In 1992, countries joined an international treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to cooperatively consider what they could do to limit global climate change and to cope with its impacts.
In 1995, negotiations to strengthen the provisions in the Convention were launched, resulting in the Kyoto Protocol two years later. The Kyoto Protocol legally binds developed countries to emission reduction targets: its first commitment period started in 2008 and ends in 2012.
The institutions involved in the international climate change negotiations include the Conference of the Parties (COP), hence the name of the 2011 Durban Climate Change Conference as COP17.
You can find out more on the Convention's website 'Essential background' section.