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Working with international partners

Climate change is one of the most serious challenges facing humankind. The European Union is working to promote ambitious global action to limit climate change through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in other international fora and through its bilateral relations with third countries.

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Human activities are warming the Earth

There is no doubt that the climate system is warming, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which brings together thousands of scientific experts on climate change from across the world.

The global average temperature has risen around 0.8°C since 1880 and humankind's influence is clear: the IPCC is at least 95% certain that human activities which release greenhouse gases are the dominant cause of warming since the mid-20th century. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer than any preceding decade since records began in 1850.

Objective: keep global warming below 2°C

The international community has recognised the scientific evidence that global warming needs to be held below 2°C (3.6°F) compared to the temperature in pre-industrial times in order to prevent climate change from reaching dangerous proportions. However, international action taken to date is not sufficient to prevent this ceiling from being exceeded.

Scientific evidence indicates that a temperature rise of more than 2°C could have irreversible and potentially catastrophic environmental consequences with high costs in human and economic terms.

The EU is successfully reducing its emissions of greenhouse gases, but worldwide emissions are continuing to grow. Global energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, reach new record levels each year. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing annually and is at its highest level for 800,000 years.

Kyoto Protocol is a first step

The Kyoto Protocol, agreed in 1997 by countries participating in the UNFCCC, has taken a first step towards addressing these trends. The world's only legally binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it requires action only by developed countries, however.

Under Kyoto's first commitment period, from 2008 to 2012, developed countries had to reduce their emissions by an average of 5% below 1990 levels by 2012. The 15 countries that were EU Member States at the time that Kyoto was agreed committed to an 8% cut and are on track to achieve this by a comfortable margin.

Besides not requiring action from developing countries, the Protocol's impact is further limited because it was never ratified by the United States and Canada withdrew in 2012.  

A second commitment period of the Protocol runs from 2013 until 2020, when the global agreement will enter into force. The EU has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below 1990 levels.

However several major developed world emitters which took on commitments in the first period – Japan, Russia and New Zealand – are not doing so in the second period. Consequently the Kyoto Protocol now covers only about 14% of global emissions.

Towards a global legal framework

By 2020 nearly two-thirds of the world's emissions will come from developing countries, it is projected. The EU has long argued that Kyoto should be succeeded by a global legal framework that requires action not only from all developed countries - which must, however, continue to lead - but also from the major emerging economies in the developing world.

 The new agreement is to be adopted at the UN climate conference in Paris in December 2015 and to enter force in 2020. The EU wants a new Protocol that is ambitious, comprehensive and legally binding.

From Copenhagen until 2020

 Until the new global agreement takes effect in 2020, the international climate regime will comprise – on top of the existing provisions of the UNFCCC - new rules, institutions, commitments and pledges that have resulted from the UN climate conferences held in Copenhagen (2009), Cancún (2010), Durban (2011), Doha (2012) and Warsaw (2013).

In addition to the 38 developed country Parties that have taken on emission commitments under the second period of the Kyoto Protocol, more than 70 countries - including the United States, China and India - have made voluntary emission pledges for 2020 as a result of the Copenhagen and Cancún conferences. Together, these commitments and pledges cover more than 80% of global emissions.

Developed countries have also jointly pledged to mobilise, by 2020, US $100 billion a year in climate finance from a wide variety of sources to support developing countries, in the context of meaningful emissions mitigation action and transparency on implementation by them.

In addition, work is under way at international level to raise the ambition level of global action before 2020 by identifying further actions that can be taken to reduce emissions further. This work covers all countries.

EU is leading provider of climate finance to developing countries

The fight against climate change is an important issue in the EU's bilateral relations with other countries in the developed and developing worlds alike.

As the world's biggest provider of official development assistance (ODA), responsible for more than half of global ODA, the EU is the largest contributor of climate finance to help developing countries adapt to climate change and develop on a low-emission path.

Leading by example

In the fight against climate change the EU is leading by example through its domestic action.

EU leaders - recognising the benefits in terms of stimulating innovation, economic growth and jobs – have committed the EU to becoming a highly energy-efficient, low-emission economy.

Binding legislation has been put in place to cut emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, and measures recently adopted or proposed mean reductions are likely to exceed this target. The EU is offering to step up its 2020 reduction target to 30% if other major economies commit to take on their fair share of global action.

In the longer term, the EU is committed to cutting its emissions by 80-95% below 1990 levels by 2050 as part of the effort required from the developed world as a whole. The European Commission has published a roadmap that charts a cost-effective pathway for making the necessary transition to a competitive, low carbon European economy by mid-century.