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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

 

Who is responsible for climate change?

Publication | November 21, 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,...

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32,000 life years would be robbed every year if the coal-fired power plants currently under construction or in planning go into operation. This loss of life is entirely unnecessary, as renewable energy and the latest cutting-edge energy-efficient...

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Publication | April 24, 2013 at 16:00

The Cool IT Leaderboard evaluates global IT companies on their leadership in the fight to stop climate change. The IT sector possesses the innovative spirit, technological know-how, and political influence to bring about a rapid clean energy...

Point of No Return

Publication | January 22, 2013 at 14:00

The world is quickly reaching a Point of No Return for preventing the worst impacts of climate change. With total disregard for this unfolding global disaster, the fossil fuel industry is planning 14 massive coal, oil and gas projects that would...

Cool Technologies: Working Without HFCs

Publication | November 9, 2012 at 13:32

The rapid phase out of HFCs — “short-term climate forcing substances” — is one of the immediate preventative measures that can be taken today to try to avoid near-term climate tipping points.

Climate Change Impacts on Arctic Wildlife

Publication | August 27, 2012 at 15:56

It is now very evident that the temperatures in the Arctic are warming due to climate change, with a resulting impact on sea ice. Over the past 100 years, average Arctic temperatures have increased at almost twice the global average rate.

Apple Clean Energy Road Map

Publication | July 12, 2012 at 16:00

The following analysis updates our evaluation of Apple to account for its recent clean energy announcements, and outlines the additional steps Apple should take to fulfill its laudable ambition to set a new bar with a “coal-free” and 100%...

Greenwash+20

Publication | June 12, 2012 at 13:45

Today, greenwash is alive and well, as you will no doubt see at the Rio+20 conference. The Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD) coalition, for example, will be there again, and we invite you to compare their rhetoric to what was...

Energy Revolution 2012

Publication | June 1, 2012 at 10:27

Energy [R]evolution 2012 provides a consistent fundamental pathway for how to protect our climate: getting the world from where we are now to where we need to be by phasing out fossil fuels and cutting CO2 emissions while ensuring energy security.

How Clean is Your Cloud?

Publication | April 17, 2012 at 16:00

How much energy is required to power the ever-expanding online world? What percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions is attributable to the IT sector? This report takes a look at the energy choices some of the largest and fastest growing IT...

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