SBSTA agenda item agriculture & UNFCCC formats

Legal assistance paper

All reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of this information at the time the advice was produced. However, the materials have been prepared for informational purposes only and may have been superseded by more recent developments. They do not constitute formal legal advice or create a lawyer- client relationship. To the extent permitted any liability is excluded. Those consulting the database may wish to contact LRI for clarifications and an updated analysis.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Date produced: 16/05/2017

Can you prepare a bullet point summary of the different modalities/activities/formats available to the Parties for work going forward?


The modalities, activities and formats of work available to the parties to progress items under the UNFCCC is not rigidly prescribed in the Convention and is therefore a flexible process. Provided that the activities fall within the mandate of the particular body as set out in the UNFCCC[1] or draft Rules of Procedure[2], the parties are open to a range of options.

We have reviewed the past practice within the UNFCCC process, primarily of the subsidiary bodies, as to formats for pursuing a work-stream item under the negotiation process. Accordingly, the following examples have been taken from past practice and could be suggested in this instance:

  • At a broader level, a work programme could be established by the COP (or joint work programme, if appropriate), the term of which can be extended by the COP as required. [3]  The work programme would often have an Executive Committee (established by the COP) to oversee the execution, and the subsidiary bodies would often be tasked with assisting its implementation.[4] A work programme will often be progressed through ad hoc technical expert groups, subcommittees, panels thematic advisory groups or specific task forces, each guided by the applicable terms of reference.[5]
  • Alternatively, the subsidiary bodies can suggest holding a joint technical session, which involves discussions with different interested parties[6], different formats of workshops, such as priority setting workshops for sub-regions, and related hands-on training[7], constitute ad hoc technical expert groups to meet in-session,[8] or generally consider issues jointly with each other in a forum,[9] hold consultations or discuss modalities with interested parties.[10]
  • The secretariat can also be tasked with preparing round-table discussions with parties;[11] preparing information [12] or technical papers,[13] or a synthesis report where appropriate,[14] and assisting to organise and present webinars.[15]

There may be lessons learned from types of formats adopted in the administration of other international environmental conventions. For instance, at the COP-13 (2015) of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Ad Hoc open-ended inter-sessional working group on Article 8(j) and related provisions suggested voluntary guidelines for the development of mechanisms, legislation or other appropriate initiatives relating to the use of traditional knowledge.[16] Cooperation with another international convention body may also be an appropriate course of action: for instance, cooperation between the Basel Convention and the International Maritime Organisation has enabled the Secretariat of the Basel Convention to develop a draft guidance manual on land-sea interface, to be considered by the Working Group.[17]


[1] The mandates for the Secretariat, SBSTA and SBI are governed by Articles 8, 9 and 10 of the UNFCCC, respectively.
[2] Rules 27, 28 and 29 of the draft Rules of Procedure provide further guidance for the scope of these mandates.
[3] For example, in 1/CP.18, paragraph 69 and 4/CP.18, the work programme on long-term finance was extended (FCCC/CP/2013/10).
[4] For example, the Nairobi work programme was established by decision 2/CP.11. as a mechanism under the Convention to facilitate and catalyze the development and dissemination of information and knowledge that would inform and support adaptation policies and practices. SBSTA initiated a work programme to elaborate a framework for various approaches in accordance with a decision made in SBSTA 38 (FCCC/SBSTA/2013/L.6). The Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage was established following decision 2/CP.19, and SBI considered progress made by the work programme on loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change (FCCC/SBI/2012/33).
[5] For example, the Terms of Reference of the Task Force on displacement (within the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage) was agreed in accordance with decision 1/CP.21, paragraph 49:
[6] For example, in the context of the Nairobi Work Programme, the Secretariat arranged such sessions with the Least Developed Country Expert Group (“LEG”) and NWP partner organisations (FCCC/SBSTA/2016/4).
[7] For example, in the context of the Lima Adaptation Knowledge Initiative (“LAKI”) priority-setting workshops for five geographic sub-regions were set up (FCCC/SBSTA/2016/4).
[8] For example, an ad hoc technical expert group to elaborate on the technical work on the areas of a work programme in the context of sustainable development. Parties were requested to forward nominations of experts with the relevant expertise and five years’ qualification to the secretariat in accordance with the applicable terms of reference. Relevant intergovernmental and international organisations, including UNCTS, UNDP, ILO and ITUC were permitted to nominate two experts.  (FCCC/SBSTA/2016/4).
[9] For example, SBSTA and SBI considered a matter relating to Article 2 of the Kyoto Protocol in a joint forum (FCCC/SBI/2012/2).
[10] For example, the SBI decided to undertake consultations with interested Parties on how to take an item relating to Article 4 of the Convention to the next session (FCCC/SBI/2012/15). The SBI also discussed existing modalities for implementing NAPA priorities relating to capacity-building and coordination at different levels of government and across sectors for the provision of adaptation technologies and the improved provision of hydrometeorological services (FCCC/SBI/2012/15).
[11] For example, the SBSTA requested the secretariat to organise a round-table discussion among Parties based on the submissions, in conjunction with future SBSTA conferences, to ensure broad participation of developing and developed countries (FCCC/SBSTA/2016/4).
[12] For example, the SBI requested the Secretariat to compile an information paper on the NAP process in line with the provisions of an earlier decision of the SBI (FCCC/SBI/2012/33)
[13] For example, the SBSTA requested the secretariat to prepare a technical paper summarising the current review processes under the Convention and the secretariat’s experience with coordinating reviews of national communications and annual greenhouse gas inventories of Annex I Parties for consideration by the SBSTA at a future session (FCCC/SBSTA/2012/2). At SBSTA 44, the SBSTA considered the technical papers prepared by the secretariat to assist developing country Parties in assessing the impacts of the implementation of response measures, and the technical paper to assist developing country parties in their economic diversification initiatives (FCCC/SBSTA/2016/2).
[14] For example, the SBSTA considered a synthesis report on the technical assessment process for the proposed forest reference emission levels and/or forest reference level submitted by developing country parties prepared for SBSTA 44. (FCCC/SBSTA/2016/2).
[15] For example, the SBI noted progress on four webinars on vulnerability and adaptation assessment and four on mitigation assessment (FCCC/SBI/2016/20).
[16] UNEP/CDB/WG8J/9/6.
[17] UNEP/CHW/OEWG.10/13, paragraph 94-101.