United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

The 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (referred to as the UNFCCC or the Convention) provides the foundation for multilateral action to combat climate change and its impacts on humanity and ecosystems. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement were negotiated under the UNFCCC and build on the Convention. The objective of the UNFCCC is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.

The Kyoto Protocol

UNFCCC

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted at the third Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP 3) in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997. The Protocol shares the objective and institutions of the Convention.

The Marrakesh Accords

The major distinction between the two, however, is that while the Convention encouraged industrialized countries to stabilize GHG emissions, the Protocol commits them to do so. The detailed rules for its implementation were adopted at COP 7 in Marrakesh in 2001.

Limit and reduce GHG Emissions

The Protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The Kyoto Protocol entered into force on 16 February 2005. 192 Parties have ratified the treaty to date. Under the Protocol, 37 industrialized countries and the European Community have committed to reducing their emissions by an average of 5 percent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.


For this group of countries, reductions of 11% are projected for the first Kyoto commitment period from 2008 to 2012, provided policies and measures planned by these countries are put in place (see Annex). These countries will also have to make use of the Protocol’s flexible mechanisms in order to reach their collective emission reduction goal.

The Paris Agreement

Strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change

Singed On 12 December 2015, 196 Parties

On 12 December 2015, 196 Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted the Paris Agreement, a new legally-binding framework for an internationally coordinated effort to tackle climate change. The Agreement represents the culmination of six years of international climate change negotiations under the auspices of the UNFCCC, and was reached under intense international pressure to avoid a repeat failure of the Copenhagen conference in 2009.

Universal, Legal Framework

The Paris Agreement defines a universal, legal framework to ‘strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change’. It establishes the obligation of all Parties to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Climate Change Mitigation

For the first time, all countries will develop plans on how to contribute to climate change mitigation, and will communicate their ‘nationally determined contributions’ to the Secretariat of the Convention. The Paris Agreement puts emphasis on processes rather than on defined mitigation goals. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement does not formulate country specific emissions targets.

Voluntary Mitigation Contributions

Instead, the Paris Agreement depends on voluntary mitigation contributions and a series of processes that seek to ensure collective and individual progress in meeting the initial and progressively more ambitious mitigation contributions.

In April 2016

In April 2016 the late South African Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa signed the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change on behalf of South Africa at the United Nations in New York. This signalled South Africa’s commitment to ensuring low carbon development from 2020 onwards and to limit the global temperature increase to well below 2 degree Celsius which is of central importance to South Africa as an African and developing country that is highly vulnerable to climate change. At her funeral the President of South Africa noted she saw her environment portfolio as more than just a regulatory function but as a catalyst for economic transformation and addressing poverty and job creation