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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

 

Forbidden Pictures: Dima's Story

Blog entry by Brian Fitzgerald | 26 November, 2013 16 comments

It's dark in Murmansk. A railway security guard yawns, his breath visible in the frigid air, and waves through one of the workers arriving for the early morning shift. He barely glances at him. Had the guard looked closer, he might...

Arctic 30 Released On Bail

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Walking away towards the future

Blog entry by Ruth Davis | 22 November, 2013

When around 800 members of civil society walked out of the Warsaw climate conference on Thursday, observers asked ‘Why?’ And ‘Why now?’ What made this meeting different from all the others - and what did we hope to achieve? For...

Ranking the climate culprits

Blog entry by Kumi Naidoo | 22 November, 2013

There's a clear parallel between the behaviour of the fossil fuel giants and tobacco companies: tobacco companies went to extraordinary lengths to suppress the knowledge that smoking caused cancer, activities that eventually resulted...

Who is responsible for climate change?

Publication | 21 November, 2013 at 12:10

Climate change is no longer an abstract concept that scientists and environmentalists discuss, but a reality of many people’s lives. Over the past few years record breaking and extreme weather events including sweltering summers, super-storms,...

Bankrolling climate change – Corporate sponsorship at the climate summit

Blog entry by Sebastian Bock | 18 November, 2013

It is that time of the year again. For the last two decades, every year in November or December. the world gets together to try to carve out a deal to prevent catastrophic climate change. After so many years, one might be tempted to...

UN climate chief Figueres calls coal industry's 'clean coal' bluff

Blog entry by Lauri Myllyvirta | 18 November, 2013

In probably the most blatant attempt at subversion in the history of the international climate negotiations, the Polish economic ministry has teamed up with the coal industry to host a summit to promote coal during this year's top...

Strength in recognition

Blog entry by Arin de Hoog | 15 November, 2013

2013 has been an incredible year for Greenpeace. In February actress Lucy Lawless spoke publicly against shell after occupying an oil rig with Greenpeace activists. A forest conservation pilot project by Indonesia's largest palm oil...

"Dear Vladimir...": Ex-Beatle Sir Paul writes to Putin calling for Arctic 30 release

Blog entry by Elena Polisano | 14 November, 2013 5 comments

Support for the Arctic 30 just went pop. In a really good way. And Sir Paul McCartney just made a sure-fire bid to become my favourite Beatle. Today on his website Sir Paul published a personal letter to Vladimir Putin, in which the...

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