What have we done to manage climate change?

To date, the effort to manage climate change has been a matter of high level diplomatic negotiations involving states and international organizations with a loud, but largely excluded fringe of NGOs, business groups, and minor political actors.

The logic for this is that global climate change affects us all, but individual countries can manage only the activities that take place within their borders; to confront a global problem, we need a global solution. As the United Nations history of these negotiations begins:

“Climate change is a global challenge and requires a global solution. Greenhouse gas emissions have the same impact on the atmosphere whether they originate in Washington, London or Beijing. Consequently, action by one country to reduce emissions will do little to slow global warming unless other countries act as well. Ultimately, an effective strategy will require commitments and action by all the major emitting countries.”

The global effort to manage climate change has been organized through what is called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC was launched at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to achieve GHG concentrations

“at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.

It also set voluntary GHG emissions reductions that countries did not meet.

With the failure of the Rio initiatives, the then 191 signatories to the UNFCCC agreed to meet in Kyoto in 1997 to establish a more stringent regime. The resulting Kyoto Protocol created a global trading system for carbon credits and binding GHG reductions for ratifying countries. (The US did not sign; China and India were exempt as developing countries.) So-called Conferences of the Parties (COPs) were held almost annually thereafter in places such as The Hague, Cancun and Doha without progress being made. (Following the failure of the 2012 Doha meetings, the unrenewed Kyoto carbon trading system collapsed.)

manage climate change paris 2016
(Source: European Council )

In 2016, COP 21 in Paris finally resulted in major advances. The agreement reaffirmed a commitment to reduce emissions, set a 2⁰ C warming limit target, emphasized mandatory reductions by developed countries, called upon developing countries to contribute, created a fund to compensate climate change losers and reestablished a Kyoto-style clean development mechanism and carbon trading system. Paris makes no provisions for the reduction of emissions from agriculture and largely ignores the developing world. The US has still not ratified the treaty.

Paris leaders work to manage climate change
(Source: Wikipedia )

Next: Why has it been so difficult to manage?