Why do we estimate?

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international treaty adopted in 1992 by the majority of the world's countries. The treaty was set up in order to tackle global warming and to prepare for its effects (e.g. temperature change and other climatic events) which are considered inevitable. The UNFCCC sets an agreement for international efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change. Countries that have signed up recognize that the climate system is a shared resource whose stability can be affected by emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from human-related activities.

The treaty is not legally binding, but provides opportunities for updates (protocols) that can be used to set legally binding emissions limits. The Kyoto Protocol (external website), to which the UK is a party, is an important update which was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005 and reporting under the Kyoto Protocol is up to 2022. The Paris Agreement (external website), to which the UK is a party, is another agreement connected to the UNFCCC, which entered into force on 4 November 2016 and reporting under the Paris Agreement is for 2024 onwards.

One of the achievements of the UNFCCC has been to establish a reporting framework which provides information on greenhouse gases emissions and removals using common categorisation and definitions.  This framework encourages reporting of data from most of the countries that are party to the Convention.  This data provides essential input to:

  • Climate scientists (looking at the relationship of greenhouse gas emissions and removals to temperature change and other environmental factors) in predicting whether climate change and the speed of climate change pose a significant risk to humans or the environment
  • Tracking progress in historical emissions and removal trends.  Allowing policy makers and environmental groups to identify successes in, and challenges to, reducing emissions and increasing removals
  • Prioritising actions for emission reduction and removal increase

The data reported to the UNFCCC by the UK and other Annex I countries (external website) follows clearly defined reporting requirements (external website) and covers the 7 greenhouse gases (CO2, N2O, CH4, HFCs, PFCs, SF6 and NF3) plus 5 indirect greenhouse gases (NOx, CO, NMVOC, SO2, HN3).

The UK and other Annex I countries report to the UNFCCC by 15th April each year, providing finalised UK GHG estimates in "CRF tables" and a report (the National Inventory Report NIR).

In addition, every few years the UK submits a National Communication (NC) document that provides a summary of UK trends in emissions and removals as well as details of action to address climate change issues, including commentary regarding progress towards emission reduction targets. View the latest (NC7) National Communication (external website).

Under the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the UK signed up to a legally binding  "burden sharing" agreement that contributes to the European Union's commitment of an 8% reduction in emissions relative to a base year made of 1990 and 1995 data for the target period 2008 to 2012.  The UK's specific burden sharing contribution was 12.5%. The UK comfortably met this target and continues to keep emissions on a downward trend.

The second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ran for eight years, from 2013 to 2020 inclusive. For this second commitment period, alongside the EU and its member States, the UK (including Gibraltar) communicated an independent quantified economy-wide emission reduction target of a 20 percent emission reduction by 2020 compared with 1990 levels (base year). Under this agreement, the UK contributed as part of the EU's package (see MMR) with a similar arrangement to the burden sharing contributions for the first commitment period (Kyoto protocol).

Get data

View the latest submission on the UNFCCC website (external website)

Detailed data used for the UK GHG estimates can be downloaded from the data page GHG data (XLSX).

Page last modified: 04 September 2023