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United Nations

The United Nations plays a key role in coordinating the international response to climate change. But it is no simple job getting cooperation and agreement from the 191 member states of the UN - all intent on pursuing their own self interests and policies - even when the evidence is clearly shows that failing to act would be disastrous for all.

The two UN institutions that deal most directly with climate change arethe Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the UNFramework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  The firstprovides scientific and technical advice to policy makers, and thesecond develops policy mechanisms to deal with climate change.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The IPCCwas established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). At the time it wasrecognised that climate change was a serious issue, and that worldleaders would need unbiased scientific advice - independent of nationalinterests and corporate influence.  

The role of the IPCCis to advise policy makers about the current state of knowledge andprovide reliable information pertaining to climate change. It does notconduct any scientific research itself, but instead reviews thethousands of papers on climate change published in the peer reviewedliterature every year and summarises the 'state of knowledge' onclimate change in Assessment Reports which are published every fiveyears or so. About 1,000 experts from all over the world were involvedin drafting the most recent, the Third Assessment Report (2001), andabout 2,500 were involved in its review. The Fourth Assessment Report,well under way now, is due to be published in 2007. The IPCC alsopublishes a variety of other reports on request of governments,intergovernmental organisations or international treaties.  

TheIPCC is broken down into three working groups.  The first workinggroup "assesses the scientific aspects of the climate system andclimate change".  That is, it reports on what we know aboutclimate change - if it is happening, why it is happening and how fastit is happening. The second working group " assesses the vulnerabilityof socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, negative andpositive consequences of climate change, and options for adapting toit". That is, it looks at what degree climate change will impact peopleand the environment, and what changes might reduce its impacts. The third working group "assesses options for limiting greenhouse gasemissions and otherwise mitigating climate change." That is, itexamines ways we can stop human caused climate change, or at least slowit down.

Greenpeace relies heavily on IPCC reports as the basis for its international climate campaign.

See the Scientific Consensus page for a brief overview of the IPCC's latest conclusions.

Read in more detail about the IPCC's most recent assessment.

Visit the IPCC's own website for the full text of the Third Assessment Report.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)


The UNFCCCwas agreed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, andhas since been ratified by 189 countries.  Its ultimate objective:

"[The] stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in theatmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenicinterference with the climate system. Such a level should be achievedwithin a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturallyto climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened andto enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner." 

The Convention then goes on to say:

"The Partiesshould protect the climate system for the benefit of present and futuregenerations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance withtheir common but differentiated responsibilities and respectivecapabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should takethe lead in combating climate change and the adverse affects thereof."

( Full text of the Convention)

TheUNFCCC is, as its name implies, a 'framework' convention, and needssubsidiary legal instruments (e.g. protocols) to effect its goals. Ithas a non-binding target, which calls for industrialised countries tobring their emissions back to 1990 levels by 2000.  However, itwas obviously by 1995 that these voluntary targets wereinadequate.   Realizing the need for another approach, in1995 the Parties to the Convention established a process to negotiate aprotocol with binding targets and timetables "as a matter of urgency".The result was the Kyoto Protocol, which was agreed in December of 1997and finally entered into force on February 16, 2005.

The annualmeetings of the Convention are called Conferences of the Parties(COPs).  These meetings continue, and are attended by governmentofficials, industry lobbyists, Greenpeace and many other groups. Most of the Parties are genuinely seeking a way forward, looking evenbeyond Kyoto, but there are always those with huge vested interests inthe continuation of the fossil fuel industry - such as representativesof the Bush administration and the OPEC countries - whose main goal isto cripple the convention and generally prevent  any true progresson the issue.

You can read first hand accounts from these meetings, along with Greenpeace position papers and other relevant documents on our International Negotiations page.

The latest updates

 

Where is the hope?

Blog entry by Rex Weyler | 30 November, 2016

I’m not sure we can win with logic.  How do we reverse species loss, climate change, toxins, general overshoot of Earth’s generous habitats? We have the science, but humanity at the large scale does not appear to have the political...

Four ways our forests must be part of the climate conversation

Blog entry by Jannes Stoppel | 30 November, 2016 1 comment

On a warming planet, forests hold the key to stopping climate change. Forest landscapes and agricultural areas can absorb emissions like a sponge. They take carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis, and store it in wood and...

Stand for Indigenous rights – and for the planet

Blog entry by Dawn Bickett | 23 November, 2016 1 comment

For centuries, Indigenous Peoples have been fighting to protect their lands and secure their rights in the face of colonisation, environmental destruction and violence. Today – with looming global environmental crises like climate...

The world unites, vulnerable countries inspire – but there’s hard work ahead

Blog entry by Jennifer Morgan | 18 November, 2016 1 comment

I have attended countless UN Climate conferences during the past two decades, but Marrakech will be among the more memorable, and not just because there was a sense of renewed determination here in the face of the election of Donald...

We will win – despite Trump

Blog entry by Jennifer Morgan | 16 November, 2016 5 comments

I am hopeful and determined today. The first ever truly global agreement to fight climate change, the Paris Agreement, is having its first ever formal meeting. I have been working towards this moment for decades. This is no normal...

Trump as President: Here’s how we get through this

Blog entry by Annie Leonard | 16 November, 2016

I never thought I’d have to write this. The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, has been devastating. He’s spent months threatening immigrants, women, people of colour, Muslims and the differently-abled...

Russian gas in the EU: How consumers threaten an international nature reserve

Blog entry by Evgeny Yusov | 11 November, 2016

The Kurgalsky nature reserve, which traverses the shallow waters of the Gulf of Finland, numerous islands, and the Kurgalsky Peninsula between Russia and Finland, is home to a great diversity of flora and fauna, supporting numerous...

Smog is India's new Instagram filter

Blog entry by Sudhanshu Malhotra | 11 November, 2016 1 comment

India’s capital, Delhi, is right now the most polluted city in the world . According to a WHO report, 12 out of 22 of the world’s most polluted cities are in India. It’s a public health disaster, but it wasn’t always like this. ...

I survived the strongest typhoon to ever hit the Philippines. But my family didn’t.

Blog entry by Joanna Sustento | 8 November, 2016

Imagine this… “Super Typhoon Haiyan is moving over the Philippines this weekend bringing with it winds close to 200 miles per hour…” – ABC World News An elderly couple walk past rubble left by the damage caused by Typhoon...

4 ways you can use the law to call out the fossil fuel industry – join the wave of...

Blog entry by Tom Lowe | 7 November, 2016

The Paris agreement has catapulted us all into a new reality. Governments have signed it, now they must act on it. And meanwhile, a global movement of people against fossil fuels is moving ahead - and you can be a part of it. We are...

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