This article highlights some recent developments that have occurred in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which indicate that momentum may be building for global climate change commitments.


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. The ultimate objective of the UNFCCC is to achieve ‘stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system’. [1] There are currently 195 parties to the Convention, including Australia.

The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the UNFCCC, which commits its parties to binding emission reduction targets. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 and entered into force in 2005. There are currently 192 parties to the Kyoto Protocol. Australia signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, and ratified it in 2007. The Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period commenced in 2008 and ended in 2012.

An association of the parties that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, known as the Conference of the Parties (COP) is the highest decision-making body of the Kyoto Protocol.

At the Conference of the Parties (COP) in 2011 in Durban, the ‘Durban Platform for Enhanced Action’ was established, its mandate being to develop a new legal agreement on climate change applicable to all parties to be completed by 2015. At the COP in 2012 in Doha, governments agreed to ‘speedily work toward a universal climate change agreement covering all countries from 2020, to be adopted by 2015′. [2] A new commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol was also launched, in order to ensure that the Kyoto Protocol’s legal and accounting models remained in place. [3] The ‘Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol’ establishes the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which began on 1 January 2013 and will end on 31 December 2020. Thirty-seven countries, including Australia, committed to emissions targets under the second commitment period. The Doha Amendment has not yet entered into force. [4]

The 20th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP20) was held from 1 to 12 December 2014 in Lima, Peru, with the aim of having a draft universal agreement on the table, to be finalised in 2015 at COP21 in Paris. [5]

This article sets out some of the key developments that have occurred recently that indicate that momentum may be building for a comprehensive climate change agreement in 2015.


The Climate Summit was held at the UN headquarters in New York on 23 September 2014 to ‘raise political momentum for a meaningful universal climate agreement’ at COP21 in Paris in 2015. [6]

An ‘unprecedented’ number of world leaders attended the Summit, including 100 Heads of State and Government, as well as more than 800 leaders from business, finance and civil society. [7] Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, the Hon. Julie Bishop, represented Australia at the Climate Summit.

The Climate Summit was about ‘action and solutions that are focused on accelerating progress in areas that can significantly contribute to reducing emissions and strengthening resilience’. [8] These action areas and the associated key issues were:

  • Agriculture: food security and the availability of sufficient sources of reasonably priced food for the global population
  • Cities: population growth and ageing and inadequate infrastructure
  • Energy: energy demand and the need for an increase in the use of renewable energy sources and an increase in energy efficient appliances, buildings and vehicles
  • Financing: the need for increased public and private financing, and a clear price signal in all key economies (through the use of emissions trading systems, carbon taxes or other mechanisms) to aid in directing financial flows away from fossil fuels and towards energy efficiency and clean energy
  • Forests: deforestation and restoration of degraded lands
  • Industry: the need for a reduction in short-lived climate pollutants (i.e. methane, hydroflurocarbons (HFCs), black carbon (or soot) and tropospheric ozone)
  • Resilience: capacity of vulnerable communities to adapt and be resilient to a changing global climate
  • Transport: projected surge in the global stock of vehicles, and the need for more compact city planning, large-scale expansion of public transport systems, improvements in energy-efficient transportation systems, and the promotion of non-motorised transport. [9]

A range of action statements were drafted in the above eight action areas and supported by a number of national and sub-national governments participating in the Climate Summit, as well as NGOs, corporations and other organisations.

Below is a table of a few representative areas where national governments have committed to taking action, including Australia.

Table of key action areas (please scroll across the table to view all key action areas)

Click here to view table.


The United States and China together account for over one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. [15]

In November 2014, President Obama announced a new target for the United States to cut net greenhouse gas emissions 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. At the same time, President Xi Jinping of China announced targets to ‘peak emissions around 2030, with the intention to try to peak early, and to increase the non-fossil fuel share of all energy to around 20% by 2030′. [16] It is the first time China has agreed to limit its emissions.

To further support the achievement of these goals, the United States and China pledged to strengthen cooperation on climate and clean energy. The United States and China have agreed to:

  • expand joint clean energy research and development: a renewed and expanded commitment to the US-China Clean Energy Research Centre, which facilitates collaborative work in carbon capture and storage technologies, energy efficiency in buildings and clean vehicles
  • enhance bilateral cooperation to begin phasing down the use of HFCs
  • advance major carbon capture, use and storage demonstrations: expand the work under the US-China Climate Change Working Group (CCWG) and undertake a major carbon capture and storage project in China;
  • establish a new initiative on Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities under the CCWG
  • encourage bilateral trade in sustainable environmental goods and clean energy technologies [17]
  • Whilst the pledges are currently non-binding, the deal is significant because the United States and China intend their pledges to become part of the major new multilateral agreement on climate change to be completed in Paris in 2015. [18] It will be interesting to see whether this example set by the United States and China will result in more ambitious contributions by others to the agreement in Paris. [19]


In December 2014, COP talks in Lima led to the establishment of the “Lima call for action”. It reiterates the commitment to finalise a new international climate change framework in Paris in 2015. It also includes an annex which will provide the basics for negotiating the details of the Paris agreement.