International United Nations negotiations
The United Nations Climate Change Negotiations
Reaching a global agreement on climate change
Australia is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, threatening our economic prosperity, unique environment and way of life.
Tackling climate change will require action by all countries. Reaching agreement between all countries on how to do this is challenging. At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban in December 2011 the world took a major step towards this goal, with agreement to launch negotiations on a new agreement with commitments for all countries. The agreement is to be finalised by 2015 and will enter into effect from 2020. The new agreement will, for the first time, bring all major economies into common legal arrangements for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Australia is participating actively in negotiations on the new agreement.
However, action is already taking place, with 91 countries, both developed and developing, having made pledges under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to limit their emissions. Together, these countries represent more than 90 per cent of the global economy and are responsible for more than 80 per cent of global emissions. See International Pledges for more information.
Progress under the climate change treaties
The Conference to the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the most internationally representative forum for developing an international response to climate change.
195 countries participate in the UNFCCC, along with observers from environmental groups, international organisations, business, local government and indigenous peoples’ organisations.
Over the 20 year history of the UNFCCC, countries have come together to negotiate and agree on approaches to tackling climate change. Major achievements include:
- the UNFCCC, agreed in 1992, with near universal membership, that establishes the key principles and framework for multilateral action on climate change
- the Kyoto Protocol, which came into force in 2005, and sets legally-binding emission reduction targets for developed countries between 2008 – 2012 and 2013 – 2020.
- the Copenhagen Accord (2009) and Cancun Agreements (2010), in which many countries pledged to reduce their emissions and which achieved unanimous agreement on a range of supporting institutions to finance climate action, facilitate provision of support and help vulnerable countries adapt to climate change
- the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (2011), establishing a mandate to negotiate a new agreement that will apply to all countries from 2020.
The next major meeting of the UNFCCC will be held in Poland in late 2013.
The Kyoto Protocol
The Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding agreement by developed countries that limits or reduces developed country greenhouse gas emissions. The Protocol was agreed in 1997 and came into force in 2005. The decision on which countries would limit their emissions under the Protocol was based on the membership of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) when the UNFCCC was agreed in 1992.
Australia committed to limit the growth of our emissions to 8 per cent above 1990 levels over the period 2008-2012 (the ‘first commitment period’). Australia is on track to meet this target.
Australia along with 36 other countries, will also participate in a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, ending in 2020. The Minister announced this decision in a speech in November 2012 and announcement in December 2012. Australia’s Kyoto target is consistent with the 2020 target of a 5 per cent reduction in 2020 compared to 2000 levels.
Copenhagen and Cancun negotiations
The Cancun Agreements of 2010 were a significant milestone in the UN climate negotiations. The Agreements created a balanced package that brought key elements of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord formally into the UNFCCC system and established the basis of a new, comprehensive international climate change regime.
- agreed to limit average global temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius
- improve the way countries measure and report on climate action to build understanding of the global effort, and formally capture pledges by developed and developing countries to take future action
- provide financial support for developing countries to take action, including a special fund for adaptation and low carbon activities in developing countries
- establish ways to protect forests, slow deforestation and prevent forest degradation, to stop unnecessary emissions from this major source of global emissions
- develop mechanisms for the world’s emerging carbon markets.
The outcomes of the 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban represented a positive step forward in global efforts to tackle climate change.
At Durban, countries agreed to:
- negotiate a ‘protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force’ with mitigation commitments from all major economies. The agreement is to be finalised by 2015 and come into effect from 2020. This is known as the ‘Durban Platform for Enhanced Action’
- a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol
- a work program to develop a new market mechanism additional to the existing multilateral market mechanisms
- help developing countries adapt to the effects of climate change.
At Durban countries also:
- acknowledged there will be no gap in the provision of finance to developing countries
- approved the governing instrument establishing the Green Climate Fund.
The Durban outcomes, including the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, set out a work plan for 2012 and through to 2015.
In Doha Australia’s aims were to:
- finalise a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol: Australia will take part in a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol with a target consistent with reducing emissions by 5 per cent compared to 2000 levels.
- start work on the New Agreement. This is due to apply to all countries from 2020. The 2011 Durban conference agreed to finish the New Agreement by 2015. The New Agreement needs to cover efforts by all major emitters to address climate change, and support domestic action in different countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Recognise the achievements of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Agreement (LCA) and implement its outcomes as it closed. In Durban in 2011 Parties agreed to close the LCA.
- It has achieved progress on adaptation, finance, technology, capacity-building, response measures and Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) of emissions – by moving ideas to decisions and implementation.
- The work of the LCA will help countries plan and deliver on their adaptation plans and mitigation pledges – including the new Green Climate Fund, an Adaptation Committee and a new Technology Mechanism.
Further work to cut emissions before 2020, including encouraging more countries to make commitments to cut emissions. 91 countries, covering more than 80 per cent of global emissions, have made pledges to cut their emissions before 2020. Australia is actively encouraging other countries that have not made pledges to do so.
Australia’s 2020 pledge to reduce emissions
Under the UNFCCC, Australia pledged to reduce its emissions by between 5 and 15, or 25 per cent, below 2000 levels by 2020, based on strict conditions relating to the extent of global action. The 5 per cent target is Australia’s unconditional commitment.
Other opportunities for progress
Climate change is the subject of discussion in a range of multilateral, regional and local bodies outside the UNFCCC. There are opportunities through these discussions to look for areas of agreement on practical action.
The Major Economies Forum brings together most of the world’s major economies. Members of the group account for around 80 per cent of global emissions and include the United States, China, Republic of Korea, India, Japan, Germany and Australia.
Australia has also joined the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. This is an alliance of developing and developed countries committed to take rapid action on short lived climate pollutants – soot, methane and some other potent gases. Reducing these short lived climate pollutants can have benefits for public health and farming productivity, as well as slowing the rate of climate change.
Climate change is also discussed at several regional groupings that Australia participates in, including the East Asia Summit and Pacific Islands Forum. These discussions are helping to develop regional responses to climate change, such as in areas of disaster management and carbon markets.
Australia is also working directly with other countries to take climate action. We are building the capacity of our neighbours Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to reduce emissions by protecting forests and slowing deforestation. Through our bilateral partnership with China, we are helping that country develop market mechanisms. We have also shared our expertise in measuring and reporting greenhouse gas emissions with countries throughout the world including Kenya, Tanzania, Guyana and Cambodia.
For further information about global efforts see: