International cooperation on climate change

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The main global forum for climate change negotiations is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Since it entered into force in 1994, members have been meeting annually at the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP).

The ultimate objective of the Convention is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system” (Article 2).

Negotiations under the UNFCCC cover themes including:

  • Mitigation—reducing levels of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Adaptation—building resilience to the impacts of climate change
  • Climate finance—financing mitigation, adaptation and other activities
  • Technology—the development and transfer of environmentally sound technologies to developing countries
  • Capacity building for developing countries, and
  • Transparency—to give confidence that countries are doing what they have committed to.

Australia plays an active role in the international negotiations. We are the chair of the Umbrella Group which brings together ten developed countries: Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, Kazakhstan, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Ukraine and the United States of America, and three observer parties: Belarus, Israel and Switzerland.

The Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement was adopted by all 196 Parties to the UNFCCC at the 21st COP in Paris (30 November to 12 December 2015). This historic agreement sets in place a durable and dynamic framework requiring all Parties to take coordinated climate action from 2020.

Key outcomes of the Paris Agreement include:

  • A global goal to hold average temperature increase to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to keep warming below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
  • All countries to set mitigation targets from 2020 and review targets every 5 years to build ambition over time, informed by a global stocktake.
  • Robust transparency and accountability rules to provide confidence in countries’ actions and track progress towards targets.
  • Promoting action to adapt and build resilience to climate impacts.
  • Financial, technological and capacity building support to help developing countries implement the Agreement.

Almost all Parties have submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions for the Paris Agreement (187 of 196 countries as at 15 December 2015). These post-2020 emission reduction targets represent over 96 per cent of global emissions, 99 per cent of global GDP and 99.8 of Australia’s two-way trade. Australia has set an ambitious target to reduce emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The Paris Agreement will be open for signature from 22 April 2016. The Agreement will enter into force after at least 55 Parties, accounting for at least 55 per cent of global emissions have ratified the Agreement.

The Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol (the Protocol) is an international agreement under the UNFCCC that commits developed countries to binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, there are 192 Parties to the Protocol, including Australia.

The Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period ran from 2008 to 2012 and aimed to reduce the collective greenhouse gas emissions of developed country Parties by at least five per cent below 1990 levels. Australia ratified the Kyoto Protocol on 3 December 2007, adopting a Quantified Emissions Limitation or Reduction Obligation (QELRO) limiting Australia’s emissions growth over the first commitment period to 108 per cent of 1990 levels.

In 2012, the Protocol was amended to establish a second commitment period from 2013 to 2020. Australia submitted a second commitment period QELRO of 99.5 per cent, consistent with the Government’s unconditional target to reduce emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020.

Cancun Agreements

The ‘Cancun Agreements’ are the UNFCCC decisions that govern action in the period up to 2020 by countries that do not have commitments under the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. One hundred countries have pledged to take on 2020 targets under the Cancun Agreements. Countries report their progress toward these pledges biennially.


History of UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) negotiations
Rio 1992
  • UNFCCC adopted at the Rio Earth Summit
Copenhagen 1994
  • UNFCCC enters into force
Kyoto 1997
  • Kyoto Protocol sets targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of developed country Parties
Copenhagen 2009
  • Developed and developing countries pledge to reduce emissions by 2020 under the 'Copenhagen Accord'
  • Set goal of limiting global temperature rise to below 2°C
Cancun 2010
  • 'Cancun Agreement' formalises Copenhagen Accord pledges
  • Agreement to develop new reporting rules – significantly improving the transparency of developing country emissions and actions
Durban 2011
  • Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) created to negotiate by 2015 a new protocol, legal instrument or outcome with legal force, applicable to all Parties to take effect from 2020
  • Agreement to establish a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2013–2020)
Doha 2012
  • Thirty-seven countries, including Australia, commit to binding emissions targets under the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period
Warsaw 2013
  • Countries agree to announce intended nationally determined contributions for the post-2020 period well in advance of the Paris COP, and by the first quarter of 2015 by those Parties ready to do so
Lima 2014
  • Countries agree that intended nationally determined contributions must include a mitigation component, and should represent a progression beyond their existing undertakings
Paris 2015
  • Parties adopt Paris Agreement with emission reduction targets for all Parties from 2020 and 5 yearly reviews
  • Almost all Parties submit intended post-2020 emission reduction targets

Other international fora

Australia engages in a range of multilateral, plurilateral and regional climate change fora as well as bilaterally with key countries. Australia holds regular climate change discussions at Ministerial and senior officials’ level with key economies and trade partners. It also engages with other countries to share information and develop best practice approaches to greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation polices.

Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF)

The Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) was launched on 28 March 2009. The MEF facilitates a candid dialogue among major economies to help generate the political leadership necessary to achieve a successful outcome in international climate change negotiations. It also advances concrete, practical climate change initiatives. The 17 major economies participating in the MEF are: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

International maritime and civil aviation transport represents a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, which are not directly addressed by the UNFCCC or the Kyoto Protocol. Australia works with other countries to address greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping and civil aviation through two specialised UN agencies: the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The Climate Change Experts Group (CCXG)

The Climate Change Experts Group (CCXG) is a joint project of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Energy Agency (IEA). The Group brings together technical experts within and outside government including NGOs and the private sector to promote dialogue on, and enhance understanding of, technical issues in the international climate change negotiations.

Australia is engaged with the OECD Private Sector Finance Research Collaborative, which is conducting ongoing work on measuring and tracking private sector finance flows into developing countries.

Last Updated: 18 November 2015