UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

updated September 2016

The case for climate justice has been recognised for over 25 years and is firmly enshrined in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This landmark Convention was signed at the Rio de Janeiro “Earth Summit” in 1992 with the ultimate objective of “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.”

The UNFCCC concept of climate justice seeks to restore equity within the human family by placing two core obligations on the richer countries. First, they should repay their historic ecological climate debt by undertaking decisive cuts in emissions, reserving “atmospheric space” for poorer countries to exercise their right to development. Second, they should provide finance and technology, both for adaptation to the damaging effects of climate change and for the transition to a low carbon economy.

International climate change agreements are therefore expected to observe the Convention’s concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities” between richer and poorer countries. A 2014 study from Concordia University in Canada shows that 20 mature industrialised countries have accounted for 82% of anthropogenic global warming observed for the period 1800-2005. Historic emissions are relevant because carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for many decades.

This highly principled approach of the UNFCCC has been chipped away over two decades of negotiations dominated by the large delegations assembled by major economic powers. Although both the Kyoto Protocol (1997) and the Paris Climate Agreement (2015) refer to common but differentiated responsibilities, poorer countries feel that observance of the Convention has been grudging and inadequate.

The US and other rich countries deny historic responsibility for global warming on grounds that the science emerged only recently. However, this argument has no standing in relation to the last quarter of a century, years of denial of modern peer-reviewed science even within the upper echelons of US business and government.


A link between climate change and extreme weather? Never.
An ironic narrative written by Bill McGibben, founder of 350.org, exposing how denial of global warming in the United States is impeding progress towards climate justice

from Plomomedia.

more Climate Justice briefings
Climate Justice
Kyoto Protocol
Paris Climate Agreement
Climate Justice and Development Goals
Climate Finance
Loss and Damage
Climate Change and Migration
Climate Litigation
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