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UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC

Indigenous peoples engage in the UNFCCC process to advocate for the agreements under the convention to recognize their special concerns and human rights.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, is an international treaty created at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 to tackle the growing problem of global warming and related harmful changes in the climate, such as more frequent droughts, hurricanes and rising sea levels.

Indigenous rights issues cut across almost all areas of negotiation but have been highlighted most significantly within the negotiations on forest conservation, known as REDD+, Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, one of the mitigation measures.

Indigenous participation

Indigenous peoples have been engaged in the UNFCCC process since the year 2000. Indigenous peoples’ NGOs can apply for observer status under the convention, and those that are accepted can nominate participants to the sessions of the different bodies under the convention.

The International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change, IIPFCC, is the joint indigenous caucus in the UNFCCC process, a body that is open to those indigenous activists that wish to engage in the negotiations at any given time.

The Kyoto Protocol

The UNFCCC entered into force in 1994, and has near universal membership, with 192 countries as ratifying parties. In 1997, the Convention established its Kyoto Protocol, ratified by 184 parties, by which a number of industrialized countries have committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in line with legally binding targets. The Kyoto Protocol entered into force in 2005 and, during its first commitment period from 2008- 2012, 37 industrialized countries and the European Union committed themselves to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5 percent by 2012, in relation to the 1990 level.

The Bali Action Plan and the AWG-LCA

In 2007, the Convention’s governing body, the Conference of the Parties (COP), adopted the Bali Action Plan - a road map for strengthening international action on climate change and enabling full implementation of the Convention through an agreement covering all parties to the Convention.

The elements of the Bali Action Plan, a shared vision, mitigation, adaptation, technology development and transfer, provision of financial resources and investments, are negotiated in the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action, AWG-LCA.


Apart from the Ad-Hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP), and the AWG-LCA, the Convention has two permanent subsidiary bodies, namely the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI).

The Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP)

In December 2012, during the COP18 in Doha, the Ad-Hoc working group AWG-LCA concluded its work and most discussions were terminated or moved to the SBSTA and SBI. The COP18 adopted the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) that will lead the COP discussions towards an overall binding agreement on emissions reductions in 2015.

Conferences of the Parties

COP 20, in Lima, Peru, December 2014

The 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC is expected to take place in December 2014 in Peru. Venezuela has offered to host a pre-COP ministerial meeting,  read more on the the official COP20 webpage or the article on "UNFCCC: The road towards COP20 in Lima"

COP 19, in Warsaw, November 2013

The two main outcomes of COP19 were a “Warsaw international mechanism on loss and damage” and the “Warsaw Framework for REDD+”, which is a series of seven decisions on the implementation modalities for the REDD+ mechanism.

Indigenous peoples’ representatives in this COP were not as many as in previous years, partly due to the limited quotas assigned to observer organizations. However, they maintained their advocacy and lobbying work and, ultimately, gained a number of achievements.

Read more about the achievements as seen from an indigenous perspective in "The Indigenous World 2013" to your right.

COP 18 in Doha, Qatar, December 2012

COP 18 did not provide ground-breaking results but rather laid out the roadmap for the negotiations towards a globally-binding agreement on emissions reductions that aims to be finalised in 2015. Parties to the COP approved the so-called “Doha Climate Gateway”, in which they formally agreed on three main assignments: 1) a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol; 2) the termination of the AWG-LCA and AWG-KP; and 3) the operationalization of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP).

Read more about the COP 18 and how indigenous peoples’ interpret the outcomes in ”The Indigenous World 2013” to your right.

COP 17 in Durban

From 28 November – 9 December 2011, the international climate community met in Durban, South Africa, for the 17th Conference of Parties (COP17) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Indigenous peoples were represented in great numbers, negotiating for their rights to be respected and protected in a number of issues crucial for all aspects of their lives and their environments.

In October 2011, indigenous peoples met in Oaxaca, Mexico at the invitation of the government of Mexico, in order to prepare for and to discuss strategies and priorities for their involvement at the COP17. These are summarized in the Oaxaca Action Plan of Indigenous Peoples: From Cancún to Durban and beyond.

Taking stock of COP 17

The decisions emerging from COP17 in Durban were, in many ways, disap­pointing from an indigenous rights angle. Most importantly, they make no direct reference to “indigenous peoples”. As an outcome of the 2nd technical workshop in Oaxaca, the indigenous representatives adopted the Oaxaca Action Plan of Indigenous Peoples: From Cancún to Durban and Beyond, which formed a common platform for indigenous peoples’ advocacy and lobbying in Durban, as well as the basis for the post-Durban processes, spanning the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, the Qatar COP18 of the UNFCCC and the World Conference on In­digenous Peoples scheduled for 2014.

The action plan identifies a series of key challenges that indigenous peoples will work to overcome. These include the lack of implementation/operationalisation of the positive elements of the Cancún Agreement, particularly relating to respect for the rights of indigenous peoples, and the establishment of mechanisms for their full and effective participation in climate change processes on all levels.

A more detailed report on the UNFCCC in 2011 can be found in IWGIA’s yearbook The Indigenous World 2012 to your right.

Cop 16 and other developments of 2010

A clear failure, a small step in the right direction or a lifeboat for a desperate multilateral system? Indeed, assessing the outcome of the 16th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC, held in Cancún in December 2010, is a complex exercise given the many elements and variables to be taken into account.

Read more about the COP 16 and about indigenous peoples’ advocacy and strategies during 2010 in the 2011 IWGIA yearbook article on the UNFCCC process, which you can download here

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