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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


Then & Now: Launching a "Mind Bomb" to save the Arctic

Blog entry by Emily Hunter | 22 June, 2015

Staring out at the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean, I feel a sense of past and present colliding. Forty-four years ago in these same waters off Canada's west coast, my father Robert Hunter and a group of Greenpeace co-founders...

World Refugee Day: Fleeing climate change

Blog entry by Arin de Hoog | 20 June, 2015

When we consider how long people have been run out of their homes due to extreme weather brought about by climate change, it really took too long for the term "climate refugee" to become part of the popular vernacular.  Laxmi, age...

The encyclical: Spirituality and ethics join the climate debate

Blog entry by Giuseppe Onufrio | 18 June, 2015

When talking about climate change, ethical arguments have tended to be overshadowed by scientific, economic and political reasoning.  Of course, there are many good reasons to go after a strong and unequivocal climate agreement in...

I'm standing between Shell and the Arctic. Join me.

Blog entry by Audrey Siegl | 17 June, 2015

Today, First Nations artist and activist Audrey Siegl stood on a small boat, bravely confronting Shell's 300-foot-tall Arctic drilling platform in Canadian waters off the coast of British Columbia on its way to the Alaskan Arctic. This...

People vs. Oil

Slideshow | 17 June, 2015

Activists say ShellNo! as oil rig departs for Arctic

Blog entry by Dawn Bickett | 15 June, 2015

Today, Shell Oil's drilling rig – the Polar Pioneer – left port to drill in the Arctic. Shell received government permission to drill in the Arctic this summer despite its history of failures and safety violations, the Obama...

Norway’s "no to coal" is a challenge to decision makers worldwide

Blog entry by Johan Hammerstrøm | 5 June, 2015

Today’s vote in the Norwegian Parliament marks a truly historic event: It is the first time in history that all our politicians — left-leaning and right-leaning — have come together to take a stand against coal. The parliament...

How do you #getupand change the world? Like this:

Blog entry by Arin de Hoog | 1 June, 2015

What does it take to make the global shift away from dirty energy sources, like coal, oil, gas and nuclear? How do we ensure the protection of our precious ecosystems, like our forests and our oceans? We know that clean, renewable...

Global Day of Action 2015

Slideshow | 31 May, 2015

Global Warming Update

Blog entry by Rex Weyler | 29 May, 2015 12 comments

March 2015 was the warmest March in a 136 years of records, and CO 2 levels are now higher than they have been in 800,000 years. If you are an environmental activist, or someone who cares and wants to help, you may find yourself...

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