United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

New Zealand is a Party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  This page outlines the background to this international treaty and its purpose.

About the UNFCCC

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) enables countries to collectively consider how to mitigate climate change and cope with its impacts.

The UNFCCC was adopted by over 185 developed and developing countries including New Zealand at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.  It entered into force on 21 March 1994 and now has near-universal membership with 192 parties to the Convention.

The UNFCCC did a number of important things.

  1. It recognised that there was a problem.
  2. It set a specific goal. The ultimate objective of the UNFCCC is preventing dangerous anthropogenic (human) interference with the climate system.  It states that “such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner”.
  3. It put the onus on developed countries to lead the way.
  4. It directed new funds to climate change activities in developing countries.
  5. It set up a process to monitor the problem and action being taken to deal with it.
  6. It charted the beginning of a path to strike a balance between economic development and mitigating climate change.
  7. It began formal consideration of adaptation to climate change. 

Kyoto Protocol

The international community recognised that more urgent action, with more powerful and legally binding measures than what was required under the UNFCCC, was needed. Negotiations on a subsidiary agreement under the UNFCCC, now known as the Kyoto Protocol, began in 1995.  The Kyoto Protocol came into force in 2005 after 55 countries ratified it (including those responsible for 55 per cent of global emissions).

The Kyoto Protocol committed developed countries to greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets for the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocl (2008-2012).  Only countries who ratified the Protocol are bound to it.      

New Zealand’s obligations under the Kyoto Protocol

New Zealand ratified the Kyoto Protocol in December 2002.  New Zealand’s obligations under the Kyoto Protocol include:

  • a responsibility emissions reduction target for the first commitment period to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to their 1990 levels (New Zealand is on track to meeting this target subject to a final ‘true up’ in 2015
  • submitting an annual inventory of greenhouse gas emissions to the UNFCCC (Article 7)
  • formulating, implementing and publishing regular updates to national and regional programmes that contain measures to mitigate climate change and facilitate adequate adaptation to climate change (Article 10)
  • cooperating internationally in relation to policies and measures (including scientific and technical research and development) and facilitating public awareness and access to information on climate change.

New Zealand’s next commitment

The Government has decided that New Zealand will take its next emissions reduction commitment, for the period 2013-2020, under the UNFCCC (the Kyoto Protocol parent body) rather than under the Kyoto Protocol itself. This positions New Zealand well for the new climate change agreement due to come into force from 2020. The new agreement is to apply to all countries (developed and developing) with equal legal force.

For more information on New Zealand’s climate change targets see:

Further decisions under the UNFCCC

Since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 Parties have made significant progress under the UNFCCC.  Key milestones from negotiations  are documented on the web page:

Find out more

Reviewed:
01/07/14