Opinion > The Politics of Climate ChangePosted by Hendrickus on 05-10-2014
Combating Climate Change in the International Community
Without a doubt, man-made climate change is the greatest danger the world faces today. Hanging over the entire scope of human civilisation as a universal sword of Damocles, academics around the world are convinced that this imminent threat needs to be addressed as soon as possible. With a truly global impact, its universality has in turn begged for an international solution. Without participation from the world’s leading climate change contributors, any action undertaken by the others may be insufficient. Recently, a UN report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stressed the necessity to do something about climate change, yet also emphasized the possibility to do so when the international community would act fast.[i] Such effective international cooperation, however, has proven difficult in the past, and change accomplished has been insufficient. To understand whether or not a more ambitious international agreement on combating climate change is likely to emerge, it is important to consider the reasons that have stopped such an agreement from being made in the past. Then, analysing current reasons for and against combined action against climate change, an indication of a possible answer might emerge.
Although the global attention for climate change might seem like a recent phenomenon most of all, the issue has had a long history in international politics. Thirty-five years ago, in 1979, the first World Climate Conference (WCC) took place, followed by the creation of the IPCC nine years later. In 1994, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was established with the “ultimate objective” of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.[ii] The convention would be the background to the formal adoption of the Kyoto Protocol three years later, committing countries to the principles outlined in the convention. Increasing on the international agenda, environmental sustainability was even made into one of the core Millennium Development Goals set for 2015. Despite all these undertakings, however, realistic solutions to climate change stayed distant. As David Shorr points out, the Kyoto Protocol failed as it left “the world's three largest emitters of greenhouse gases unconstrained”: while India and China were given an exemption, the United States never even ratified the protocol.[iii] Moreover, only thirty-seven countries were actually given binding targets of greenhouse gas reduction. Although the protocol was updated recently with the Doha amendment, many have come to see it as outdated, realising something stronger and more effective is needed.
Regarding the relative failure of combating climate change up to now, many have credited the lack of a ‘political will’, blaming politicians for focusing too much on short-term rather than long-term needs. Sustainable undertakings are simply unattractive because they are costly, difficult, often require drastic change, and do not give much in return in the short-term. Shorr, however, argues that these ‘political will’ arguments often oversee the equally difficult question of how to translate that ‘political will’ into actual policy.[iv] This is also important because “the leaders of countries with rapidly developing economies cannot predict environmental payoffs with any real confidence”.[v] Rather than bold goals and statements, it is thus important to pursue the development of a well-thought-out strategy and propose how this can be adopted in practical policy-making. Another oft-credited problem with taking on climate change has been lack of legal consequences of failing to live up to agreements. Shorr argues against these legally binding agreements, stressing instead the use of a measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) method as seen in the Copenhagen in 2009. This means countries keep a constant eye on each other’s progress, amounting to a great deal of state-level ‘peer-pressure’ to push one another in the right direction.[vi]
Currently, all international eyes concerning climate change are aimed at the upcoming 2015 Paris convention that is supposed to bring forth a successor of the Kyoto Protocol. If any ambitious agreement is to emerge within the next few years, it will have to happen there. First of all, it has to be noted that, considering the efforts in the last thirty-five years, there is certainly an international will to take action. Previously, short-term gains seem to have taken precedence over the further-removed climate change challenge. In light of the recent IPCC report, however, with its two-sided message of ‘the worst can still be avoided, but it has to happen now’, the urgency attached to climate change has once more been emphasized, increasing the weight attached to it. Moreover, it has been noted that since 2010, China and India have improved their attitudes towards combating global change, being found “more willing to cut emissions than ever before”.[vii] The key to a successful agreement will be universal participation in which no-one is exempt. If major GHG emitters like the US, India and China are willing to take the lead in the making of such an agreement and, most importantly, willing to commit themselves to change, there are definitely options for the emergence of an ambitious international plan combating global warming. After all, with the disastrous consequences of unstopped climate change looming in the near-future and the great urgency to do something now, there might not even be much of a choice. If all parties share this sense of urgency, an ambitious agreement may indeed emerge at the Paris conference next year.
IPCC. „Fifth Assessment Report (WGII AR5).” 2014.
Shorr, David. „Think Again: Climate Treaties.” Foreign Policy. 17 3 2014. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/03/17/think_again_climate_treaties (geopend 4 27, 2014).
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Background on the UNFCCC: The international response to climate change. sd. https://unfccc.int/essential_background/items/6031.php (geopend 4 27, 2014).
—. First steps to a safer future: Introducing The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. sd. https://unfccc.int/essential_background/convention/items/6036.php (geopend 4 27, 2014).
United Nations. United Nations Global Issues. sd. http://www.un.org/en/globalissues/climatechange/ (geopend 4 27, 2014).
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[i] IPCC. „Fifth Assessment Report (WGII AR5).” 2014.
[ii] UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, First steps to a safer future: Introducing The United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change.
[iii] David Shorr, „Think Again: Climate Treaties.” Foreign Policy. 17 3 2014.
international politics climate change ipcc paris 2015