International Programme on Climate Change
All countries have to work together to tackle climate change. That’s because the greenhouse gases that cause the problem come from all over the world, and affect everyone on the planet. But getting all countries to agree to legally binding actions is hugely challenging. In 2009 governments at the United Nations Climate Change Conference at Copenhagen failed to reach an agreement, opting instead to take voluntary steps. Six years later in Paris, 195 nations managed to agree to legally binding targets. The Paris Agreement aims to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2°C and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.
A number of international action programmes and laws to tackle climate change have been agreed over the years. Key international agreements are:
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
- Negotiated at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the UNFCCC sought to get countries to stabilise their greenhouse gas concentrations. It did not, however, specify the limit of these concentrations. It also placed a non-binding duty on developed countries, including the UK, to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2000. 195 countries, including the UK, have ratified the Convention, which came into force on 21 March 1994. The Convention is a "framework" document and allows for future amendments and additions over time. The first addition to the Convention is the Kyoto Protocol which was adopted in 1997 and came into force in February 2005.
- Kyoto Protocol 1997
- Unlike the UNFCCC which simply encouraged industrialised developed countries to take positive action on greenhouse emissions, the Kyoto Protocol requires them to do so. It sets legally binding obligations upon this group of countries to reduce greenhouse emissions by an average of 5% below 1990 levels over a five year period 2008-2012. The binding obligations are based on the principle "common but differentiated responsibilities" which takes into account the differences in the contributions of developed and developing countries to global environmental problems. It recognises that developed countries are mainly responsible for the current levels of man-made emissions due to over 150 years of industrial activity. Detailed rules to implement the Kyoto Protocol were adopted at the Conference of Parties 7 (COP 7) Marrakesh in 2001. These rules are known as the “Marrakesh Accords” and provide guidance on how parties can meet their obligations under the protocol. Targets provided by the Kyoto protocol are met through national measures, including market-based mechanisms like emissions trading ("the carbon market"), clean development mechanism and joint implementation. National governments can introduce controls and best current and future technologies that promote energy efficiency.
- Copenhagen Accord, December 2009
- The Copenhagen Accord was agreed at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. The Accord is a voluntary agreement, so is not legally binding. Under the Accord countries have agreed to take action in order to stop the average global temperature rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius above 1990 levels. The Accord leaves it for countries themselves to set out the emissions cuts or other things that they will do to tackle climate change.
- The Accord also provides for funding to help poorer countries adapt to the impacts of climate change (things like rising sea levels and water shortages) and take steps to cut emissions. It set an immediate target for developed countries jointly to provide assistance totalling $30 billion between 2010 and 2012.
- Paris Agreement, December 2015
- The Paris Agreement was agreed at the 21st UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in Paris in December 2015. It represents a turning point in international climate change law as it commits 195 countries collectively to hold average global temperature increases to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Countries must periodically submit targets for reducing their emissions called “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs). Every five years there will be a global stock-take of progress reducing emissions, and countries will be required to increase the ambition of their NDCs as much as possible. This represents a new approach for international co-operation that combines ‘bottom up’ voluntary commitments by individual states with ‘top down’ goals and stocktaking. In order to achieve the overall temperature targets, global emissions of greenhouse gases must peak as soon as possible, followed by rapid reductions so that by the second half of this century there are net zero emissions.
- States also agreed to strengthen societies' ability to adapt to the impacts of climate change (for instance, rising sea levels and water shortages). Developed countries will continue to provide support to developing countries to help them reduce emissions and build resilience to climate change impacts. This includes financial support totalling $100 billion per year until 2025 when a new collective goal will be set.
- UNFCCC Climate Change Secretariat
- The Climate Change Secretariat has oversight of the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol and supports the work of the secretariats involved in the climate change process such as the Conference of Parties. It works with other international bodies such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and its implementing agencies (UNDP, UNEP and the World Bank), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and other conventions related to climate change.
Other Non-UN initiatives
- The G8 Gleneagles Plan of Action 2005
- The Gleneagles Plan of Action covers energy efficiency improvement measures, work on cleaner fuels and renewable energies. It was developed by the Climate Change Roundtable of the G8 (the group of 8 leading advanced economies) to accelerate international measures aimed at reducing global carbon emissions.
- IEA G8 Gleneagles Programme
- The International Energy Agency (IEA) G8 Gleneagles programme was developed as a follow-up to the G8 Gleneagles Plan of Action. It encompasses new measures for greater energy security and climate protection. It also provides recommendations aimed at reducing global CO2 emissions by 8.2 gigatonnes compared with 1990 levels by 2030.
These initiatives complement the efforts of the UNFCCC and other international institutions responsible for tackling climate change.