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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

 

How Shell's latest bid to get young people hooked on fossil fuels seriously backfired

Blog entry by Trillia Fidei | 29 April, 2015 1 comment

Shell knows it's losing the fight against Arctic drilling, and here's why. A few weeks ago, we got an email from an outraged filmmaker saying that he'd been invited to enter a viral video competition sponsored by Shell . The...

The best OSPAR movies in history

Blog entry by Sara del Río | 29 April, 2015

But... what does OSPAR, the Convention for the Protection of the marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic have to do with movies? During its 23 years of existence, OSPAR and its delegates have played a key role taking bold...

And the OSPAR goes to… the Arctic!

Blog entry by Pilar Marcos | 27 April, 2015 1 comment

Yes, that is not a typo. The OSPAR Award. A long awaited Award that the Arctic well deserves. But, what is an OSPAR? The OSPAR Convention is an international agreement of 15 European countries (Arctic and non Arctic states)...

Renewable energy for all: How an Indian village was electrified

Blog entry by Kumi Naidoo | 25 April, 2015

Let's accept it. Climate change is a reality and current and future generations are up against the greatest challenge that humanity has ever faced. Yet some people believe that there is a trade-off between combating climate change and...

How do systems get unstuck?

Blog entry by Rex Weyler | 23 April, 2015 6 comments

Human enterprise appears stuck, like an addict, in habitual behaviour. We have plenty of data alerting us to global heating, declining species, disappearing forests, and rising toxins in our ecosystems. Yet, after decades of efforts to...

Shell's trying to silence your voice on Arctic drilling

Blog entry by Ben Ayliffe | 9 April, 2015 4 comments

"If somebody not from your country commits a crime against somebody not from your country in another country, should the courts in your country have any jurisdiction over the issue?" With remarkable prescience, this question was ...

Copenhagen to Paris via Mahan

Blog entry by Pushpinder | 7 April, 2015 2 comments

I was in Delhi to witness the spectacular failure of climate COP in Copenhagen in December 2009. I was a small time organizer in the movement and we were running a climate camp in New Delhi. We did a protest outside the US embassy when...

By the time you read this, I will be 40 meters up...

Blog entry by Aliyah Field | 7 April, 2015 8 comments

By the time you read this, I will be somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, literally closer to satellites than land. And if you choose to join the six of us, these past few weeks and the ones still to come will have been worth...

Why we all should care about the oil platform explosion that just happened in Mexico

Blog entry by Arin de Hoog | 4 April, 2015 6 comments

Early Wednesday morning the Pemex oil platform, Abkatun Alpha blew up off the West coast of the Yucatan peninsula. The explosion killed four people and sent 16 to the hospital. 300 people managed to escape the blazing wreckage. Three...

Shell's profit comes at our expense

Blog entry by Isadora Wronski | 2 April, 2015 6 comments

Climate science has made it clear that Arctic oil needs to stay in the ground if we want to avoid the worst impacts from global climate change. We know it and we also know that Shell knows it too. A ships next to a controlled burn...

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