Major international environment-related conferences and conventions

I wanted to put out a list of all the major international conventions and conferences for the environment, because I had a bit of difficulty finding a place with all the names and basic information about these conventions; where it was held, what was discussed and which year it was held in. So here goes!

  • UN Conference on Human environment (Stockholm, 1972)

This was the first UN conference on environmental issues. It resulted in the establishment of United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).

  • World Commission on Environment and Development (1987)

Released the Brundtland report that highlighted the concept of sustainable development.

  • United Nations Conference on Environmental Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992)

Probably the most famous, and the most important conference of them all. It is also called the Rio conference or the Convention for Biological Diversity. Among the things proposed and discussed in this conference were:

  1. Agenda 21– global plan to promote sustainable development.
  2. Statement of Forest Principles.
  3. Raising the issue of combating desertification. This was subsequently dealt with in a separate conference in 1994.
  • United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD) (Paris, 1994)

The UNCCD is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management. The Convention addresses specifically the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, known as the drylands, where some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples can be found. UNCCD Conference of Parties is held every 2 years.

  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Berlin, 1995)

This was the first convention solely focusing on climate change. The UNFCCC conventions are held every year in the form of Conference of Parties (CoP) to discuss climate change issues.

  • UNFCCC CoP 3 – Kyoto Protocol (Kyoto, 1997)

The Protocol was a legally binding agreement (which is why the US opted out of signing it). The signatories vowed to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade to combat climate change. The Kyoto Protocol designed the controversial Clean Development Mechanism, a carbon trading system. The system worked like this: developing countries would invest in clean projects and generated Certified Emission Reduction units (CERs). These CERs can be traded with developed countries to continue financing clean projects. This carbon market crashed in 2012.

  • World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002)

This was a follow up of the Rio conference. It is also called Rio +10.

  • UNFCCC CoP 13 (Bali, 2007)

The Bali Action Plan, discussed in the was the first time the concept of REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) was first introduced into climate negotiations. It follows a similar mechanism to the Kyoto Protocol, but it specific to forest landscape projects. In the next year in Ponzan, the concept of REDD+ was introduced, where the “plus” highlighted three key ideas: sustainable forest management, conservation of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stock.

  • UNFCCC CoP 15 (Copenhagen, 2009)

This meeting released the Copenhagen Accords, which is important for two reasons. First, the Accords mention the Green Climate Fund* for the first time: a body that evaluates and funds climate projects in developing countries. Second, the Accords take note of the need to increase climate finance, and pledge to increase climate finance flows up to USD 100 billion every year by 2020.

  • United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio de Janiero, 2012)

It is also called Rio +20. These follow up conferences have monitored and come up with new ways to assist the world in sustainable development.

  • CoP 21 (Paris, 2015)

The Paris CoP is a landmark CoP for the UNFCCC. This conference released the Paris Agreement that planns to limit global warming effects to “well below” 2 degree Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement is the basis for all climate change-related international negotiations since.

Other important Protocols/Conventions

  • Ramsar Convention

This was held in 1972, and was unique in the sense that this convention was solely to preserve and wisely use the wetlands of the world, which was fast disappearing. It highlighted 1743 wetlands around the world that became protected sites.

  • MARPOL Convention

This was a convention specifically for marine pollution happening due to oil spills and other maritime activities. This was held in 1973.

  • Montreal Protocol

Held in 1987, this is a landmark protocol and possibly the only one that has been successfully achieved. Following the Vienna Convention in 1985, this protocol was to deal with substances that depletes Ozone. The target was to eliminate all ozone depleting substances from commercial use by 2000 (methyl chloroform in 2004).

  • Cartagena Protocol

Held in 2000, this protocol was drafted and signed in 2000 but came into effect in 2003. 103 signatories came to agreement on Biosafety and Biodiversity related rules.

  • CITES 1973

This was the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna. It was held in Washington and proved to be the turning point in illegalizing trade of many animal and plant related products that was putting many of them under severe threat of extinction.

There have been a few other such conventions, but these are the most important ones till now. If I have missed out any convention that you think is important, comment below and I will add it to this list!


*GCF was established in the subsequent year in Cancun, Mexico.

Author: Saurab Babu

Usually found sitting with a good book, nibbling on a piece of dark chocolate. Always ready for a good story.

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