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International processes

Greenhouse gases emitted anywhere alter the atmosphere everywhere. As the world works to understand and address climate change, nations have started working together to reduce its impact. IPIECA works to provide an industry perspective and highlight our activities in international forums.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
Specifying targets and timetables for emissions limits in developed countries
Generating low-carbon investment in developing countries
Working to a post-2012 agreement
Advising governments on potential impacts of climate change and responses
Fora aiming to resolve international climate negotiations


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) sets an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to avoid the risks of human-induced climate change. Its ultimate objective is:

‘… stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system’

193 states and the EU have ratified the UNFCCC, which came into force in 1994. The UNFCCC recognizes two types of country – those that are developed and have been historically most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions (Annex I Parties), and those that are still developing and have little historical responsibilities (non Annex I). International negotiations within the UNFCCC framework have produced successor agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol.

IPIECA attends the annual Conferences of the Parties (COPs) as an official observer and provides members with summaries of the meetings. The association also supports debate on relevant topics by hosting events alongside the conferences. IPIECA does not lobby on behalf of the industry, but aims to increase understanding and provide timely information to members and key stakeholders.

The CCWG has published two documents concerning the UNFCCC: a guide to the negotations, and a glossary of terms. The glossary defines and explains many of the arcane terms used in climate change discussions. The Glossary has been widely distributed within industry, government and UN observer organisations.


The Kyoto Protocol

Most UNFCCC parties (with the obvious exception of the United States) have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force in February 2005. The Kyoto Protocol strengthens the UNFCCC by creating binding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets for developed 'Annex I' parties for the period 2008-2012. While the Convention merely encouraged industrialized countries to stabilize GHG emissions, the Protocol requires developed countries to reduce their emissions to approximately 95% of 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. The Protocol also sets out future commitment periods.

The Protocol creates a market for GHG emissions between the parties, by introducing ‘flexibility’ mechanisms – the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Joint Implementation (JI). 'Emissions trading' allows Parties to maximize the cost effectiveness of their commitment, by cutting emissions or enhancing carbon sinks outside their borders.

The Clean Development Mechanism

Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol established the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which allows Annex I Parties to obtain emissions credits for projects that reduce emissions in non-Annex I countries, provided that the projects also help the non-Annex I Parties to achieve their sustainable development goals. The Annex I Parties can use these Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) credits to help them meet their emissions targets.

The private sector has developed and implemented most CDM projects. Each project must have the approval of all of the Parties involved, and must lead to real, measurable and long-term emission reductions or GHG removals that would not otherwise take place. As intended, the CDM has generated investment in developing countries and has promoted the transfer of environmentally sound technologies.

IPIECA has developed industry guidance on working with the CDM - see 'more information' for our CDM Navigator.

Current Negotiations under UNFCCC

Negotiations at CoP-15 in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009 failed to agree a new protocol. However, the UNFCCC process resulted in limited acceptance of the Copenhagen Accord, which includes:

  • a goal to reduce emissions in line with a maximum 2°C increase in temperature
  • a mechanism supporting the development of technologies, and their transfer to developing countries
  • a mechanism to support the reduction of deforestation in developing countries
  • funding for developing countries of $30bn until 2012, and $100bn per year by 2020
  • mitigation actions by countries, which they were to volunteer by 31 January 2010

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The UN General Assembly established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, initially to spend 18 months producing a report on the need for UNFCCC negotiations.

It now has a permanent role advising governments on the potential environmental and social impacts of climate change and how they might respond. The IPCC completed its latest full assessment report, the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), in 2007. The IPCC also produces Special Reports, Methodology Guidelines and Technical Papers on topics such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

IPCC Fourth Assessment Report
The most recent report of the IPCC, the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), provides evidence as to the causes of recent climate change and reports projections for future climate change. AR4 noted that ‘warming of the climate system is unequivocal’ and that ‘most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.’

IPCC Fifth Assessment Report
The IPCC is currently due to publish its next assessment report in 2013.


The international petroleum industry contributes to the IPCC’s assessment reports. IPIECA attends the IPCC as an official observer and updates members on the outcomes of meetings. See 'more information' for how IPIECA contributes to the IPCC.

Other international processes

Several other international processes outside the UN have been formed to attempt to tackle climate change issues. These include:

And also work by the G20 group of countries.