The divide sees the EU and more than 70 of the world’s most climate-vulnerable nations in one camp, and big emitters, such as China and the US, in the other.
A draft text largely reflecting big emitters’ concerns was rejected.
The EU and its allies have pledged to walk away rather than accept an agreement they consider too weak.
This year’s meeting in South Africa is not intended to produce a new binding agreement.
But the EU, the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis) and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) bloc are seeking a firm roadmap towards such a deal, and soon.
The initial text, drawn up by the South African hosts, did not specify that the agreement must be legally binding, but did specify that its constraints must not start to bite until after 2020.
These lines reflected the positions of the BASIC group – Brazil, South Africa, India and China – and the US. But the text was swiftly rejected by Dessima Williams, Grenada’s UN Ambassador. Speaking on behalf of Aosis, she said it crossed several of their red lines.
"It doesn’t have enough ambition, the legal arrangements are ambiguous, and the time-frame doesn’t work for us. "Most of the important ingredients are to take place after 2020, and that’s just not soon enough for us."
One seasoned observer of the UN process said the proposals "buy 10 years’ delay in action for the US, China, India and Brazil, and risk making the most vulnerable countries ‘road kill’ on the big emitters’ highway to the future."
Aosis produced its own draft text, asking for negotiations on the future legally binding agreement to begin early next year and conclude by the next UN climate meeting in December 2012.
It does not set a date for that agreement to come into force, but a date well before 2020 is implied by a recognition of the "significant gap" between the emission curbs countries have pledged and the cuts needed to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5C or 2C (2.7F or 3.6F).
It would also require governments to reduce fossil fuel subsidies, increase energy efficiency and slash emissions from international shipping and aviation.
The South Africans are working on a new text that will reportedly address the concerns of Aosis, the LDCs and the EU. These groups have pledged they will not make an agreement here that is not consistent with the scientific picture.
"If there is no further movement, then I must say I don’t think there will be a deal in Durban," said EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard.
UK Climate Minister Chris Huhne also said the bloc would rather leave Durban with no deal than one that was not based on science’s messages.
India has been accused of being one of the main countries blocking a progressive deal here, along with China and the US.
Action that helps cope with the effects of climate change – for example construction of barriers to protect against rising sea levels, or conversion to crops capable of surviving high temperatures and drought.
But India’s Environment Minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, said this was not the case.
She said her concern had been to understand what the EU "roadmap" to a new agreement involved.
"I don’t find myself at odds [with Aosis] at all, I think I share their concerns – they want quick action, we want quick action," she told BBC News.
"The fact of the matter is there should be very quick action, and my very quick action is that want a review of what Annex One countries have done and we want to know how far they’ve gone, and I’m willing to listen to what Aosis says."
She said the "firewall" marked in the UN climate process at its origin in 1992, which divided the world into Annex One – rich countries with commitments to reduce emissions – and everyone else, must be maintained.
Annex One states bore responsibility for their earlier greenhouse gas emissions, she said.
A number of observers suggested that of the BASIC bloc, Brazil and South Africa were minded to move towards the EU/LDCs/Aosis position – and if China did likewise, India and the US would then come under intense pressure to give ground.
The main lobby of the conference centre in Durban, South Africa, saw a long demonstration on the final afternoon, with campaigners demanding progress.
"Listen to the people, not the polluters," they chanted.
The last of the demonstrators was led away about an hour-and-a-half later.
Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo was among those escorted from the conference centre for leading the protest.
"The United States delegation is right now organising, line-by-line, the means by which United Nations member states will be eradicated from the map," he said.
"I ask the proud American people, in whose name this is being done, to take just a moment today to consider what they would do if they learned that a conference of powers was plotting to wipe their great nation off the map, because for low-lying islands that is the future they face."
How does adaptation differ from mitigation? And what is REDD? The jargon of climate change can be hard to grasp. Use this glossary to decode it.
Climate change glossary
Adaptation Action that helps cope with the effects of climate change – for example construction of barriers to protect against rising sea levels, or conversion to crops capable of surviving high temperatures and drought.
Adaptation fund A fund for projects and programmes that help developing countries cope with the adverse effects of climate change. It is financed by a share of proceeds from emission-reduction programmes such as the Clean Development Mechanism.
Annex I countries The industrialised countries (and countries in transition to a market economy) which took on obligations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. Their combined emissions, averaged out during the 2008-2012 period, should be 5.2% below 1990 levels.
Annex II Countries which have a special obligation under the Kyoto Protocol to provide financial resources and transfer technology to developing countries. This group is a sub-section of the Annex I countries, excluding those that, in 1992, were in transition from centrally planned to a free market economy.
Anthropogenic climate change Man-made climate change – climate change caused by human activity as opposed to natural processes.
Aosis The Alliance of Small Island States comprises 42 island and coastal states mostly in the Pacific and Caribbean. Members of Aosis are some of the countries likely to be hit hardest by global warming. The very existence of low-lying islands, such as the Maldives and some of the Bahamas, is threatened by rising waters.
AR4 The Fourth Assessment Report produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in 2007. The report assessed and summarised the climate change situation worldwide. It concluded that it was at least 90% likely that the increase of the global average temperature since the mid-20th Century was mainly due to man’s activity.
Atmospheric aerosols Microscopic particles suspended in the lower atmosphere that reflect sunlight back to space. These generally have a cooling affect on the planet and can mask global warming. They play a key role in the formation of clouds, fog, precipitation and ozone depletion in the atmosphere.
Bali action plan A plan drawn up at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, in December 2007, forming part of the Bali roadmap. The action plan established a working group to define a long-term global goal for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and a "shared vision for long-term co-operative action" in the areas of mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology.
Bali roadmap A plan drawn up at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, in December 2007, to pave the way for an agreement at Copenhagen in 2009 on further efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions after the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol. The roadmap gave deadlines to two working groups, one working on the Bali action plan, and another discussing proposed emission reductions by Annex I countries after 2012.
Baseline for cuts The year against which countries measure their target decrease of emissions. The Kyoto Protocol uses a baseline year of 1990. Some countries prefer to use later baselines. Climate change legislation in the United States, for example, uses a 2005 baseline.
Biofuel A fuel derived from renewable, biological sources, including crops such as maize and sugar cane, and some forms of waste.
Black carbon The soot that results from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass (wood, animal dung, etc.). It is the most potent climate-warming aerosol. Unlike greenhouse gases, which trap infrared radiation that is already in the Earth’s atmosphere, these particles absorb all wavelengths of sunlight and then re-emit this energy as infrared radiation.
Boxer-Kerry bill The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, now in the US Senate, also known as Waxman-Markey from 2007-2009 as it passed through the House of Representatives. This bill aims to reduce emissions by about 20% from a 2005 baseline by 2020. The bill would create a US-wide carbon market, which in time would link up with other carbon markets, like the EU Emission Trading Scheme. The bill is not expected to get Senate approval until 2010.
Business as usual A scenario used for projections of future emissions assuming no action, or no new action, is taken to mitigate the problem. Some countries are pledging not to reduce their emissions but to make reductions compared to a business as usual scenario. Their emissions, therefore, would increase but less than they would have done.
Cap and trade An emission trading scheme whereby businesses or countries can buy or sell allowances to emit greenhouse gases via an exchange. The volume of allowances issued adds up to the limit, or cap, imposed by the authorities.
Carbon capture and storage The collection and transport of concentrated carbon dioxide gas from large emission sources, such as power plants. The gases are then injected into deep underground reservoirs. Carbon capture is sometimes referred to as geological sequestration.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) Carbon dioxide is a gas in the Earth’s atmosphere. It occurs naturally and is also a by-product of human activities such as burning fossil fuels. It is the principal greenhouse gas produced by human activity.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent Six greenhouse gases are limited by the Kyoto Protocol and each has a different global warming potential. The overall warming effect of this cocktail of gases is often expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent – the amount of CO2 that would cause the same amount of warming.
Carbon footprint The amount of carbon emitted by an individual or organisation in a given period of time, or the amount of carbon emitted during the manufacture of a product.
Carbon intensity A unit of measure. The amount of carbon emitted by a country per unit of Gross Domestic Product.
Carbon leakage A term used to refer to the problem whereby industry relocates to countries where emission regimes are weaker, or non-existent.
Carbon neutral A process where there is no net release of CO2. For example, growing biomass takes CO2 out of the atmosphere, while burning it releases the gas again. The process would be carbon neutral if the amount taken out and the amount released were identical. A company or country can also achieve carbon neutrality by means of carbon offsetting.
Carbon offsetting A way of compensating for emissions of CO2 by participating in, or funding, efforts to take CO2 out of the atmosphere. Offsetting often involves paying another party, somewhere else, to save emissions equivalent to those produced by your activity.
Carbon sequestration The process of storing carbon dioxide. This can happen naturally, as growing trees and plants turn CO2 into biomass (wood, leaves, and so on). It can also refer to the capture and storage of CO2 produced by industry. See Carbon capture and storage.
Carbon sink Any process, activity or mechanism that removes carbon from the atmosphere. The biggest carbon sinks are the world’s oceans and forests, which absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere.
Certified Emission Reduction (CER) A greenhouse gas trading credit, under the UN Clean Development Mechanism programme. A CER may be earned by participating in emission reduction programmes – installing green technology, or planting forests – in developing countries. Each CER is equivalent to one tonne of carbon dioxide.
CFCs The short name for chlorofluorocarbons – a family of gases that have contributed to stratospheric ozone depletion, but which are also potent greenhouse gases. Emissions of CFCs around the developed world are being phased out due to an international control agreement, the 1989 Montreal Protocol.
Clean coal technology Technology that enables coal to be burned without emitting CO2. Some systems currently being developed remove the CO2 before combustion, others remove it afterwards. Clean coal technology is unlikely to be widely available for at least a decade.
Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) A programme that enables developed countries or companies to earn credits by investing in greenhouse gas emission reduction or removal projects in developing countries. These credits can be used to offset emissions and bring the country or company below its mandatory target.
Climate change A pattern of change affecting global or regional climate, as measured by yardsticks such as average temperature and rainfall, or an alteration in frequency of extreme weather conditions. This variation may be caused by both natural processes and human activity. Global warming is one aspect of climate change.
CO2 See carbon dioxide.
Commitment period The time frame given to parties to the Kyoto Protocol to meet their emission reduction commitments. The first Kyoto commitment period runs from 2008-2012, during which industrialised countries are required collectively to reduce emissions to a level 5% below 1990 levels. Some countries would like the Copenhagen conference to prolong the effective life of the Kyoto Protocol by agreeing explicitly on a second commitment period.
COP17 The official title of the Durban conference. Alternatively, it can be called the 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Country in transition Broadly speaking, any ex-Soviet bloc state. At the time the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997, these countries were on the path from a Communist planned economy to a market economy. Many of them would now be categorised as market economies. Countries in transition to a market economy are grouped with industrialised countries in Annex I of the Kyoto Protocol, so they have emission reduction commitments to meet in the 2008-2012 period. In some cases their industrial base collapsed to such a degree in the early 1990s that they will have no difficulty meeting these commitments.
Dangerous climate change A term referring to severe climate change that will have a negative effect on societies, economies, and the environment as a whole. The phrase was introduced by the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which aims to prevent "dangerous" human interference with the climate system.
Deforestation The permanent removal of standing forests that can lead to significant levels of carbon dioxide emissions.
Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) A scheme set up to allow the trading of emissions permits between business and/or countries as part of a cap and trade approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The best-developed example is the EU’s trading scheme, launched in 2005. See Cap and trade.
EU Burden-sharing agreement A political agreement that was reached to help the EU reach its emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol (a reduction of 8% during the period 2008-2012, on average, compared with 1990 levels). The 1998 agreement divided the burden unequally amongst member states, taking into account national conditions, including greenhouse gas emissions at the time, the opportunity for reducing them, and countries’ levels of economic development.
Feedback loop In a feedback loop, rising temperatures on the Earth change the environment in ways that affect the rate of warming. Feedback loops can be positive (adding to the rate of warming), or negative (reducing it). The melting of Arctic ice provides an example of a positive feedback process. As the ice on the surface of the Arctic Ocean melts away, there is a smaller area of white ice to reflect the Sun’s heat back into space and more open, dark water to absorb it. The less ice there is, the more the water heats up, and the faster the remaining ice melts.
Flexible mechanism Instruments that help countries and companies meet emission reduction targets by paying others to reduce emissions for them. The mechanism in widest use is emissions trading, where companies or countries buy and sell permits to pollute. The Kyoto Protocol establishes two flexible mechanisms enabling rich countries to fund emission reduction projects in developing countries – Joint Implementation (JI) and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
Fossil fuels Natural resources, such as coal, oil and natural gas, containing hydrocarbons. These fuels are formed in the Earth over millions of years and produce carbon dioxide when burnt.
G77 The main negotiating bloc for developing countries, allied with China (G77+China). The G77 comprises 130 countries, including India and Brazil, most African countries, the grouping of small island states (Aosis), the Gulf states and many others, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
Geological sequestration The injection of carbon dioxide into underground geological formations. When CO2 is injected into declining oil fields it can help to recover more of the oil.
Global average temperature The mean surface temperature of the Earth measured from three main sources: satellites, monthly readings from a network of over 3,000 surface temperature observation stations and sea surface temperature measurements taken mainly from the fleet of merchant ships, naval ships and data buoys.
Global energy budget The balance between the Earth’s incoming and outgoing energy. The current global climate system must adjust to rising greenhouse gas levels and, in the very long term, the Earth must get rid of energy at the same rate at which it receives energy from the sun.
Global dimming An observed widespread reduction in sunlight at the surface of the Earth, which varies significantly between regions. The most likely cause of global dimming is an interaction between sunlight and microscopic aerosol particles from human activities. In some regions, such as Europe, global dimming no longer occurs, thanks to clean air regulations.
Global warming The steady rise in global average temperature in recent decades, which experts believe is largely caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. The long-term trend continues upwards, they suggest, even though the warmest year on record, according to the UK’s Met Office, is 1998.
Global Warming Potential (GWP) A measure of a greenhouse gas’s ability to absorb heat and warm the atmosphere over a given time period. It is measured relative to a similar mass of carbon dioxide, which has a GWP of 1.0. So, for example, methane has a GWP of 25 over 100 years, the metric used in the Kyoto Protocol. It is important to know the timescale, as gases are removed from the atmosphere at different rates.
Greenhouse gases (GHGs) Natural and industrial gases that trap heat from the Earth and warm the surface. The Kyoto Protocol restricts emissions of six greenhouse gases: natural (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane) and industrial (perfluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, and sulphur hexafluoride).
Greenhouse effect The insulating effect of certain gases in the atmosphere, which allow solar radiation to warm the earth and then prevent some of the heat from escaping. See also Natural greenhouse effect.
Hockey stick The name given to a graph published in 1998 plotting the average temperature in the Northern hemisphere over the last 1,000 years. The line remains roughly flat until the last 100 years, when it bends sharply upwards. The graph has been cited as evidence to support the idea that global warming is a man-made phenomenon, but some scientists have challenged the data and methodology used to estimate historical temperatures. (It is also known as MBH98 after its creators, Michael E. Mann, Raymond S. Bradley and Malcolm K. Hughes.)
IPCC The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a scientific body established by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization. It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical, and socio-economic work relevant to climate change, but does not carry out its own research. The IPCC was honoured with the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
Joint implementation (JI) An agreement between two parties whereby one party struggling to meet its emission reductions under the Kyoto Protocol earns emission reduction units from another party’s emission removal project. The JI is a flexible and cost-efficient way of fulfilling Kyoto agreements while also encouraging foreign investment and technology transfer.
Kyoto Protocol A protocol attached to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which sets legally binding commitments on greenhouse gas emissions. Industrialised countries agreed to reduce their combined emissions to 5.2% below 1990 levels during the five-year period 2008-2012. It was agreed by governments at a 1997 UN conference in Kyoto, Japan, but did not legally come into force until 2005.
LDCs Least Developed Countries represent the poorest and weakest countries in the world. The current list of LDCs includes 49 countries – 33 in Africa, 15 in Asia and the Pacific, and one in Latin America.
LULUCF This refers to Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry. Activities in LULUCF provide a method of offsetting emissions, either by increasing the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (i.e. by planting trees or managing forests), or by reducing emissions (i.e. by curbing deforestation and the associated burning of wood).
Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate A forum established in 2009 by US President Barack Obama to discuss elements of the agreement that will be negotiated at Copenhagen. Its members – Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the UK and the US – account for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. The forum is a modification of the Major Economies Meeting started by the former President George Bush, which was seen by some countries as an attempt to undermine UN negotiations.
Methane Methane is the second most important man-made greenhouse gas. Sources include both the natural world (wetlands, termites, wildfires) and human activity (agriculture, waste dumps, leaks from coal mining).
Mitigation Action that will reduce man-made climate change. This includes action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or absorb greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Nairobi work programme The Nairobi work programme on Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change is a five year programme (2005-2010) under the UN Framework on Climate Change. Its objective is to assist all parties, in particular developing countries, to improve their understanding and assessment of impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change; and to make informed decisions on practical adaptation actions, on a sound scientific, technical and socio-economic basis.
Natural greenhouse effect The natural level of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, which keeps the planet about 30C warmer than it would otherwise be – essential for life as we know it. Water vapour is the most important component of the natural greenhouse effect.
Non-annex I countries The group of developing countries that have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol. They do not have binding emission reduction targets.
Ocean acidification The ocean absorbs approximately one-fourth of man-made CO2 from the atmosphere, which helps to reduce adverse climate change effects. However, when the CO2 dissolves in seawater, carbonic acid is formed. Carbon emissions in the industrial era have already lowered the pH of seawater by 0.1. Ocean acidification can decrease the ability of marine organisms to build their shells and skeletal structures and kill off coral reefs, with serious effects for people who rely on them as fishing grounds.
Per-capita emissions The total amount of greenhouse gas emitted by a country per unit of population.
ppm (350/450) An abbreviation for parts per million, usually used as short for ppmv (parts per million by volume). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggested in 2007 that the world should aim to stabilise greenhouse gas levels at 450 ppm CO2 equivalent in order to avert dangerous climate change. Some scientists, and many of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, argue that the safe upper limit is 350ppm. Current levels of CO2 only are about 380ppm.
Pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere prior to the start of the Industrial Revolution. These levels are estimated to be about 280 parts per million (by volume). The current level is around 380ppm.
Renewable energy Renewable energy is energy created from sources that can be replenished in a short period of time. The five renewable sources used most often are: biomass (such as wood and biogas), the movement of water, geothermal energy (heat from within the earth), wind power, and solar energy.
REDD Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, a concept that would provide developing countries with a financial incentive to preserve forests. The Copenhagen conference is expected to finalise an international finance mechanism for the post-2012 global climate change framework.
Stern review A report on the economics of climate change led by Lord Nicholas Stern, a former World Bank economist. It was published on 30 October 2006 and argued that the cost of dealing with the consequences of climate change in the future would be higher than taking action to mitigate the problem now.
Technology transfer The process whereby technological advances are shared between different countries. Developed countries could, for example, share up-to-date renewable energy technologies with developing countries, in an effort to lower global greenhouse gas emissions.
Tipping point A tipping point is a threshold for change, which, when reached, results in a process that is difficult to reverse. Scientists say it is urgent that policy makers halve global carbon dioxide emissions over the next 50 years or risk triggering changes that could be irreversible.
Twenty-twenty-twenty (20-20-20) This refers to a pledge by the European Union to reach three targets by 2020: (a) a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels; (b) an increase in the use of renewable energy to 20% of all energy consumed; and (c) a 20% increase in energy efficiency. The EU says it will reduce emissions by 30%, by 2020, if other developed countries also pledge tough action.
UNFCCC The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is one of a series of international agreements on global environmental issues adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The UNFCCC aims to prevent "dangerous" human interference with the climate system. It entered into force on 21 March 1994 and has been ratified by 192 countries.
Waxman-Markey bill Another name for the Boxer-Kerry bill, which aims to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions. See Boxer-Kerry bill.
Weather The state of the atmosphere with regard to temperature, cloudiness, rainfall, wind and other meteorological conditions. It is not the same as climate which is the average weather over a much longer period.
1712 – British ironmonger Thomas Newcomen invents the first widely used steam engine, paving the way for the Industrial Revolution and industrial scale use of coal.
1800 – World population reaches one billion.
1824 – French physicist Joseph Fourier describes the Earth’s natural "greenhouse effect". He writes: "The temperature [of the Earth] can be augmented by the interposition of the atmosphere, because heat in the state of light finds less resistance in penetrating the air, than in re-passing into the air when converted into non-luminous heat."
1861 – Irish physicist John Tyndall shows that water vapour and certain other gases create the greenhouse effect. "This aqueous vapour is a blanket more necessary to the vegetable life of England than clothing is to man," he concludes. More than a century later, he is honoured by having a prominent UK climate research organisation – the Tyndall Centre – named after him.
1886 – Karl Benz unveils the Motorwagen, often regarded as the first true automobile.
1896 – Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius concludes that industrial-age coal burning will enhance the natural greenhouse effect. He suggests this might be beneficial for future generations. His conclusions on the likely size of the "man-made greenhouse" are in the same ballpark – a few degrees Celsius for a doubling of CO2 – as modern-day climate models.
Svante Arrhenius in his lab Svante Arrhenius unlocked the man-made greenhouse a century ago
1900 – Another Swede, Knut Angstrom, discovers that even at the tiny concentrations found in the atmosphere, CO2 strongly absorbs parts of the infrared spectrum. Although he does not realise the significance, Angstrom has shown that a trace gas can produce greenhouse warming.
1927 – Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and industry reach one billion tonnes per year.
1930 – Human population reaches two billion.
1938 – Using records from 147 weather stations around the world, British engineer Guy Callendar shows that temperatures had risen over the previous century. He also shows that CO2 concentrations had increased over the same period, and suggests this caused the warming. The "Callendar effect" is widely dismissed by meteorologists.
1955 – Using a new generation of equipment including early computers, US researcher Gilbert Plass analyses in detail the infrared absorption of various gases. He concludes that doubling CO2 concentrations would increase temperatures by 3-4C.
1957 – US oceanographer Roger Revelle and chemist Hans Suess show that seawater will not absorb all the additional CO2 entering the atmosphere, as many had assumed. Revelle writes: "Human beings are now carrying out a large scale geophysical experiment…"
1958 – Using equipment he had developed himself, Charles David (Dave) Keeling begins systematic measurements of atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa in Hawaii and in Antarctica. Within four years, the project – which continues today – provides the first unequivocal proof that CO2 concentrations are rising.
1960 – Human population reaches three billion.
1965 – A US President’s Advisory Committee panel warns that the greenhouse effect is a matter of "real concern".
1972 – First UN environment conference, in Stockholm. Climate change hardly registers on the agenda, which centres on issues such as chemical pollution, atomic bomb testing and whaling. The United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) is formed as a result.
1975 – Human population reaches four billion.
1975 – US scientist Wallace Broecker puts the term "global warming" into the public domain in the title of a scientific paper.
1987 – Human population reaches five billion
1987 – Montreal Protocol agreed, restricting chemicals that damage the ozone layer. Although not established with climate change in mind, it has had a greater impact on greenhouse gas emissions than the Kyoto Protocol.
1988 – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) formed to collate and assess evidence on climate change.
1989 – UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – possessor of a chemistry degree – warns in a speech to the UN that "We are seeing a vast increase in the amount of carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere… The result is that change in future is likely to be more fundamental and more widespread than anything we have known hitherto." She calls for a global treaty on climate change.
1989 – Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and industry reach six billion tonnes per year.
Graph of CO2 concentration The CO2 concentration, as measured at Mauna Loa, has risen steadily
1990 – IPCC produces First Assessment Report. It concludes that temperatures have risen by 0.3-0.6C over the last century, that humanity’s emissions are adding to the atmosphere’s natural complement of greenhouse gases, and that the addition would be expected to result in warming.
1992 – At the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, governments agree the United Framework Convention on Climate Change. Its key objective is "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system". Developed countries agree to return their emissions to 1990 levels.
1995 – IPCC Second Assessment Report concludes that the balance of evidence suggests "a discernible human influence" on the Earth’s climate. This has been called the first definitive statement that humans are responsible for climate change.
1997 – Kyoto Protocol agreed. Developed nations pledge to reduce emissions by an average of 5% by the period 2008-2012, with wide variations on targets for individual countries. US Senate immediately declares it will not ratify the treaty.
1998 – Strong El Nino conditions combine with global warming to produce the warmest year on record. The average global temperature reached 0.52C above the mean for the period 1961-1990 (a commonly-used baseline).
1998 – Publication of the controversial "hockey stick" graph indicating that modern-day temperature rise in the northern hemisphere is unusual compared with the last 1,000 years. The work would later be the subject of two enquiries instigated by the US Congress.
Rajendra Pachauri Rajendra Pachauri’s IPCC netted the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007
1999 – Human population reaches six billion.
2001 – President George W Bush removes the US from the Kyoto process.
2001 – IPCC Third Assessment Report finds "new and stronger evidence" that humanity’s emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause of the warming seen in the second half of the 20th Century.
2005 – The Kyoto Protocol becomes international law for those countries still inside it.
2005 – UK Prime Minister Tony Blair selects climate change as a priority for his terms as chair of the G8 and president of the EU.
2006 – The Stern Review concludes that climate change could damage global GDP by up to 20% if left unchecked – but curbing it would cost about 1% of global GDP.
2006 – Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and industry reach eight billion tonnes per year.
2007 – The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report concludes it is more than 90% likely that humanity’s emissions of greenhouse gases are responsible for modern-day climate change.
2007 – The IPCC and former US vice-president Al Gore receive the Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change".
2007 – At UN negotiations in Bali, governments agree the two-year "Bali roadmap" aimed at hammering out a new global treaty by the end of 2009.
2008 – Half a century after beginning observations at Mauna Loa, the Keeling project shows that CO2 concentrations have risen from 315 parts per million (ppm) in 1958 to 380ppm in 2008.
2008 – Two months before taking office, incoming US president Barack Obama pledges to "engage vigorously" with the rest of the world on climate change.
2009 – China overtakes the US as the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter – although the US remains well ahead on a per-capita basis.
2009 – Computer hackers download a huge tranche of emails from a server at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit and release some on the internet, leading to the "ClimateGate" affair.
2009 – 192 governments convene for the UN climate summit in Copenhagen with expectations of a new global agreement high; but they leave only with a controversial political declaration, the Copenhagen Accord.
2010 – Developed countries begin contributing to a $30bn, three-year deal on "Fast Start Finance" to help them "green" their economies and adapt to climate impacts.
2010 – A series of reviews into "ClimateGate" and the IPCC ask for more openness, but clear scientists of malpractice.
2010 – The UN summit in Mexico does not collapse, as had been feared, but ends with agreements on a number of issues.
2011 – A new analysis of the Earth’s temperature record by scientists concerned over the "ClimateGate" allegations proves the planet’s land surface really has warmed over the last century.
2011 – Human population reaches seven billion.
2011 – Data shows concentrations of greenhouse gases are rising faster than in previous years.