How Does the World Agree on Climate Action?

How do 197 sovereign nations agree on the need to row in the same direction on climate action to slow global warming to 2 degrees Celsius or ideally 1.5 degrees Celsius?

Since the UN is at its annual meeting on climate change this week (December 2-13, 2019), we thought some Readers might want to know a bit of background on the UN multilateral process that has been in place since 1994 (admittedly, it’s a dry topic with perhaps more appeal to policy wonks, historians and research types).

To start, here’s a one minute UN video clip with highlights of some innovative Lighthouse projects that are part of this international climate action work  https://vimeo.com/305547126.

The 197 governments, known as “Parties to the Convention,” each have ratified, and agreed to work under, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which provides the foundation for “multilateral action to combat climate change and its impacts on humanity and ecosystems. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement were negotiated under the UNFCCC and build on the Convention.”

The ultimate objective of the Convention is to stabilize greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system.” It also states that “such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”

Since 1995, these 197 governments have met annually as the Conference of the Parties (COP) “to take stock of their progress, monitor the implementation of their obligation and continue talks on how best to tackle climate change.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) supports the COP by setting principles, legally-binding emission reduction targets for developed countries, technology transfer mechanisms, funding mechanisms, and by commissioning research and assessments and more. It requires Parties “to develop a national inventory of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and to report on their mitigation policies and measures” by filing and updating Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) reports.

Of the 197 UNFCCC signatories, currently, 184 countries have filed Nationally Defined Contributions (NDCs), available at https://bit.ly/2OY9zz3. Canada’s, which we understand has yet to be formalized, is here, at https://bit.ly/2OzZg5i. More about Canada’s plan in future blogs.

These highlights are from “ Understanding the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Regime” – Please take a look, at https://bit.ly/2OYyJh6.

  • There is clarity on the science informing the need to act. This includes a 2014 synthesis report by Working Group 1 (WG1) looking at the science of climate change which is “categorical in its conclusion: climate change is real and human activities are the main cause.” Further, for the first time WG1 estimated cumulative carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions since pre-industrial times – (CO2 being the most abundant GHG that has resulted, in particular, from burning fossil fuels) – and provide(d) a CO2 budget for future emissions to limit warming to less than 2C. About half of this CO2 budget was already emitted by 2011.”
  • “From 1880 to 2012, the average global temperature increased by 0.85C.”
  • “Given current concentrations and ongoing emissions of GHGs, it is likely that the end of this century will see a 1-2C increase in global mean temperature above the 1990 level (about 1.5-2.5C above the pre-industrial level). The world’s oceans will warm and ice melt will continue. Average sea level rise is predicted to be 24-30 cm by 2065 and 40-63 cm by 2100 relative to the reference period of 1986-2005. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries, even if emissions are stopped.”
  • As there is a direct relation between global average temperature and the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the key is “mitigation”. This means reducing emissions and enhancing “sinks”(e.g., increasing the area of forests). Trees matter!
  • “Climate change is inherently global in nature. The composition of the world’s atmosphere is impacted by GHG emissions for countries around the world, and the effects of those changes affect everyone.”
  • “The Convention puts the onus on developed countries to lead the way. As they are the source of most past and current GHG emissions, industrialized countries are expected to do the most to reduce emissions, that is, to implement measures to mitigate climate change.” These developed countries are referred to as Annex I Parties, and encompass all of the 1994 members of the OECD and include 12 countries with economies in transition from Central and Eastern Europe.” In its Annex B, the 2005 Kyoto Protocol “sets binding emission reduction targets for 36 industrialized countries and the European Union. Country lists and their ratification status, are here at https://bit.ly/2qg9pKY.
  • “The Paris Agreement’s (2015) central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the agreement aims to increase the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change (adaptation), and at making finance flows consistent with a low GHG emissions and climate-resilient pathway.” Other essential elements are: long-term temperature goal; global peaking; mitigation; sinks and reservoirs; loss and damage; finance, technology and capacity-building support; climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information; transparency, implementation and compliance; global stock take; Decision 1/CP.21”.
  • “There will also be a global stock take every 5 years to assess the collective progress towards achieving the purpose of the agreement and to inform further individual actions by Parties.” (The next global stock take will be in 2023.)
  • “United Nations climate change conferences have grown exponentially in size over the past two decades …. and are now among the largest international meetings in the world.”

Access a three-page Closing Press Release from the special Climate Action Summit 2019, held in September in New York here, https://bit.ly/2DuwgFE. Closing highlights include, “65 countries and major sub-national economies such as California committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, while 70 countries announced they will either boost their national action plans by 2020 or have started the process of doing so…..Many countries and over 100 cities – including many of the world’s largest – announced significant and concrete new steps to combat the climate crisis…Many smaller countries, …., were among those who made the biggest pledges, despite the fact that they have contributed the least to the problem…Countries, including France and New Zealand, announced they will not allow oil or gas exploration on their lands or off-shore waters….The European Union announced at least 25% of the next EU budget will be devoted to climate-related activities…87 major companies with a combined market capitalization of over US$2.3 trillion pledged to reduce emissions and align their businesses with what scientists say is needed to limit the worst impacts of climate change – a 1.5C future…The Summit also delivered critical platforms for improving energy efficiency and reducing the growing energy needs for cooling…”

The UNFCCC annual meeting is currently underway in Madrid, Spain, December 2 – 13, 2019. The agenda and emerging proceedings are here, at https://unfccc.int/cop25.

Thank you for reading this long Blog post. Next Thursday’s post will profile additional benefits of trees, beyond their critical role in carbon capture, plus any relevant press reports on, and releases by, the UNFCCC annual meeting for 2019. We’ll also start to look more closely into Canada’s plan.

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