Climate Change

On December 12, 2015 the world’s governments agreed to adopt the Paris Agreement on keeping global warming below 2°C. It is the result of two decades of international negotiations in which the International Council for Science has played a role as a convenor of the scientific community to underscore the importance of evidence-based decision making in the political process.

Photo: Benh LIEU SONG

Background (1992-2015)

In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was established at the Rio Earth Summit. While it is formally a treaty, it is not legally binding, and exists principally to provide a system for negotiating the issue.

In addition to convening and facilitating the negotiations, the UNFCCC has played an important role to popularize the issue and build support among non-state actors to drive momentum towards the final historic agreement adopted in 2015.

Since the first Conference of the Parties was held in Berlin in 1995, the COP has convened every year to allow the 196 parties to reach a global agreement on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The International Council of Science has played a role as a convening and federating actor for the scientific community by bringing together its interdisciplinary bodies, principally from global environmental change research, as well as the observing systems, to participate via official delegations at the COP meetings. As a co-sponsor of these actors in the climate science community – from the World Climate Research Programme, Future Earth, the Integrated Research on Disaster Risk to GCOS, GOOS and GTOS, ICSU functions as a coordinating hub to ensure efficient coordination and joined-up action for the community at the COP meetings.

The contributions of the ICSU-led delegations to the COP meetings has varied over the years, but, broadly speaking consists of a combination of formal and informal contributions through the delivery of official statements about the knowledge base on anthropogenic climate change and its impacts to the organization of side events and the participation of scientists in national delegations, as well as engaging with the international media during and after the negotiations. Scientists attending COPs are also frequently called upon to explain and clarify key concepts and controversies relating to the assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.


COP21 was a historic landmark in the political process on climate change as the world’s governments reached an agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the run-up to COP21, ICSU co-organized a major international climate science conference, Our Common Future Under Climate Change, held at UNESCO six months prior to COP21. The conference marked a turning point for the shift of the focus of climate science towards more of a solutions orientation.

In the 18 months prior to the conference, the Council set up and operated Road to Paris, an independent news media by the scientific community. The Road to Paris covered the science, policy and economics of several major UN processes culminating in 2015, on disaster risk, sustainable development and climate change. At the end of 2015, the most read and most shared stories were published in a printed publication, Twelve things we’ve learned on the Road to Paris (see below).

ICSU was present at COP21 in a booth shared with Future Earth, the International Social Science Council and the Stockholm Resilience Centre and convened a scientific press conference on 11 December with leading climate scientists to comment on key aspects of the draft agreement.

Road to Paris website: