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From Rio to Paris, a history of climate change summits

Chris Bouroncle, AFP | The COP21 gathering in Paris caps a tortuous negotiation process launced in 1992.

As world leaders gather in Paris for a critical climate change summit, FRANCE 24 takes a look at more than two decades of laborious efforts to stave off catastrophic global warming.


International negotiations on climate change have been going on for over 20 years. In the meantime, the Earth has become hotter, wetter and wilder. Like scientists, the vast majority of governments now agree that urgent steps are needed to reduce our impact on global warming. So far, they have failed to sign up to a universal plan of action.

  • 1992

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted during the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992. It acknowledged the existence of human-induced climate change and gave industrialised countries the major part of responsibility for combating it – but without specifying how.

  • 1997

The adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in Japan in 1997 marked a milestone in international negotiations on tackling climate change. For the first time, binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets were set for industrialised countries. The protocol came into force in 2005, but was soon derailed by the failure of some of the world’s biggest polluters, notably the US, to ratify it.

  • 2007

A longer-term vision was introduced by the Bali Action Plan in 2007, which set timelines for the negotiations towards reaching a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012. It was expected that an agreement would be reached by December 2009.

  • 2009

Although Copenhagen, Denmark, did not result in the adoption of a new agreement, the COP21 summit recognised the common objective of keeping the increase in global temperature below 2°C. Furthermore, industrialised countries undertook to raise $100 billion per year by 2020 to assist developing countries in climate-change adaptation and mitigation, barring which poor countries had threatened to scupper any deal. That pledge became more tangible with the establishment of the Green Climate Fund in Cancún, Mexico, in 2010.

'Commitments made so far are not enough'

  • 2011

The next year countries signed up to the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), thereby agreeing to develop “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” applicable to all states that are party to the UNFCCC. This agreement should be adopted in Paris and implemented from 2020.

At subsequent gatherings in Warsaw, Poland, in 2013 and Lima, Peru, in 2014, all states were invited to submit their pledges towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions ahead of the so-called COP21 summit in Paris.

  • Build-up to Paris

In order to reach a new universal climate agreement that is applicable to all, delegates have held regular meetings to make progress on the text that will be voted on at the COP21. In October, the OECD wrote in a report that rich countries had already raised 60% of the money pledged to poorer countries in Copenhagen.

The UNFCCC later published its findings based on individual countries’ contributions on emissions cuts. As things stand, we would be heading for a global temperature rise of around 3°C – a marked improvement on current rates of global warming, but still short of the 2°C target set in Copenhagen. Activists are hoping big polluters can be persuaded to cut further in Paris.

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