Climate change is perhaps the biggest challenge of our times. In order to cope with it, we have to organise action collectively. The most important way to cooperate globally is through United Nations negotiations, known as ‘conferences of the parties’. However, progress has been very slow, and disillusionment with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process has set in. From a scientific point of view, several obstacles surfacing in these negotiations have been well researched. Institutional analysis may provide suggestions or even solutions to some of these problems. Hence, we think that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations could profit from scientific support. We provide scientific background for three prominent problems: how to reconcile different interests in a global public goods situation; how to ameliorate the consensus decision-making process; and how to design institutions to implement resolutions. Enhancing communication, trust and fairness, and enforcing sanctions, are suggested as key elements for that. Finally, we point to similar processes that have been brought to a successful end.