Today, all nations face the common threat of global climate change. The United Nations is addressing this threat by raising awareness of global climate change, promoting research and forging scientific consensus to address it, mobilizing a global policy response, and helping countries adapt to its impacts.
Over the last 200 years, the world has increased the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and disrupted the earth’s climate by extracting and using fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal) and changing how land is used (especially deforestation). In response, in 1992, the international community agreed to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the Earth Summit in Rio. This treaty committed signatories to avoiding dangerous human interference with the climate system and reducing emissions commensurate with their levels of development. President H.W. Bush signed the treaty, and the Senate immediately ratified it. In 1997, 170 countries adopted an implementing agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, which called on developed countries to reduce their emissions by 5 to 7 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. The U.S. was the only nation that signed but did not ratify the Protocol.
In 1988, the World Meteorological Organization and the UN Environment Program formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to establish a strong scientific basis for policy on climate change. The IPCC—comprised of hundreds of climate experts from leading academic and research institutions worldwide—has released four Assessment Reports, each expressing increasing certainty about the human contribution to climate change and warning of the likely consequences if the world does not respond. In 2007, the IPCC received the Nobel Peace Prize for its work.
From Bali to Copenhagen to Cancun
In 2007, more than 120 national leaders met in Bali to begin two years of intense negotiations that led to the 2009 Copenhagen Summit. Though that gathering did not produce a new treaty, more than 100 countries -- representing more than 80 percent of global emissions and including such rapidly growing economies as China, Brazil, and South Africa -- agreed to the Copenhagen Accord. The Accord establishes a registry to track national responses to climate change. It also commits developed countries to providing $10 billion per year, growing to $100 billion per year by 2020, to reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts. Furthermore, it identifies key steps nations must take to stop deforestation, collaborate on clean energy technology, increase energy efficiency, and promote renewable energy. In November 2010, the international community will meet in Cancun, Mexico, to assess progress and build on the Copenhagen Accord.
The UN Secretary-General's Leadership
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has positioned the UN to lead the world in its response to climate change. He has convened an Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change which will, among other things, set up a high-level finance panel to develop a blueprint for reaching the Copenhagen Accord's climate finance goal of $100 billion per year by 2020.
The UN’s Role
The UN is addressing global climate change by raising awareness of the issue; promoting research and forging scientific consensus to address it; mobilizing a global policy response through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; and helping countries adapt to the impacts of warming.
UN Climate Negotiations
The December 2010 UN climate talks in Cancún solidified the “building blocks” approach to the climate change negotiations—the idea that progress can be made toward a comprehensive global deal through agreements to take immediate action to reduce emissions, including national actions. The Cancún Agreements, endorsed by 193 countries, reaffirmed key elements of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord and advanced measures on deforestation, technology cooperation, adaptation, and finance. This new, bottom-up approach paves the way for additional agreements in future negotiations on such topics as energy efficiency, renewable energy, and the reduction of powerful warming agents such as methane, refrigeration gases, and black carbon from diesel engines and dirty cookstoves.