Policy

Supporting international action on climate change

Issue

If the global average temperature rises more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, significant negative impacts of climate change will be more likely and the cost of managing them will rise sharply.

The industrial revolution led to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity. The Earth’s surface has consequently warmed by about 0.8°C since around 1900, with much of this warming occurring in the past 50 years.

To have a 50% chance of keeping climate change to within 2°C of pre-industrial levels, global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak before 2020 and then decline steeply. The UK can’t make this happen on its own - the government has to work at an international level to make sure all countries do what is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Actions

We are:

Background

In response to scientific evidence that climate change is happening and mainly due to increasing greenhouse gases emitted as a result of human activity, the UN negotiated a treaty at its Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. This treaty is known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UK is one of the 195 parties to it.

Parties to the convention meet annually at the Conference of the Parties (COP).

1972: Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm – foundation of the UN Environment Programme

This was the first big global environment conference to co-ordinate international policy. Of the UN’s 132 member states, 114 participated. At the conference the 26 Principles were agreed, to inspire and guide the world on the preservation and enhancement of the human environment. The conference also agreed the founding of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), an international institution to co-ordinate the environmental activities of the UN.

1992: Earth Summit, Rio de Janeiro – agreement of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Also known as the UN Conference on Environment and Development, this saw 172 UN member states meet to agree further measures to halt environmental degradation and pollution 20 years after the Stockholm conference. The parties reached a number of agreements and founded new mechanisms for taking international discussions forward. They also agreed the UNFCCC, under the auspices of which international negotiations on climate change continue today.

1997: Conference of the Parties 3 (COP 3), Kyoto – agreement of the Kyoto Protocol

COP 3 took place in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997. The parties agreed the Kyoto Protocol, which set legally binding targets for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions for the first time. The protocol came into force on 16 February 2005. In addition to setting targets for emissions reduction, the Kyoto Protocol also allows for ‘flexible mechanisms’ such as emissions trading, which lets countries with emissions reduction targets purchase greenhouse gas emissions reductions credits from other countries. This effectively allows emissions reductions to take place wherever it is most cost effective for them to occur.

Further information on how global negotiations to mitigate climate change have progressed to date.

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