Introduction to Science in the UNFCCC

Science: why is there a need to act?

Scientists, researchers, and affected peoples around the world report changes beyond the natural variation of temperatures on land and in the ocean, as well as abnormal trends in the timing of seasons, in rainfall patterns, and in many other systems. The science on climate change is clear. There is no question that these abnormal changes result from global warming due to an increased greenhouse effect caused by the vast amounts of greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere by human activities.

In response to this, an international climate regime has developed. Governments, intergovernmental organisations, non-governmental organisations, businesses, research bodies, civil society and more are working together to build the science and knowledge that allow us to tackle the causes and threats of climate change. Key underlying facts are:

The concentration of GHGs has been rising steadily since the time of the Industrial Revolution as a result of human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use, leading to increasing global temperatures.

The average global temperature on Earth is directly linked to the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere. Small rises in temperature have major impacts on weather and climate systems, causing detrimental impacts for life and society.

Urgent action is needed to mitigate additional emissions, reduce the GHGs concentration in the atmosphere, and to adapt to the current and future impacts of climate change.

Climate science in the UNFCCC

The knowledge of the causes and impacts of climate change is constantly growing in breadth and depth, based on Earth observations and scientific research by a large number of organizations and thousands of scientists from around the world. All action under the UNFCCC process is based on the best available science - the latest research and observations from organisations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

Science enters the process through a number of different UNFCCC workstreams, where it informs negotiations and guides workshops, dialogues, and other events. Three workstreams exist solely to facilitate meetings of experts and decision-makers, to determine whether the long term goal of the Paris Agreement is still fit for its purpose, and to coordinate with the IPCC.

  • Research and Systematic Observation (RSO) organises meetings of experts, Parties, and non-party stakeholders to facilitate dialogue on the latest and best available science and how to support its generation. Two meetings are held annually: the research dialogue and the Earth Information Day.
  • Periodic Review facilitates the technical assessment of Parties and experts to review the adequacy of the long-term global goal (limiting global average temperature increase to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and preferentially below 1.5°C) and the progress towards achieving it.
  • Cooperation with the IPCC works closely with the IPCC to ensure that Parties have the opportunity to consult and interact with IPCC authors, to coordinate the timing of events and engagements with respect to the release of IPCC reports, and to otherwise facilitate the IPCC's involvement as necessary within the UNFCCC process.