation and stakeholder participation.

In 2005, Parties to the Kyoto Protocol decided that the capacity-building frameworks were also applicable to its implementation. They endorsed frameworks to guide capacity-building activities under the Kyoto Protocol in developing countries and countries with economies in transition.

How do governments enhance action on capacity-building?

The Durban Forum for in-depth discussion on capacity-building

The Durban Forum is an annual, in-session event organized under the auspices of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) that brings together stakeholders from diverse backgrounds to share experiences, good practices and lessons learned in building the capacity of developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Stakeholders involved include technical and policy experts, practitioners and representatives from national governments and IGOs, civil society and private sector entities. Governments, invited by the SBI, annually submit proposals for topics to be included in the agenda of the meeting. The Durban Forum is also a means to improve the monitoring and review of the effectiveness of capacity-building within the UNFCCC process.

How do governments support communicating, teaching and learning about climate change?

The Convention emphasizes the need to educate people about climate change. Improving awareness and understanding of climate change, and creating solutions to facilitate access to information on a changing climate are key to winning public support for climate-related policies.

The Convention, through its Article 6, and its Kyoto Protocol, through its Article 10(e), call on governments to educate, empower and engage all stakeholders and major groups on policies relating to climate change. The Convention fosters action to develop and implement educational and training programmes on climate change. Many governments and IGOs are already working in partnership with civil society to fulfil the commitments in Article 6. However, the scale of challenges posed by climate change requires an engagement on outreach activities of a greater magnitude.

Doha work programme on Article 6 of the Convention and the Dialogue on Article 6 of the Convention

In 2013, the COP adopted the Doha work programme on Article 6 of the Convention and requested the SBI to organize an annual in-session Dialogue on Article 6 of the Convention to enhance work in this area. The objective of the dialogue is to provide a regular forum to Parties and other stakeholders to share their experiences and exchange ideas, good practices and lessons learned regarding the implementation of Article 6 of the Convention. In June 2015, Parties decided to popularly refer to Article 6 as ‘Action for climate empowerment’.


What are intended nationally determined contributions?

Governments reached a new, universal climate agreement in 2015—the Paris Agreement. Their goal was an agreement where every country contributes now and into the future, based on equity, common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and national circumstances, to prevent global surface temperatures from rising above 2 °C and to adapt societies to existing and future climate change and foster resilience. In working towards this new agreement, Parties, at COP 19 in 2013, agreed they would all initiate or intensify domestic preparations for their intended nationally determined contributions, known as INDCs. They include, for example, details of emission reductions the country will undertake and can include other action plans covering areas such as adaptation to climate change.

At COP 20 in 2014, the COP gave further guidance to Parties on the information requirements. To facilitate clarity, transparency and understanding, Parties specified the types of information to be communicated in the INDCs, including: quantifiable information on the reference point (including, as appropriate, a base year); time frames and/or periods for implementation; scope and coverage; and planning processes, assumptions and methodological approaches including those for estimating and accounting for anthropogenic GHG emissions and, as appropriate, removals. Parties may also spell out how they consider their INDCs to be fair and ambitious, in the light of their national circumstances, and how they contribute towards achieving the objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2.

A significant number of Parties have submitted their INDCs, details of which can be found on the INDC portal. In addition, the COP requested the secretariat to prepare a synthesis report on the aggregate effect of the INDCs communicated by Parties by 1 October 2015. This report was published on 1 November 2015.

How are intended nationally determined contributions communicated?

To communicate INDCs to the secretariat, Parties can access the INDC entry of the UNFCCC submission portal. The UNFCCC submission portal is publicly accessible; however, access rights are required for Parties to communicate their INDCs and manage related documentation. Further information can be obtained from the portal.

The Paris Agreement

A country’s INDC will become its first nationally determined contribution (NDC) when it ratifies the Paris Agreement, unless it decides to submit a new NDC at the same time.

Under the Paris Agreement, a Party shall communicate its NDCs, in relation to mitigation efforts, every five years and each NDC should be increasingly more ambitious. Parties should also submit and periodically update adaptation communications, which may be submitted as a component of a nationally determined contribution.

transparency and

Reporting is one of the most important obligations of Parties: it provides transparency and is the basis for understanding and gauging the implementation of the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol.

To achieve the objective of the Convention, Parties need accurate, consistent and internationally comparable data on trends in GHG emissions and on efforts to change these trends. Communicating information on the most effective ways to reduce emissions and adapt to the adverse effects of climate change also puts the world collectively on the path towards more sustainable forms of development.

Under the Convention, all Parties must communicate certain information to the COP within agreed time lines. The two main elements of this information are the details on their activities to implement the Convention—that is, their climate change policies and measures—and their national inventories of GHGs. The required contents of national reports and the timetable for their submission are different for Annex I Parties and Parties not included in Annex I to the Convention (non-Annex I Parties), in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Annex I Parties are required to include supplementary information relating to their implementation of the protocol.

  • Transparency and Accountability

What types of reports does the UNFCCC use?

  • National communications
  • Biennial reports
  • Biennial update reports

All Parties are committed to submitting reports—known as National Communications (NCs)—on the actions that they are taking to implement the Convention. The COP provides the guidelines for Parties to use for reporting. Since 1995, these guidelines have been revised and improved based on Parties’ experiences of using them.

Annex I Parties must report more often and in more detail. The secretariat compiles a summary of the information in these reports, which are often hundreds of pages long. Both the individual NCs and the secretariat summaries are available on the UNFCCC website. NCs from Annex I Parties provide information on: emissions and removals of GHGs; national circumstances; policies and measures; vulnerability assessment; financial resources and transfer of technology; education, training and public awareness; and any other activities undertaken to implement the Convention.

Annex I Parties that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol must also include supplementary information in their NCs and their annual inventories of emissions and removals of GHGs to demonstrate compliance with the Kyoto Protocol commitments.

With respect to non-Annex I parties, the information required is less detailed than for Annex I Parties. NCs from developing countries provide information on GHG inventories, measures to mitigate emissions and efforts to facilitate adequate adaptation to climate change. Developing country Parties are required to submit their first NC within three years of entering the Convention, and every four years thereafter. For some non-Annex I Parties, the preparation of NCs depends on the receipt of funding. The LDCs may prepare one at their discretion.

Biennial reports (BRs) outline the progress of Annex I Parties in achieving emission reductions and the provision of financial, technology and capacity-building support to non-Annex I Parties. The first BRs were submitted in January 2014, and the second and subsequent ones are due two years after the due date of a full NC (i.e. 2016, 2020, etc.).

Biennial update reports (BURs) are submitted by developing country Parties and provide an update of the information presented in NCs, in particular, on national GHG inventories, mitigation actions, constraints and gaps, including support needed and received. The first BURs were submitted in December 2014 and every two years thereafter. LDC Parties and small island developing States may submit BURs at their own discretion.

What are greenhouse gas inventories?

All Parties are also committed to compiling inventories of GHG emissions. The IPCC has developed inventory methodologies for the national reporting of GHG emissions that countries use to develop their national inventories. Annex I Parties are required to submit a separate inventory of their GHG emissions every year, covering emissions and removals of direct GHGs from sectors such as: energy; industrial processes and product use; agriculture, forestry and land use; and waste sectors. Non-Annex I Parties compile these as part of their NCs and are not required to submit a separate annual emissions inventory.

How are the reports reviewed?

NCs and GHG inventories from Annex I Parties undergo an in-depth review by teams of independent experts. This process provides a thorough technical assessment of each Party’s commitments and the steps taken towards implementation. Teams are selected from a roster of experts nominated by Parties and coordinated by the secretariat. The in-depth reviews typically draw on findings from visits to the country concerned, as well as desk-based studies. In addition to assessing the implementation of commitments by Annex I Parties, the in-depth reports allow easier comparison of information between the NCs of Parties, although no common indicators are used.

What are the latest reporting developments?

In 2010, Parties took steps to improve the system of reporting and verification under the UNFCCC. They decided to enhance reporting for all countries and to conduct international assessment and review (IAR) of information from developed countries and international consultation and analysis (ICA) of BURs from developing countries.

This marked a major change from the existing reporting and review system, particularly for developing countries, because information from these countries has largely been reported on an infrequent basis and has not been reviewed. Establishing a system that combines improved reporting with some form of international verification process could improve the quality of information available internationally and increase confidence in the integrity of the information reported. This would help to build trust between countries and potentially also increase the level of ambition of mitigation actions.

International assessment and review

The IAR process aims to promote the comparability of efforts among all developed country Parties with regard to their quantified economy-wide emission limitation and reduction targets. Parties adopted detailed guidelines for the preparation of BRs and modalities and procedures for IAR. The process includes two steps: a technical review of BRs, where relevant, in conjunction with a review of annual GHG inventories and NCs of developed country Parties, which will result in an individual review report for each developed country Party; and a multilateral assessment of developed country Parties’ progress in implementation. The multilateral assessment will be conducted under a working group session of the SBI for each developed country Party, with the participation of all Parties. The Party under review may make a brief oral presentation, followed by oral questions from other Parties and responses by the Party under review.

International consultation and analysis

The ICA process aims to increase the transparency of mitigation actions and their effects. It includes a technical analysis conducted by a team of technical experts and a facilitative sharing of views in the form of a workshop, where Parties will exchange information and experiences on the BURs and the summary reports.

Biennial assessment and overview of financial flows

This relatively new reporting process focuses on climate finance. The Standing Committee on Finance (SCF), established in 2010, aims to assist the COP with the financial mechanism in terms of measurement, reporting and verification of support. A key activity is the preparation of a biennial assessment and overview of climate finance flows. The SCF has established a dedicated working group for these reports, which will also work between the COP and CMP sessions and serve as liaison between the SCF and external stakeholders, with whom the SCF engages in extensive outreach activities. This aspect of the work of the SCF is strongly linked with the work of other bodies, most notably the SBI and the SBSTA. Close cooperation and liaison with all stakeholders involved will be essential for the work of the SCF on the biennial assessments and overview of climate finance flows.

What about reporting under the Kyoto Protocol?

Supplementary reporting

Annex I Parties that are Parties to the Kyoto Protocol are also required to report supplementary information required under Article 7, paragraph 1, of the Kyoto Protocol, with the inventory submission due under the Convention, in accordance with paragraph 3(a) of decision 15/CMP.1.

The compliance mechanism

The Kyoto Protocol also established a Compliance Committee, which was designed to strengthen the Kyoto Protocol’s environmental integrity, support the credibility of the carbon market and ensure the transparency of Parties' accounting. Its objective is to facilitate, promote and enforce compliance with the commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. It is among the most comprehensive and rigorous compliance systems for a multilateral environmental agreement. The Compliance Committee has two branches (the enforcement and facilitative branches) and a Plenary. Each branch is composed of 10 members and has a Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson. The Plenary meets at least twice a year, and the branches meet as often as required. The Compliance Committee reports annually to the CMP.

science in the
UNFCCC process

How does the UNFCCC promote science and policy interaction?

Effective interaction between climate science and policy is important for moving climate negotiations forwards. Scientific research continues to inform the international climate regime, as well as national and regional climate policies. The UNFCCC process, under the COP, the CMP, the SBSTA and the SBI, uses scientific information on climate change through four work streams.

Periodic review of the long-term global goal

In 2010, the COP agreed on a long-term global goal (LTGG) to reduce GHG emissions so as to hold the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. The COP also decided to periodically review the adequacy of this LTGG in the light of the ultimate objective of the Convention and to periodically review the overall progress towards achieving the LTGG, including a consideration of the implementation of the commitments under the Convention. The 2013–2015 review will also consider strengthening the LTGG, including in relation to temperature rises of 1.5 °C.

The COP established a structured expert dialogue to support the 2013–2015 review and ensure its scientific integrity. The outcome of dialogue between experts and Parties is summarized in the report on the structured expert dialogue (FCCC/SB/2015/INF.1).


The Convention calls on Parties to promote and cooperate in research and systematic observation of the climate system, including through exchange of information and supporting international programmes, networks and organizations. Parties are also called upon to cooperate in improving the capacities of developing countries so that they can participate in research and systematic observation activities.

Consideration of matters related to research takes place regularly under the SBSTA agenda item on research and systematic observation. Annual research dialogues are organized to inform Parties about ongoing and planned activities of regional and international research programmes and organizations active in climate change research, and to communicate Parties' views on research needs and priorities to the scientific community, in particular, to relevant research programmes and organizations and the IPCC.

Systematic observation

Worldwide systematic observation of the climate system is a key prerequisite for advancing scientific knowledge on climate change and advising for informed policymaking. The Convention calls on Parties to promote and cooperate in systematic observation of the climate system, including through support to existing international programmes and networks. Implementation is supported through cooperation with the Global Climate Observing System, the World Meteorological Organization and other agencies. Parties provide detailed technical reports on systematic observation via their National Communiations (NCs) and in line with the revised UNFCCC reporting guidelines on global climate change observing systems.

Cooperation with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The IPCC assesses the scientific, technical and socioeconomic information relevant for understanding the risk of human-induced climate change. The IPCC is best known for its comprehensive assessment reports, incorporating summaries for policymakers from a synthesis report and from all three working groups, which are widely recognized as the most credible sources of information on climate change. Cooperation with the IPCC has been further defined and strengthened by several COP decisions.

In addition to its assessment reports, the IPCC also produces shorter special reports and technical papers on specific issues, with a number of them being at the request of the COP or the SBSTA. Special reports are produced under the guidance of one or more working groups following the procedures that are used for writing and reviewing the assessment reports. For example, in 2000, the IPCC issued a special report on land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF), which served as an input into negotiations on the rules for the LULUCF sector under the Kyoto Protocol; in 2011, the IPCC produced a special report on renewable energy sources and climate change mitigation; and in 2012, the IPCC issued a special report on managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation. Technical papers are based on material that is already in the IPCC assessment reports and special reports.

Through its Task Force on Inventories, the IPCC carries out important work on developing methodologies for estimating and reporting GHG emissions. The 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, for example, are used by all Parties to prepare their annual emissions inventories. In addition, the IPCC has developed guidance to help Parties deal with data uncertainties and support the use of good practice in managing emissions inventories. The IPCC frequently organizes workshops and expert meetings to support the assessment process. It may also co-sponsor workshops if they are considered to be a useful contribution to its own activities.

the negotiations

What are United Nations Climate Change Conferences?

United Nations climate change conferences have grown exponentially in size over the past two decades—from small working sessions into the largest annual conferences currently held under the auspices of the United Nations—and are now among the largest international meetings in the world. The intergovernmental negotiations have likewise become increasingly complex and involve an ever-increasing number of officials from governments all over the world, at all levels, as well as huge numbers of representatives from civil society and the global news media.

These conferences are the foremost global forums for multilateral discussion of climate change matters, and have an incredibly busy schedule. The conferences, which rotate annually among the five United Nations regional groups, serve as the formal meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP) and the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP). They also include sessions of the subsidiary bodies (the SBSTA and the SBI) and any ad hoc negotiating groups. The UNFCCC secretariat supports all institutions involved in the negotiations, as well as the COP/CMP Bureau, which is the executive body that advises the President of the conference.

Meetings of the COP and CMP serve three main purposes:

  • To review the implementation of the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol;
  • To adopt decisions to further develop and implement the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol;
  • To adopt, where necessary, new legal instruments that contain substantive new commitments, such as the Kyoto Protocol.

The conduct of the meetings and brokering of agreements within the collective decision-making framework of the COP therefore involves negotiation and compromise.

The big picture: how do the UNFCCC sessions work?

The COP and CMP currently convene annually for two weeks, usually in late November or early to mid-December, along with meetings of the subsidiary bodies, ad hoc negotiating bodies, and additional preparation meetings and technical workshops. The first week of the sessions typically focuses on technical sessions of the subsidiary bodies and any ad hoc working groups.

The second week includes a ‘high-level segment’, with statements from ministers and often with their active engagement in the negotiations on a political outcome for the conference. The high-level segment is included to facilitate agreement on the major political issues (rather than negotiate details) and demonstrate priority for the UNFCCC process and ensure momentum.

At the opening of each COP and CMP session, a President (often a senior official or minister from the State hosting the sessions) is elected by the Parties to preside over the COP and CMP. Consideration of agenda items begins in the formal Plenary meetings of the COP and CMP, the supreme decision-making bodies for the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol, respectively, with the adoption of the agenda and the organization of work.

The COP and CMP then refer many of their agenda items to the subsidiary bodies (the SBSTA and the SBI) to move the issue forwards, resolve differences and reach agreement. Some agenda items are not referred, but are considered further by the COP and CMP. The aim is to forge agreement on draft decisions or conclusions that reflect the consensus view of Parties, with a view to forwarding these draft texts to the COP and CMP for adoption at the ends of sessions.

While under consideration by the subsidiary bodies (or sometimes the COP or CMP), the issue is often referred to smaller more informal groups, such as ‘contact groups’ and ‘informal consultations’, which are more suited to working on detailed text. During the meetings, national delegates try to achieve consensus on decisions that reflect the views of all Parties.

Once a draft decision is agreed in an informal group, it may then be forwarded for approval to one of the subsidiary bodies or an ad hoc negotiating group. It is then forwarded for final adoption to the COP or CMP Plenary. If Parties cannot reach agreement in the smaller negotiating groups, the draft text is forwarded to the COP or CMP for further debate. For some politically sensitive issues, the President may hold further consultations to reach a final agreement.

During the final meetings of the COP and CMP, the President will present the results of the negotiations—texts containing draft decisions and conclusions—in the Plenary for approval and adoption by Parties. Successive decisions taken by the COP and CMP make up a detailed set of rules for practical and effective implementation of the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol.

For more detailed information on United Nations Climate Change Conferences, see the Bare essentials: a toolkit for new delegates.

  • The UNFCCC Process at work: A Closer Look at a United Nations Climate Change Conference

Disclaimer and photo credits


Photo credit for images used:

• Background image on landing page: ESA

• Background image on Convention page: Nasa

• Background image on Adaptation page: ESA

• Background image on Finance page: NASA / Michael Studinger

• Background image on Capacity-Building page: NASA / USGS

• Background image on Science page: ESA

• Images in the timeline and negotiations section: enb/iisd.