The process of the UNFCCC

Zhang Yi Tao

Yi Tao is a member of ECO Singapore, hoping to bring forward the gravity of the climate change issue in Copenhagen this December. The group is part of the International Youth Climate Movement (IYCM) at the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) 15th Conference of Parties (COP15).

A Plenary Session at COP15 (Photo Credit: University of Toronto)

So we all know there is this UNFCCC Conference, and we are pretty sure that its outcome will have a determining effect on which way climate policy heads. However, many of us have only the faintest idea on how the UNFCCC works, how groups with esoteric names such as SBSTA, AWG-LCA, AWG-KP etc come together to work and reach a global consensus that will mitigate the problems of climate change.

Thus, the introductory blog post for the day will attempt to explain the structure and the decision making process of the UNFCCC. Before we begin, it will be useful to note that Annex I countries in the UNFCCC refers to developed economies and economies in transition such as Russia, Annex II countries refers to developed countries that pay for costs of developing countries and developing countries refers to countries that are well, still developing.

First and foremost, the biggest group in the UNFCCC is the Conference of Parties (COP), the supreme body of the convention that meets annually to discuss new policies on climate change. Another major body is the CMP (Conference of Parties serving as the meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol). The CMP serves as the supreme body of the Kyoto protocol, encompassing the parties that ratified the Kyoto Protocol

The are also 4 permanent convention bodies. The SBSTA (The subsidiary body for scientific and technical advice) addresses the promotion of environmentally friendly technology and provides the COP with advice on scientific and technological matters relating to the convention. This group works closely with the IPCC (intergovernmental panel on climate change) to facilitate the policy work of the COP.

The SBI (subsidiary body on implementation) reviews the actions of the convention and advices the COP on financial and administrative issues. These two bodies meet twice each year. There are also two different working groups, namely the Ad-Hoc Working Group on further commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG – KP) and the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA).

AWG -KP deals with generating further commitments by Annex I parties after 2012. AWG-LCA is the group charged with implementing the Bali Road Map to reach a decisive treaty in Copenhagen 2009.

Decision making process in the UNFCCC focuses on achieving a consensus. To facilitate the arrival at a consensus, pockets of discussion are usually formed around the main discussion. These include Committees of the Whole, groups which report back to the COP.

There are also smaller negotiating groups such as open ended contact groups which can be attended by all interested delegates. There are also drafting groups that involve a smaller number of delegates and are closed to observers. Informal consultations can also occur where delegates contact each other and interact on a informal basis to facilitate the reaching of an agreement.

As the text is negotiated, any comments will be added into the document in [Bracketed Text] which signifies that the language has not been finalized. The text will then be discussed at the COP plenary. If there are no objections, the text will then be adopted.

With that, we have come to the end of today’s post. We hope this has given you greater insight into the decision making process, and we pray that these processes will be put to good use here at COP15 to bring about a greener future.

This article was originally published at

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