The goal of the UNFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at levels that will not cause dangerous climate changes. Moreover, the aim is to stabilize emissions within a time frame that allows ecosystems to adapt to climate change naturally. The steps that are taken to do so must not endanger food production and must also be consistent with sustainable economic development. Today, virtually all members of the United Nations have signed and ratified the UNFCCC.
The UNFCCC operates on the principle that the rich, industrialized countries are mostly responsible for the climate changes to date, while the poor, developing countries will mainly suffer the brunt of the impacts. The convention thus states that the industrialized countries must be the first to take action and reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. At present, developing countries are not obligated to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. Industrialized countries, including countries with economies in transition (countries in Eastern and Central Europe and in the former Soviet Union), are required to develop national action plans to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and protect and develop forests and oceans that can absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The aim of the convention is for industrialized countries to assist the developing countries in becoming better prepared to tackle the impacts of climate change. The convention specifically requires industrialized countries to:
- Provide funding and technological assistance to help developing countries limit their emissions of greenhouse gases.
- Help the countries that are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of climate change to manage the costs of adaptation.
- Acquire environmentally sound technology and knowledge in addition to supporting technological innovation in developing countries.
Both industrialized and developing countries are required to:
- Acquire information about how much they emit and how much CO2 is captured in their oceans and forests.
- Provide information about steps taken to restrict emissions or adapt to climate change.
- Protect greenhouse gas sinks (such as oceans and forests).
- Cooperate on planning to deal with the impacts of climate change on coastal zones, water resources, and agriculture.
- Cooperate on protecting areas threatened by flood or drought, especially in Africa.
- Inform the public about climate change and possible impacts.
The countries are also required to support an international economic system that will lead to sustainable economic growth and development in all countries, especially developing countries. This will better enable them to solve the problems that are caused by climate change.