International agreements on climate action

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the main international agreement on climate action. It was one of three conventions adopted at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. To date, it has been ratified by 195 countries. It started as a way for countries to work together to limit global temperature increases and climate change, and to cope with their impacts.

The Council handles two issues related to the UNFCCC:

  • ratification of the Doha amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, which concerns commitments under the second period, running from 2013-2020
  • Paris Agreement - new global climate change agreement covering all UNFCCC countries, its ratification, implementation and enter into force in 2020

In detail

1. Kyoto Protocol

In the mid 1990s, the UNFCCC signatories realised that stronger provisions were needed to reduce emissions. In 1997, they agreed the Kyoto Protocol, which introduced legally binding emission reduction targets for developed countries.

The second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol began on 1 January 2013 and will end in 2020. 38 developed countries, including the EU and its 28 member states, are participating. This second period is covered by the Doha amendment, under which participating countries have committed to reducing emissions by at least 18% below 1990 levels. The EU has committed to reducing emissions in this period to 20% below 1990 levels.

The main weakness of the Kyoto Protocol is that it only requires developed countries to take action. As the United States has never signed up to the Kyoto Protocol, Canada pulled out before the end of the first commitment period and Russia, Japan and New Zealand are not taking part in the second commitment period, it also only now applies to around 14% of the world's emissions. However, more than 70 developing and developed countries have made various non-binding commitments to reduce or limit their greenhouse gas emissions.

On 13 July 2015, the Council adopted a decision enabling the EU to ratify the Doha amendment establishing the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

2. Paris Agreement

The Paris climate conference took place from 30 November to 11 December 2015.

On 12 December, the parties reached a new global agreement on climate change. The agreement presents a balanced outcome with an action plan to limit global warming 'well below' 2°C.

The Paris Agreement entered into force 4 November 2016 after the conditions for ratification by at least 55 countries accounting for at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions were met.

The main elements of the Paris Agreement:

  • long-term goal: governments agreed to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C
  • contributions: before and during the Paris conference countries submitted comprehensive national climate action plans to reduce their emissions
  • ambition: governments agreed to communicate every 5 years their contributions to set more ambitious targets
  • transparency: they also accepted to report to each other and the public on how well they are doing to implement their targets, to ensure transparency and oversight
  • solidarity: the EU and other developed countries will continue to provide climate finance to assist developing countries both to reduce emissions and build resilience to climate change impacts