United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC) is another projected legally binding agreement produced at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) or Earth Summit 1992.

The objective of UNFCC is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

Is UNFCCC is legally binding?

No. UNFCCC is itself not legally binding and does not set mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries and contains no enforcement mechanisms. However, it was projected legally binding agreement as its protocols would set the emission targets and legally binding enforcements. One such important protocol is the Kyoto Protocol, which is legally binding. The protocol is so famous that it is now a misnomer to UNFCCC itself.

Date of enforcement and members?

UNFCCC opened for signature on May 9, 1992 and entered into force on March 21, 1994. Currently it has 192 parties.

The parties to the convention meet annually from 1995 in Conferences of the Parties (COP) to assess progress in dealing with climate change. Till now 16 Conferences have been concluded.

  • The 1997, Kyoto Protocol was concluded and established at the COP-3. It is a legally binding obligation for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.


The Secretariat of UNFCCC is also known by the same name. Its offices are in Haus Carstanjen, Bonn, Germany. From 2006 to 2010 the head of the secretariat was Yvo de Boer. From May, 2010 his successor, Christiana Figueres from Costa Rica has been named.

Convention entering into force

UNFCCC was opened for signature at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. On June 12, 1992, 154 nations signed the UNFCCC. United States signed and later ratified the convention in 1994.

  • Having received the instrument of ratification by a minimum of 50 parties, the convention entered into force on March 21, 1994.

Classification of the Parties

The ratification of the UNFCCC means ratification of the voluntary “non-binding aim” to reduce atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases with the goal of “preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference with Earth’s climate system.”

The above action was primarily targeted at the industrialized countries, so that they stabilize the emissions of greenhouse gases at 1990 levels by the year 2000. Accordingly the Industrialized countries were places in a separate category. The parties of the UNFCC are grouped into three categories:

  1. Annex-I Countries
  2. Annex-II Countries
  3. Developing Countries
Annex-I Countries:

The industrialized countries and the countries whose economies were in transition in 1992 were kept in Annex-I countries. This group comprises the 40 nations & one organization (European Union) as follows:

Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America

Annex II Countries:

The Developed countries which play a financial role in the development of the developing countries and pay the cost for the development in the developing countries were placed in Annex II countries. The 23 Annex II countries are as follows:

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States of America. Please note that Annex II is just a subgroup of the Annex I countries.

Developing Countries:

The Developing countries, as per the UNFCCC, are not required to reduce emission levels unless developed countries supply enough funding and technology for their development.

Why no emission reduction targets for Developing countries?

This would avoid the restrictions on their development, because emissions are strongly linked to industrial capacity. The idea behind imposing a emission cut requirements for the Industrialized nations is that the developing countries can sell emissions credits to nations whose operators have difficulty meeting their emissions targets they get money and technologies for low-carbon investments from Annex II countries.

This has given rise to the issue between the Developed and Developing countries.

What is the issue?

It has been alleged by the opponents of the convention that it has created an unfair split between the developing and developed countries. They say that both the developing countries and developed countries need to reduce their emissions unilaterally. Some allege that the cost will stress their economy.

COP 1 to COP 3

  • 1995 – COP 1, The Berlin

The countries started making voices right from the COP 1 about the adequacies and abilities of the countries regarding meeting the commitments. The COP 1 was held in March 1995 at Berlin. The outcome was Berlin Mandate.

  • 1996 – COP 2, Geneva, Switzerland

COP 2 was held at Geneva in July 1996. The important outcome was that the scientific findings on climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its second assessment in 1995 were accepted.

  • 1997 – COP 3, The Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change

COP 3 took place in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan. The outcome was the famous Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol was the legally binding protocol which outlined the greenhouse gas emissions reduction obligation for Annex I countries. It also came out with some mechanisms collectively known as Kyoto mechanisms. These mechanisms include the Emissions Trading, Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation. The rest of the Protocols were as follows. Before we move on to them, we need to study the Kyoto Protocol in detail.

  • 1998 – COP 4, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • 1999 – COP 5, Bonn, Germany
  • 2000 – COP 6, The Hague, Netherlands
  • 2001 – COP 6 bis, Bonn, Germany
  • 2001 – COP 7, Marrakech, Morocco
  • 2002 – COP 8, New Delhi, India
  • 2003 – COP 9, Milan, Italy
  • 2004 – COP 10, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • 2005 – COP 11/MOP 1, Montreal, Canada
  • 2006 – COP 12/MOP 2, Nairobi, Kenya
  • 2007 – COP 13/MOP 3, Bali, Indonesia
  • 2008 – COP 14/MOP 4, Poznań, Poland
  • 2009 – COP 15/MOP 5, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 2010 – COP 16/MOP 6, Cancún, Mexico
  • 2011 – COP 17/MOP 7, South Africa

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