April 4, 2014

Celebrating 20 Years of the UNFCCC

By By Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has reached an incredible milestone, celebrating its 20thanniversary since it entered into force on 21 March 1994.

The challenge of preventing dangerous climate change is immense, but the UNFCCC has led the world towards the realization that dealing with climate change is both a necessity and the greatest opportunity of our time. Today the Convention has gained near-universal membership with 196 signatory countries.

Landmark Achievements and Contributions of the UNFCCC

The achievements and contributions made by the UNFCCC are tremendously significant and should be commended. By establishing a global forum to craft international agreements, the Convention has facilitated worldwide discussions and enabled countries to deal collaboratively with the causes and effects of climate change. In so doing, the Convention placed what was a relatively little-known issue at the time on the global agenda, elevating climate change to the highest political level and mobilizing action from civil society, regional governments and the private sector around the world. Now, more than 60 countries have climate legislation, with a total of 500 climate laws that cover about 90 per cent of emissions.

The Convention has set up the building blocks for climate change action and has put up signposts for possible directions to take. The contents of the climate negotiations have evolved and developed over the past 20 years to include mechanisms for mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, capacity building and transparency.

Most notable is the establishment of the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s first – and so far only – legally binding instrument to put a cap on GHG emissions. The Kyoto Protocol has also led to the Clean Development Mechanism, which is the largest carbon offset instrument in the world, using market mechanisms to finance low carbon development. There are more than 7,450 projects and 245 programmes registered all over the world, ranging from clean cookstove initiatives to large industrial projects. As a result, these projects and programmes have prevented the release of more than 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Pending Challenges

Nevertheless, the UNFCCC still faces significant challenges. For example, an “Emissions Gap” still exists – this is the gap between the cuts in GHG emissions that are still going to be needed to keep the expected increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius.

One of the biggest challenges facing the UNFCCC is to raise the level of ambition of member states (to cope with the Emissions Gap and to continue to commit to the pledges that have been made so far). This is especially important, because Parties are now in the process of completing negotiations to reach a new universal agreement to establish a climate regime beyond 2020 that will put the world on the pathway to sustainable development.

This is of the utmost priority and the global community is requesting world leaders to step up political will and action to address these urgent challenges.

ITU’s Commitment to Help Address these Challenges

The challenges are enormous, but so too are the opportunities. 2014 will be the year when the world can and must come together to meet the growing challenge of climate change and seize opportunities to successfully transition to a low carbon economy. ITU joins the UNFCCC in tackling this challenge and commits to continue the implementation of the mandate of the Convention.

ITU, which will celebrate its 150th anniversary next year, has worked with the UNFCCC to drive climate action and low carbon growth with leaders around the world by promoting transformative information and communication technology (ICT) solutions that will enable the decoupling of economic growth from GHG emissions.

From climate monitoring to reducing energy usage, from adaptation to facilitating the development and transfer of technologies; ICTs enable sustainable development and allow for the more efficient use of resources. Overall, the use of ICT-enabled solutions has the potential of reducing 15 per cent of GHG emissions – which represents 87 per cent of the reductions needed to address the Emissions Gap. ITU has advanced collaboration between the ICT industry and the public sector in knowledge and best practice exchange in order to achieve these goals.

20 Years and Beyond

Two decades of work by the UNFCCC and its Parties have created the infrastructure to spur a resilient, low-carbon global economy. ITU congratulates the UNFCCC on its 20 years of achievement, and we look forward to following and supporting the UNFCCC over the next 20 years – and beyond.

To mark the anniversary, the UNFCCC secretariat has prepared an interesting, informative and fun timelineto relive great moments in the history of the Convention.

To learn more about ITU’s work in the area of climate change click here.

Dr Hamadoun I. Touré
has been Secretary-General of the ITU since January 2007; he was re-elected for a second term in October 2010. He has wide professional experience in both the public and private sectors. A national of Mali, Dr Touré is committed to ITU as an innovative, forward-looking organization adapted to meeting the challenges created by the rapidly-changing ICT environment, and to continuing to spearhead ITU towards implementing the resolutions of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Dr Touré is married with four children and two grandchildren.

Photo by Layton Diament

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Celebrating 20 Years of the UNFCCC

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