MPPSC Exam Preparation-UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change)

MPPSC Prelims & Mains Notes, MPPSC Test Series

MPPSC Exam Preparation – General Studies

Environment & General Science

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international environmental treaty adopted on 9 May 1992 and opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June 1992.

It then entered into force on 21 March 1994, after a sufficient number of countries had ratified it. The UNFCCC objective is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human impact on the environment with the climate system“. 

The framework sets non-binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries and contains no enforcement mechanisms. Instead, the framework outlines how specific international treaties (called “Protocols” or “Agreements”) may be negotiated to specify further action towards the objective of the UNFCCC.

Initially, an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) produced the text of the Framework Convention during its meeting in New York from 30 April to 9 May 1992. The UNFCCC was adopted on 9 May 1992 and opened for signature on 4 June 1992. The UNFCCC has 197 parties as of December 2015. The convention enjoys broad legitimacy, largely due to its nearly universal membership.

The parties to the convention have met annually from 1995 in Conferences of the Parties (COP) to assess progress in dealing with climate change. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was concluded and established legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the period 2008–2012. 

The 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference produced an agreement stating that future global warming should be limited to below 2.0 °C (3.6 °F) relative to the pre-industrial level. The Protocol was amended in 2012 to encompass the period 2013–2020 in the Doha Amendment, which as of December 2015 had not entered into force.

In 2015 the Paris Agreement was adopted, governing emission reductions from 2020 on through commitments of countries in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), lowering the target to 1.5 °C. The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016.

One of the first tasks set by the UNFCCC was for signatory nations to establish national greenhouse gas inventories of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and removals, which were used to create the 1990 benchmark levels for the accession of Annex I countries to the Kyoto Protocol and for the commitment of those countries to GHG reductions. Updated inventories must be submitted annually by Annex I countries.

“UNFCCC” is also the name of the United Nations Secretariat charged with supporting the operation of the Convention, with offices in Haus Carstanjen, and the UN Campus (known as Langer Eugen) in Bonn, Germany.

From 2010 to 2016 the head of the secretariat was Christiana Figueres. In July 2016, Patricia Espinosa succeeded Figueres. The Secretariat, augmented through the parallel efforts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), aims to gain consensus through meetings and the discussion of various strategies.

Conference of the Parties

Parties to the UNFCCC continue to adopt decisions, review progress and consider further actions through regular meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP). The Conference of the Parties is the highest decision-making body of the convention and usually, meets annually.


The work under the UNFCCC is facilitated by a secretariat in Bonn, Germany. The secretariat is established under Article 8 of the Convention. It is headed by the Executive Secretary. The current Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, was appointed on 18 May 2016 by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and took office on 18 July 2016.

She succeeded Christiana Figueres who held the office since 2010. Former Executive Secretaries have been Yvo de Boer (2006-2010), Joke Waller-Hunter (2002-2005) and Michael Zammit Cutajar (1995-2002).

Financing and Global Environment Facility

The UNFCCC includes a provision under Article 10 for a financial mechanism to support developing countries and countries with economies in transition to a market economy in implementing the convention. Parties to the UNFCCC decided that the Global Environment Facilities (GEF) should act as the financial mechanism, giving it expertise in this area.

Expert Group and Other Constituted Bodies

The Convention is also supported by a number of expert groups and other constituted bodies. These include the Conservative Group of Experts (CGE) on national communication from “non-Annex I” Parties (a group composed mostly of developed countries).

The other bodies include the Least Developed Country Expert Group (LEG), the expert group on technology transfer, and the Executive Board of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and the Joint Implementation Supervisory Committee(JISC).


Benchmarking is the setting of a policy target based on some frame of reference. An example of benchmarking is the UNFCCC’s original target of Annex I Parties limiting their greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000.

Goldemberg (1996) commented on the economic implications of this target. Although the target applies equally to all Annex I Parties, the economic costs of meeting the target would likely vary between Parties.

For example, countries with initially high levels of energy efficiency might find it more costly to meet the target than countries with lower levels of energy efficiency. From this perspective, the UNFCCC target could be viewed as inequitable, i.e., unfair.

Benchmarking has also been discussed in relation to the first-round emissions targets specified in the Kyoto Protocol (see views on the Kyoto Protocol and Kyoto Protocol and government action).

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