The real threat to us all: Climate change
At long last, after years of bickering and weeks of intense bargaining, the world’s leaders acknowledged the current dismal state of the environment in Paris on Dec. 11 and pledged their support to attempt to prevent a global catastrophe in the foreseeable future by agreeing on several preventive measures. The latest U.N. Climate Conference that took place in Paris between Nov. 30 and Dec. 11 with the participation of nearly 200 countries turned out to be a historical landmark, which produced a climate accord with a detailed roadmap on how to avert the adverse impacts of climate change.
Although climate change has for decades been one of the most crucial threats for the entire planet, it has been somewhat downgraded since the Kyoto Protocol of 1997by several so-called scientific findings arguing it was not changing so much and by the emergence of several acute hotspots of conflict around the world. The initial awareness and U.N. initiatives to address the problem in fact emerged back in the 1970s, though the first non-binding framework (The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) on limiting greenhouse gas emissions was only approved at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
The Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in 1997 but entered into force only in 2005, created the first legally-binding emission reduction targets for developed countries. All these have ultimately failed when it comes to implementation, as even the world’s biggest emitter, 36 percent in 1990, the United States, never ratified the protocol under intense pressure from its oil and coal industries. The U.S. senate’s unanimous position on the issue, expressed by the 1997 non-binding Byrd-Hagel Resolution, is that it will not “approve any international agreement that does not require developing countries to make emission reductions and would seriously harm the economy of the United States.”
It is of course not only the U.S., but also a much wider reluctance to struggle against global climate change that endangers the planet’s future. The challenge is that the struggle requires devotion to radical changes in the way we leave today and huge long-term investment for every single country on earth. Particularly, who should shoulder the financial burden, the developing vs. developed world dispute, has been the main obstacle in climate negotiations. This was echoed at the latest negotiations in Paris about a tiny substitution - whether to use “shall” or “should” in the provision of “developed country parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country parties with respect to both mitigation and adaption in continuation of their obligations.” That small change of course has huge legal and financial implications.
The Paris agreement is undoubtedly an important step in the struggle against global climate change. According to the agreement, the signatory countries approved to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, while urging efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees; to make national determined contributions (NDCs); to report regularly on their emissions and progress on NDCs; and to submit new national pledges every five years. These are no doubt ambitious targets that might create momentum if implemented. But the hard work lies ahead.
Global warming has been trending upward. Some of its consequences such as rising sea levels, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, excessive floods etc. have already been seen. The experiences of the Rio, Kyoto, and Copenhagen conferences on climate change present serious lessons for us, that we have no time for another failure. Hopefully, it is not already too late for joint action before climate change becomes irreversible.