Climate Change and International Responses

What is Climate Change?

Climate change is the catch-all term for the shift in worldwide weather phenomena associated with an increase in global average temperatures. It's real and temperatures have been going up around the world for many decades. 

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The climate change phenomenon refers to seasonal changes over a long period with respect to the growing accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Tackling this phenomenon is of utmost importance given the pivotal role that climate plays in the formation of natural ecosystems and the human economies and civilizations on which they are based. 

What is Climate Change?/ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)/Green Climate Fund (GCF)

Recent studies have shown that human activities since the beginning of the industrial revolution – manifested in fossil fuel consumption for power generation, land deforestation for agriculture, and urban expansion – have contributed to an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by as much as 40%, from about 280 parts per million in the pre-industrial period, to 402 parts per million in 2016, which in turn has led to global warming. Several parts of the world have already experienced the warming of coastal waters, high temperatures, a marked change in rainfall patterns, and an increased intensity and frequency of storms. 


Rising sea levels and temperatures are expected to be an increasing trend. Moreover, the potential for severe and irreversible climate and environmental changes, including the continued melting of polar ice layers, such as those found in Greenland and West Antarctica, could cause sea level rises exceeding 10 meters, harmful fluctuations in ocean currents, and increased methane emissions. 

Climate change refers to significant changes in global temperature, precipitation, wind patterns and other measures of climate that occur over several decades or longer. Climate change refers to a statistically defined change in the average and/or variability of the climate system, this includes the atmosphere, the water cycle, the land surface, ice and the living components of Earth. 

Literally ‘Climate Change’ denotes to long-term change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns (e.g. temperature, precipitation etc.) over decades to millions of years of time. Climate on earth has changed on all time scales even since long before human activity could have played a role in its transformation. 


But UNFCCC defined Climate Change as "a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods”

However, the IPCC definition of Climate Change includes change due to natural variability alongside human activity. Australian Government’s DCCEE in its website described Climate Change- ‘our climate is changing, largely due to the observed increases in human produced greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases absorb heat from the sun in the atmosphere and reduce the amount of heat escaping into space. This extra heat has been found to be the primary cause of observed changes in the climate system over the 20th century’. 

Online Free Dictionary, “Climate Change refers the change in global or regional climate patterns, in particular a change apparent from the mid to late 20th century onwards and attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels.” 

America's Climate Choices: Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change; National Research Council (2010), “Climate change is a change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns when that change lasts for an extended period of time (i.e., decades to millions of years). 


Climate change may refer to a change in average weather conditions, or in the time variation of weather within the context of longer-term average conditions. Climate change is caused by factors such as biotic processes, variations in solar radiation received by Earth, plate tectonics, and volcanic eruptions. Certain human activities have been identified as primary causes of ongoing climate change, often referred to as global warming.” 

NASA defines climate change as: "a broad range of global phenomena created predominantly by burning fossil fuels, which add heat-trapping gases to Earth’s atmosphere. These phenomena include the increased temperature trends described by global warming, but also encompass changes such as sea-level rise; ice mass loss in Greenland, Antarctica, the Arctic and mountain glaciers worldwide; shifts in flower/plant blooming; and extreme weather events." 

Physical evidence to observe climate change includes a range of parameters. Global records of surface temperature are available beginning from the mid-late 19th century. For earlier periods, most of the evidence is indirect—climatic changes are inferred from changes in proxies, indicators that reflect climate, such as vegetation, ice cores, dendrochronology, sea level change, and glacial geology. Other physical evidence includes arctic sea ice decline, cloud cover and precipitation, vegetation, animals and historical and archaeological evidence. 


Reasons for the Interest in Climate 

Change When we talk about climate change, we mean any long-term change in the average weather patterns in a particular area. Average weather patterns include average temperature, rainfall, wind conditions and numerous other climatic conditions. These changes may take place due to the dynamic processes of the Earth (e.g. volcano eruptions or earthquakes), due to external forces (e.g. changes in the intensity of solar radiation or fall of large meteorites), or due to human activities (e.g. deforestation, tree burning or the three types of pollution – land, air and sea), resulting in an ecological imbalance, the disappearance of certain animal and plant species, and the appearance of others.

Scientists expect the Earth’s average surface temperature to rise by 1.4 to 5.8°C between 1990 and 2100. This rise could cause numerous environmental changes, such as melting of ice, changing wind movement and occurrence of hurricanes, floods in certain areas and drought in others, and the occurrence of climatic phenomena such as tsunami. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found new and stronger evidence that most causes of high temperatures over the past 50 years can be attributed to human activities. 


Climate change has brought many environmental risks to human health, such as ozone layer depletion, loss of biodiversity, increased pressures on food-producing systems and spread of infectious diseases. The three main categories of climate change impact on human health are: 

a) Direct impact (e.g. as a result of heatwaves, large-scale air pollution, natural disasters). 

b) Impact on ecosystems and environmental relationships (e.g. damage to agricultural crops, overabundance of mosquitoes, and depletion of marine species). 

c) Indirect impact (e.g. poverty, displacement, conflict over resources such as water, postdisaster epidemics). As a result, climate change threatens to reduce, impede or reverse global progress for those suffering from malnutrition and dying of infectious diseases, especially in developing regions of the world.

We are while a wide range of natural phenomena can radically affect the climate, publishing climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that global warming and resultant climate effects that we're witnessing are the result of human activity. 


Life on Earth is dependent on an atmospheric "greenhouse" – a layer of gasses, primarily water vapour, in the lower atmosphere that trap heat from the sun as it's reflected back from the Earth, radiating it back and keeping our planet at a temperature capable of supporting life. 

Human activity is currently generating an excess of long-lived greenhouse gasses that – unlike water vapour – don't dissipate in response to temperature increases, resulting in a continuing buildup of heat. Key greenhouse gasses include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Carbon dioxide is the best-known, with natural sources including decomposition and animal respiration. 

The main source of excess carbon dioxide emissions is the burning of fossil fuels, while deforestation has reduced the amount of plant life available to turn CO2 into oxygen. Methane, a more potent but less abundant greenhouse gas, enters the atmosphere from farming – both from animals such as cattle and arable farming methods including traditional rice paddies – and from fossil fuel exploration and abandoned oil and gas wells. 

Chlorofluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons – once widely used in industrial applications and home appliances such as refrigerators – were key greenhouse gasses released during the 20th century, but are now heavily regulated due to their severe impact on the atmosphere, which includes ozone depletion, as well as trapping heat in the lower atmosphere. Our warming climate is also creating a feedback loop as greenhouse gasses trapped in Arctic permafrost are released.


International Response to Climate Change 

Climate change is one of the major challenges of our time and adds considerable stress to our societies and to the environment. From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Without drastic action today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly.

The history of the scientific discovery of climate change began in the early 19th century when ice ages and other natural changes in paleoclimate were first suspected and the natural greenhouse effect first identified. In the late 19th century, scientists first argued that human emissions of greenhouse gases could change the climate. Many other theories of climate change were advanced, involving forces from volcanism to solar variation. In the 1960s, the warming effect of carbon dioxide gas became increasingly convincing. Some scientists also pointed out that human activities that generated atmospheric aerosols (e.g., "pollution") could have cooling effects as well. During the 1970s, scientific opinion increasingly favored the warming viewpoint. By the 1990s, as a result of improving fidelity of computer models and observational work confirming the Milankovitch theory of the ice ages, a consensus position formed: greenhouse gases were deeply involved in most climate changes and human caused emissions were bringing discernible global warming. Since the 1990s, scientific research on climate change has included multiple disciplines and has expanded. Research has expanded our understanding of causal relations, links with historic data and our ability to model climate change numerically. Research during this period has been summarized in the Assessment Reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.


Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions, or in the distribution of weather around the average conditions (such as more or fewer extreme weather events). Climate change is caused by factors that include oceanic processes (such as oceanic circulation), biotic processes, variations in solar radiation received by Earth, plate tectonics and volcanic eruptions, and human-induced alterations of the natural world. The latter effect is currently causing global warming, and "climate change" is often used to describe human-specific impacts.

 Climate Action Institutions and Stakeholders: In the period after the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) until the Paris Summit of December 2015, a number of institutions and tools were created by the international community to lead its fight against global warming. This article describes some of the main global negotiation mechanisms. 

 Kyoto Protocol: By 1995, countries launched negotiations to strengthen the global response to climate change, and, two years later, adopted the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol legally binds developed country Parties to emission reduction targets. The Protocol’s first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012. The second commitment period began on 1 January 2013 and will end in 2020. There are now 197 Parties to the Convention and 192 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.


Conference of the Parties (COP)

During the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the United Nations set up a Framework Convention on Climate Change, known by the acronym UNFCCC. This universal convention brings together 195 nations plus the European Union (alongside its member states), for a total of 196 parties. Every year since 1995, their representatives have attended a Conference of the Parties, held on a rotating basis in one of the five U.N. regions, to review the Convention's application and negotiate new commitments. Certain conferences have had a strong historical impact. The Conference of the Parties (COP) is held each year in a capital city on a rotating basis in one of the U.N.'s five regional groups of member states (Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Caribbean, Western Europe and Other and Africa). 

▪ COP 1 (1995): The first UNFCCC Conference of the Parties took place from 28 March to 7 April 1995 in Berlin, Germany. It voiced concerns about the adequacy of countries' abilities to meet commitments under the Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (BSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI). COP 1 agreed on "Activities Implemented Jointly", first joint measures in international climate action. 

▪ COP3 (1997): The Kyoto Climate Conference gave way to the Kyoto Protocol, which for the first time set greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions targets for industrialized countries. COP 3 took place in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan. After intensive negotiations, it adopted the Kyoto Protocol, which outlined the greenhouse gas emissions reduction obligation for Annex I countries, along with what came to be known as Kyoto mechanisms such as emissions trading, clean development mechanism and joint implementation. 

Most industrialized countries and some central European economies in transition (all defined as Annex B countries) agreed to legally binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of an average of 6 to 8% below 1990 levels between the years 2008–2012, defined as the first emissions budget period. The United States would be required to reduce its total emissions an average of 7% below 1990 levels; however Congress did not ratify the treaty after Clinton signed it. The Bush administration explicitly rejected the protocol in 2001. 

▪ COP13 (2007): Bali Climate Conference - these talks opened negotiations on a follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol. 

▪ COP15 (2009): Copenhagen Climate Conference (COP15) - with numerous heads of state present, these talks set the tenable increase in the global temperature at 2°C, but did not provide details on how to remain below this threshold. The overall goal for the COP 15/CMP 5 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Denmark was to establish an ambitious global climate agreement for the period from 2012 when the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol expires.

However, on 14 November 2009, the New York Times announced that "President Obama and other world leaders have decided to put off the difficult task of reaching a climate change agreement... agreeing instead to make it the mission of the Copenhagen conference to reach a less specific "politically binding" agreement that would punt the most difficult issues into the future". Ministers and officials from 192 countries took part in the Copenhagen meeting and in addition there were participants from a large number of civil society organizations. As many Annex 1 industrialized countries are now reluctant to fulfill commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, a large part of the diplomatic work that lays the foundation for a post-Kyoto agreement was undertaken up to the COP15. 

The conference did not achieve a binding agreement for long-term action. A 13-paragraph 'political accord' was negotiated by approximately 25 parties including US and China, but it was only 'noted' by the COP as it is considered an external document, not negotiated within the UNFCCC process. The accord was notable in that it referred to a collective commitment by developed countries for new and additional resources, including forestry and investments through international institutions, that will approach USD 30 billion for the period 2010–2012. Longer-term options on climate financing mentioned in the accord are being discussed within the UN Secretary General's High Level Advisory Group on Climate Financing, which is due to report in November 2010. The negotiations on extending the Kyoto Protocol had unresolved issues as did the negotiations on a framework for long-term cooperative action. The working groups on these tracks to the negotiations are now due to report to COP 16 and CMP 6 in Mexico. 

▪ COP16 (2010): Cancun Climate Conference - these talks resulted in the Green Climate Fund. COP 16 was held in Cancún, Mexico, from 28 November to 10 December 2010. The outcome of the summit was an agreement adopted by the states' parties that called for the 100 billion USD per annum "Green Climate Fund", and a "Climate Technology Centre" and network. However the funding of the Green Climate Fund was not agreed upon. Nor was a commitment to a second period of the Kyoto Protocolagreed upon, but it was concluded that the base year shall be 1990 and the global warming potentials shall be those provided by the IPCC. 

All parties "Recognizing that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet, and thus requires to be urgently addressed by all Parties,". It recognizes the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report goal of a maximum 2 °C global warming and all parties should take urgent action to meet this goal. It also agreed upon greenhouse gas emissions should peak as soon as possible, but recognizing that the time frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries, since social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries. 

▪ COP17 (2011): Durban Climate Conference - it was here that the process began that was expected to culminate in Paris. The 2011 COP 17 was held in Durban, South Africa, from 28 November to 9 December 2011. The conference agreed to a start negotiations on a legally binding deal comprising all countries, to be adopted in 2015, governing the period post 2020. 

There was also progress regarding the creation of a Green Climate Fund (GCF) for which a management framework was adopted. The fund is to distribute US$100 billion per year to help poor countries adapt to climate impacts. While the president of the conference, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, declared it a success, scientists and environmental groups warned that the deal was not sufficient to avoid global warming beyond 2 °C as more urgent action is needed.

▪ COP18 (2012): Qatar hosted COP 18 which took place in Doha, Qatar, from 26 November to 7 December 2012. The Conference produced a package of documents collectively titled The Doha Climate Gateway. The documents collectively contained: 

1. The Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol (to be accepted before entering into force) featuring a second commitment period running from 2012 until 2020 limited in scope to 15% of the global carbon dioxide emissions due to the lack of commitments of Japan, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, New Zealand (nor the United States and Canada, who are not parties to the Protocol in that period) and due to the fact that developing countries like China (the world's largest emitter), India and Brazil are not subject to emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol. 

2. Language on loss and damage, formalized for the first time in the conference documents The conference made little progress towards the funding of the Green Climate Fund Russia, Belarus and Ukraine objected at the end of the session as they had a right to under the session's rules. In closing the conference, the President said that he would note these objections in his final report. 

▪ COP19(2013): COP 19 was the 19th yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 9th session of the Meeting of the Parties (CMP) to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (the protocol having been developed under the UNFCCC's charter). The conference was held in Warsaw, Poland from 11 to 23 November 2013. 

▪ COP20(2014): On 1–12 December 2014, Lima, Peru hosted the 20th yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 10th session of the Meeting of the Parties (CMP) to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (the protocol having been developed under the UNFCCC's charter). The pre-COP conference was held in Venezuela.. 

▪ COP21 (2015): This meeting resulted in the Paris Agreement, the first accord to be signed by all the countries of the world. The COP 21 was held in Paris from 30 November to 12 December 2015. Negotiations resulted in the adoption of the Paris Agreement on 12 December, governing climate change reduction measures from 2020. The adoption of this agreement ended the work of the Durban platform, established during COP17. The agreement will enter into force (and thus become fully effective) on November 4, 2016. 

On October 4, 2016 the threshold for adoption was reached with over 55 countries representing at least 55% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions ratifying the Agreement. 

Paris Agreement: At the 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris, Parties to the UNFCCC reached a landmark agreement to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. The Paris Agreement builds upon the Convention and – for the first time – brings all nations into a common cause to undertake take ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. As such, it charts a new course in the global climate effort. 

The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. On Earth Day, 22 April 2016, 175 world leaders signed the Paris Agreement at United Nations Headquarters in New York. This was by far the largest number of countries ever to sign an international agreement on a single day. 

▪ COP22(2016): COP 22 was held in Marrakech, in the North-African country of Morocco, on 7–18 November 2016. A focal issue of COP 22 is that of water scarcity, water cleanliness, and water-related sustainability, a major problem in the developing world, including many African states. Prior to the event a special initiative on water was presided by Charafat Afailal, Morocco’s Minister in Charge of Water and Aziz Mekouar, COP 22 Ambassador for Multilateral Negotiations. Another focal issue was the need to reduce greenhouse emissions and utilize lowcarbon energy sources. Mr. Peter Thompson, President of the UN General Assembly, called for the transformation of the global economy in all sectors to achieve a low emissions global economy. 

▪ COP23(2017): COP 23 was held on 6–17 November 2017. On Friday, 18 November 2016, the end of COP 22, the Chairperson of COP 23 from Fiji announced that it will be held in Bonn, Germany. (COP 23/CMP 13). Fijian Prime Minister and incoming President of COP 23, Frank Bainimarama, on 13 April launched the logo for this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, to be held at UN Campus, Bonn in November.

COP 25 (2019): The 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 25) to the UNFCCC was planned to take place from 11 to 22 November 2019 in Brazil. Upon election as President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro withdrew Brazil from hosting the event.

COP 25 was then planned to take place in Parque Bicentenario Cerrillos in Santiago de Chile, Chile from 2 to 13 December with a pre-sessional period from 26 November to 1 December 2019 with up to 25,000 delegates scheduled to attend. However, following the 2019 Chilean protests, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced Chile's withdrawal from hosting the summit in late October 2019. UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa stated that organizers were "exploring alternative hosting options". Then Spain offered and was appointed, as the new host.


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was founded by the United Nations in 1988. Made up of hundreds of experts, its goal is to provide detailed assessments of the current state of scientific knowledge relating to climate change. The IPCC is not a research center but rather a forum that compiles climate-related research conducted in laboratories throughout the world. Since its founding, the IPCC has published five reports, which are divided into several volumes. It does not prescribe policy – that's each government's role – but rather provides national leaders with the tools they need to make informed decisions. In liaison with the different countries, the IPCC publishes carefully worded executive summaries intended for decision makers.


Green Climate Fund (GCF)

First mentioned at the Copenhagen Conference, the Green Climate Fund is an operating entity of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Its purpose is to transfer funds from the most advanced countries to the most vulnerable nations in order to implement projects aimed at countering climate change. The GCF was set up in Seoul, South Korea in 2011. Its board is comprised of members from both industrialized and developing countries. 

A Host of Meetings 

Symbolic events and meetings bringing together a variety of stakeholders have risen in number over the years. The United Nations organizes collective actions on a regular basis. One such undertaking, a series of decentralized initiatives carried out by regions, businesses and ordinary citizens called the Agenda of Solutions was launched in September 2014. These new climate actors organize many stakeholder-specific initiatives to advance the climate change agenda. Earth Day has been celebrated every year since it was first observed on April 22, 1970. This year Earth Day will coincide with the signing ceremony of the Paris Agreement. In 2007, the WWF (formerly World Wildlife Fund or World Wide Fund for Nature) organized Earth Hour, a worldwide lights-off event held every year on the last Saturday of March. 


United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

The UN family is in the forefront of the effort to save our planet. In 1992, its “Earth Summit” produced the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a first step in addressing the climate change problem. Today, it has near-universal membership. The 197 countries that have ratified the Convention are Parties to the Convention. The ultimate aim of the Convention is to prevent “dangerous” human interference with the climate system. 

Earth Summits: Earth Summits are U.N.-sponsored meetings of worldwide leaders held every 10 years to develop sustainable development guidelines. The first of these highly symbolic, closed circle gatherings took place in Stockholm (1972), followed by Nairobi (1982), and Rio de Janeiro (1992) – which gave a powerful impetus to climate action – and Johannesburg (2002). The last meeting, referred to as Rio+20, was held in 2012 for the second time in Brazil. 

Nobel Peace Prize

In 2007, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to former United States Vice-President Al Gore and the IPCC "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

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