United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Citation metadata

Editors: Brenda Wilmoth Lerner and K. Lee Lerner
Date: 2006
Document Type: Treaty overview; Treaty; Excerpt
Length: 1,916 words
Content Level: (Level 4)

Document controls

Main content

Full Text: 
Page 311

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Treaty excerpt

By: United Nations

Date: 1992

Source: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. 1992. Available online at 〈http://unfccc.int/essential_background/convention/background/items/1349.php〉 (accessed March 16, 2006).

About the Organization: The United Nations (UN) is an organization established on October 24, 1945. The fifty-one founding countries and additional member countries are committed to the preservation of peace through international cooperation and providing collective security.


In June 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) convened in Rio de Janeiro. Participants of the summit included 108 heads of state and representatives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), intergovernmental organizations (to include international financial institutions), businesses, academia, and the media. The conference was the first summit of its kind since the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which asserted that a relationship existed between economic development and environmental degradation. The summit convened with the stated objective to stabilize greenhouse emissions in a time frame that is sensitive to natural climate changes, continued food production, and sustainable economic development.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed by over 150 countries at the summit in 1992.


The Parties to this Convention,

Acknowledging that change in the Earth's climate and its adverse effects are a common concern of humankind, Concerned that human activities have been substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, that these increases enhance the natural greenhouse Page 312  |  Top of Articleeffect, and that this will result on average in an additional warming of the Earth's surface and atmosphere and may adversely affect natural ecosystems and humankind, Noting that the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs,

Aware of the role and importance in terrestrial and marine ecosystems of sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases, Noting that there are many uncertainties in predictions of climate change, particularly with regard to the timing, magnitude and regional patterns thereof,

Acknowledging that the global nature of climate change calls for the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and their social and economic conditions, Recalling the pertinent provisions of the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, adopted at Stockholm on 16 June 1972,

Recalling also that States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction,

Reaffirming the principle of sovereignty of States in international cooperation to address climate change, Recognizing that States should enact effective environmental legislation, that environmental standards, management objectives and priorities should reflect the environmental and developmental context to which they apply, and that standards applied by some countries may be inappropriate and of unwarranted economic and social cost to other countries, in particular developing countries,

Recalling the provisions of General Assembly resolution 44/228 of 22 December 1989 on the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, and resolutions 43/53 of 6 December 1988, 44/207 of 22 December 1989, 45/212 of 21 December 1990 and 46/169 of 19 December 1991 on protection of global climate for present and future generations of mankind,

Recalling also the provisions of General Assembly resolution 44/206 of 22 December 1989 on the possible adverse effects of sea-level rise on islands and coastal areas, particularly low-lying coastal areas and the pertinent provisions of General Assembly resolution 44/172 of 19 December 1989 on the implementation of the Plan of Action to Combat Desertification,

Recalling further the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, 1985, and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, 1987, as adjusted and amended on 29 June 1990,

Noting the Ministerial Declaration of the Second World Climate Conference adopted on 7 November 1990, Conscious of the valuable analytical work being conducted by many States on climate change and of the important contributions of the World Meteorological Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme and other organs, organizations and bodies of the United Nations system, as well as other international and intergovernmental bodies, to the exchange of results of scientific research and the coordination of research,

Recognizing that steps required to understand and address climate change will be environmentally, socially and economically most effective if they are based on relevant scientific, technical and economic considerations and continually re-evaluated in the light of new findings in these areas,

Recognizing that various actions to address climate change can be justified economically in their own right and can also help in solving other environmental problems, Recognizing also the need for developed countries to take immediate action in a flexible manner on the basis of clear priorities, as a first step towards comprehensive response strategies at the global, national and, where agreed, regional levels that take into account all greenhouse gases, with due consideration of their relative contributions to the enhancement of the greenhouse effect,

Recognizing further that low-lying and other small island countries, countries with low-lying coastal, arid and semiarid areas or areas liable to floods, drought and desertification, and developing countries with fragile mountainous ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change,

Recognizing the special difficulties of those countries, especially developing countries, whose economies are particularly dependent on fossil fuel production, use and exportation, as a consequence of action taken on limiting greenhouse gas emissions,

Affirming that responses to climate change should be coordinated with social and economic development in an integrated manner with a view to avoiding adverse impacts on the latter, taking into full account the legitimate priority needs of developing countries for the achievement of sustained economic growth and the eradication of poverty,

Recognizing that all countries, especially developing countries, need access to resources required to achieve Page 313  |  Top of Articlesustainable social and economic development and that, in order for developing countries to progress towards that goal, their energy consumption will need to grow taking into account the possibilities for achieving greater energy efficiency and for controlling greenhouse gas emissions in general, including through the application of new technologies on terms which make such an application economically and socially beneficial,

Determined to protect the climate system for present and future generations,

Have agreed as follows:


DEFINITIONS For the purposes of this Convention:

  1. "Adverse effects of climate change" means changes in the physical environment or biota resulting from climate change which have significant deleterious effects on the composition, resilience or productivity of natural and managed ecosystems or on the operation of socio-economic systems or on human health and welfare.
  2. "Climate change" means a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.
  3. "Climate system" means the totality of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and geosphere and their interactions.
  4. "Emissions" means the release of greenhouse gases and/or their precursors into the atmosphere over a specified area and period of time.
  5. "Greenhouse gases" means those gaseous constituents of the atmosphere, both natural and anthropogenic, that absorb and re-emit infrared radiation.
  6. "Regional economic integration organization" means an organization constituted by sovereign States of a given region which has competence in respect of matters governed by this Convention or its protocols and has been duly authorized, in accordance with its internal procedures, to sign, ratify, accept, approve or accede to the instruments concerned.
  7. "Reservoir" means a component or components of the climate system where a greenhouse gas or a precursor of a greenhouse gas is stored.
  8. "Sink" means any process, activity or mechanism which removes a greenhouse gas, an aerosol or a precursor of a greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.
  9. "Source" means any process or activity which releases a greenhouse gas, an aerosol or a precursor of a green-house gas into the atmosphere.


OBJECTIVE The ultimate objective of this Convention and any related legal instruments that the Conference of the Parties may adopt is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.


Although the primary objective of UNCED surrounded climate changes as the result of greenhouse emissions, the discussion expanded to include a variety of topics such as poverty and sustainable development. As a result, six conventions emerged from the summit: The Rio Declaration, The United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change, The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, The Rio Forestry Principles, The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, Agenda 21, and The Commission on Sustainable Development.

The document, Agenda 21, emerged from the summit as the most influential document as it promoted a paradigm shift in the concept of the environment and development. The agreement attempts to recognize a balance with a region's environmental capacity and its population's use of that environment for economic development. As a result, Agenda 21 became the blueprint for sustainable development. Sustainable development is identified as development that not only considers meeting present needs, but also meeting the needs of future generations. The document plans for the reduction of inefficient consumption in the developed countries and sustainable development in the developing nations. It calls for the participation of major groups, as identified by the United Nations: women, youth, indigenous peoples, NGOs, trade unions, farmers, business people, scientists, and the technical communities. Agenda 21 also called for the creation of a commission to ensure progress toward the goals reached at the summit. As a result, the Commission for Sustainable Development was created as an international body under the UN Economic and Social Council.

Other important conventions that emerged from the UNCED include the Rio Declarations and the Page 314  |  Top of Article
Activists gather and demonstrate in New Delhi, India, because of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Changes failure to meet goals in curbing harmful gas emissions in developing countries, October 2002. Activists gather and demonstrate in New Delhi, India, because of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change's failure to meet goals in curbing harmful gas emissions in developing countries, October 2002. AP Images United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Rio Declarations identified twenty-seven legally non-binding principles created to commit governments to responsible development and environmental protection. Designed as an Environmental Bill of Rights, the declaration establishes the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" and the "precautionary principle." The UNFCCC focused on the reduction of greenhouse emissions and led to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity also emerged from the Rio Summit. This agreement, signed by 154 participating countries, identified the goal of conservation of biological species, genetic resources, habitats, and ecosystems. Signatory nations pledged to create strategies for conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity within their borders. These strategies include conservation in policy-making, establishing laws to protect threatened species and systems, rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems, and educational programs. This convention led to the Cartenga Protocol on Biosafety, which expressed risks involved in crossborder trade and created a Biosafety Clearinghouse.

The Rio Forestry Principles and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) also emerged from the UNCED. The Rio Forestry Principles are fifteen non-binding principles surrounding the sustainable use and protection of global forest resources. As a contentious aspect of the summit, the principles emerged as governments failed to start a process for a UN convention on forests. The principles recognize forests as reservoirs for water and carbon, homes to wildlife, and storehouses of biological resources. Developed nations viewed the forests as global commons. Developing nations, however, viewed the issue as a question of sovereignty over a country's resources. On the other hand, the UNCCD was mentioned in Agenda 21 and was added to the conference in 1994. It states the goals of exploring the causes of desertification and the formation of regionally adopted programs to combat desertification.

Although progress toward the goals outlined at the UNCED in Rio has been slow, the majority of participants categorized the summit as highly significant, as documented in a study entitled, "From Rio to Johannesburg: Progress and prospects." The Page 315  |  Top of Articlestudy identifies the success of the summit in its ability to place the global environment onto the international agenda by its participants. In addition, the summit in Rio is credited with a shift in thinking toward development policies, moving the international community toward the goal of sustainable development that involves a developing nation's major groups. Years later, Rio is still celebrated, in spite of slow progress toward its goals, as a landmark in creating global awareness of the environment.



Najam, Adil, Janice M. Poling, Naoyuki Yamagishi, Daniel G. Straub, et al. "From Rio to Johannesburg: Progress and Prospects." Environment, September 1, 2002.

Web sites

"Outcomes of the Earth Summit 1992 Process." Heinrich Boell Foundation. 〈http://www.worldsummit2002.org/index.htm?http://www.worldsummit2002.org/guide/unced.htm〉 (accessed March 16, 2006).

"Earth Summit Agenda 21." United Nations. 〈http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/documents/agenda21/index.htm〉 (March 16, 2006).

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3456400121