Tackling the Global Climate Challenge
A Brief History
International efforts to deal with climate change began at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, with the adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change — a treaty signed and ratified by the United States. This agreement makes all countries responsible for working to avoid “dangerous human interference” with the climate system.
Under the treaty, developed nations — responsible for most of the emissions of greenhouse gases over the past 200 years — are committed to leading the fight against climate change, though all nations are charged with contributing to solve the problem.
In 1997, an implementation agreement of the Framework Convention was adopted. The Kyoto Protocol, which now covers 170 countries, committed developed countries to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by five to seven percent from 1990 levels by 2012. The U.S. is the only nation to have signed but not ratified it.
Forging a Scientific Consensus
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program in 1988 to assess scientific, technical, and socio-economic data on climate change, its potential impact, and options for adaptation and mitigation.
Drawing on a consortium of hundreds of experts from leading academic and research institutions, the IPCC is considered the world’s most authoritative scientific effort to understand and address changes in the Earth’s climate.
To date, the IPCC has released four Assessment Reports which each provide increasingly dire warnings about the impacts of climate change on our globe’s environment, society, and economy if serious action is not taken immediately.
The IPCC has recently come under attack because of a small number of errors in its Fourth Assessment Report regarding projected impacts from climate change.
While these mistakes have in no way undermined the underlying science of climate change, the Panel has expressed regret for these inaccuracies and is developing a new, more robust review process in order to avoid future errors.
From Bali to Copenhagen
An agreement was struck in Bali, Indonesia, in 2007 on a process for reaching a new climate change treaty by the 2009 Copenhagen summit.
Intense negotiations took place over the course of the two intervening years, and while a comprehensive agreement could not be reached in Copenhagen, the conference succeeded in raising the climate issue to a new level, with more than 120 national leaders participating and recognizing the imperatives of the science and the need for action.
More than 100 countries, representing more than 80 percent of global emissions, have associated themselves with the Copenhagen Accord — particularly significant because of the engagement of rapidly growing economies like China, India, Brazil, and South Africa.
The Accord’s central achievement was establishing a registry of national actions — a scorecard by which nations will be judged. The Accord also commits developed countries to providing $10 billion a year in mitigation and adaptation financing over the next three years, growing to $100 billion per year by 2020.
Copenhagen has set the stage for making progress on a number of key issues, including avoided deforestation, technology cooperation, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and finance.
These are the core elements to any meaningful progress in the fight against climate change, and they are areas in which all the countries of the world can and should want to engage for the sake of economic growth, national security, and environmental sustainability.
Looking forward to the December 2011 climate summit in Durban, South Africa, the international community can build on the Copenhagen Accord to ensure that collective action on these five topics is commensurate with the commitments countries made under the Accord.
The UN Secretary-General’s Leadership
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made cooperation on climate change one of his top priorities, and has been working with countries to help them reach an agreement since he took office prior to the 2007 conference in Bali.
To assist him in this effort, the Secretary-General has convened a high-level Advisory Group on Energy & Climate Change to provide him with strategic advice and formal recommendations for the negotiating process.
In the wake of Copenhagen, the Secretary-General also set up a high-level advisory panel to mobilize funding for developing nations in the battle against climate change.
The panel, which is being led by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his Norwegian counterpart Jens Stoltenberg, will specifically seek to marshal new and innovative resources to reach the Copenhagen Accord’s goal of $100 billion per year by 2020.