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Climate Change: What is it?

The United Nations define climate change as being the long-term shifts in temperature and weather patterns. Climate change also includes changes in precipitation patterns, sea level, and extreme weather events, which are said to be caused primarily by human activities, in particularly the burning of fossil fuels. The human activities increase the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which in turn trap heat from the sun causing the Earth's temperature to rise. The greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Out of those methane is said to be 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapped heat in the atmosphere. This rise in temperature cause by the rise in these greenhouse gases can lead to a range of environmental impacts, such as more frequent and severe heatwaves, droughts, floods, wildfires, and storms, as well as rising sea levels and ocean acidification. These impacts can be seen first-hand by the recent 'Bomb cyclone' storm in America, which was a deadly winter storm that impacted millions of people and more recently Cyclone Gabrielle that hit New Zealand on the 5th February 2023. This cyclone has caused mass devastation to many areas of New Zealand. There has been severe flooding which has wiped out many neighbourhoods and has destroyed the roads, power networks causing evacuation to be difficult. The above are just two examples of extreme weather events that are becoming more frequent across the world.

Global Agreements

There are several global climate change agreements and treaties aimed at addressing the issue of climate change.

For example, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was adopted in 1992 and has been signed by almost every country. This treaty is the foundation of the international efforts to address climate change. This treaty aims to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system. The Kyoto Protocol was an extension of the UNFCCC which was adopted in 1997 and focused on developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2012. Results of this protocol was successful in reducing the emissions of the ratifying countries by roughly 7%, which reinforced the importance of countries signing up to these treaties and protocols.

The Paris Agreement 2015 came about after the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris and was classed as a historical breakthrough. It aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees celsius. This agreement sets long-term goals to guide all nations to:

  • Substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius while pursuing efforts to limit the increase even further to 1.5 degrees.

  • Review countries’ commitments every five years.

  • Provide financing to developing countries to mitigate climate change, strengthen resilience and enhance abilities to adapt to climate impacts.

The Paris agreement is a legally binding international treaty, where 193 States plus the European Unions have joined. The Paris agreement includes commitments from all countries to reduce their emissions and to work together to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and calls in countries to strengthen their commitments over time. It provides a pathway for developed nations to assist developing nations in their climate mitigation and adaption efforts alongside creating a framework for the transparent monitoring and reporting of countries' climate goals. The agreement was the beginning of the shift towards a net-zero emissions world.

Impacts of Global Agreements

Overall, the global agreements have made progress towards addressing the issue of climate change however, there's still a lot of work to be done to achieve the objectives of these agreements and limit the worst impacts of climate change. How effective these agreements are in the future will depend on continued participation, compliance, and ambition, as well as the development and implementation of effective policies and measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change. In order, to maximise the impact of these global agreements and treaties they require cooperation and action at all levels of society, from individual behaviour change to national and international policies and regulation.

There are some major problems of these global agreements which include, political and economic challenges, lack of ambition and action, compliance and enforcement, technological and infrastructure challenges, lack of public awareness and engagement. If countrie can reduce these problems, then these agreements would be more successful, but this may be challenging because some of the highest polluting countries are developing and so can't afford to implement some of the mitigation strategies but with the helping of developing countries this will become easier for them.

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