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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

 

Will Europe lead the way towards 'zero deforestation'?

Blog entry by Sébastien Risso | 2 December, 2015 2 comments

From the time we're in school, we are taught that forests absorb and store carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases (GHG) responsible for climate change, and that they produce and release oxygen. Yet despite the essential role...

Forest Reference Emission Level (FREL) report

Publication | 2 December, 2015 at 11:00

In September 2015, the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) announced the publication of a new Forest Reference Emission Level (FREL) report. This is the country’s official report to the UNFCCC, establishing baseline...

People's Climate March 2015

Slideshow | 1 December, 2015

Shell's not so beautiful relationship

Blog entry by Jess Miller | 30 November, 2015 3 comments

By now, not much that oil companies say or do to profit off outdated fuel sources surprises me. But even if they aren’t surprising, it is still entertaining to watch just how wrong they can get it.   Around the world, renewables are...

In 3 steps, here is what Paris can do - and what we need to do afterwards

Blog entry by Daniel Mittler | 28 November, 2015

The last few weeks have seen the best and the worst in terms of climate change. Victories which pundits told us for years were "impossible" have been coming at a breathtaking pace. Coal demand is in terminal decline worldwide ,...

4 of ExxonMobil’s greatest climate denial hits

Blog entry by Naomi Ages | 25 November, 2015 3 comments

In the last few months, exposé after exposé has uncovered how Exxon knew about the dangerous reality of climate change before the media, politicians and just about everyone else. But instead of doing the right thing, or even just...

Another historic day in the battle to stop the tarsands

Blog entry by Mike Hudema | 23 November, 2015 1 comment

Today people slowed the beast again but this time we did it at the source. After a string of pipeline victories and over a decade of campaigning on at least three different continents, the Alberta government has finally put a limit...

FoD and #savethearctic, say whaat?

Blog entry by Arin de Hoog | 20 November, 2015

What do the Arctic have in common with a drama about vampires and a sitcom about a sketch comedy show? Not much, unless you take into account two actors who are keen to save our pristine wilderness to the North. True Blood star...

Apple goes solar in Singapore – will Microsoft, Amazon and Google follow?

Blog entry by Tom Dowdall | 16 November, 2015

Apple has announced it will power its data center, offices and upcoming store in Singapore with 100% solar energy beginning in 2016. Singapore is a rapidly growing hub for energy hungry data centers, making Apple’s solar deal an...

5 things you need to know about the Paris climate talks, COP21

Blog entry by Christine Ottery and Ruth Davis | 12 November, 2015

1. What is COP21? Between 30 November and 11 December 2015 a bunch of politicians and global leaders from over 190 countries will be involved in the United Nations 21st Conference of the Parties ('COP21', as it's known). They're...

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