The defining issue of our time
‘Climate change is the defining issue of our time – and we are at a defining moment’, said the UN Secretary General a few weeks before the 24th session of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP24) held in Katowice in December 2018. Indeed, in recent years we have seen a growing awareness of climate change issues with citizens and governments around the world. One of the largest climate change protests ever seen took place on 15 March 2019. Over a million young people from over 100 countries went on strike calling for more ambitious action on climate change. The strike was inspired by the Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, who caught the media’s attention by protesting outside the Swedish parliament every Friday throughout 2018. In September 2019, the Global Climate Strike attracted millions of people who joined young climate strikers on the streets to demand an end to the age of fossil fuels and climate justice.
Across the globe, visible signs of climate change keep emerging. One of the most visible and striking examples is one of the largest and fastest-moving glaciers in the world, Sermeq Kujalleq, which is melting and shrinking at a great and increasing rate. Sermeq Kujalleq has become a symbol of climate change and the pressing need to reduce its causes and alleviate its consequences. Several government representatives have visited Greenland and Sermeq Kujalleq to discuss climate change and possible actions to be taken to mitigate its causes and adapt to its impact, including in 2016, where then US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and then Danish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kristian Jensen visited Greenland to discuss Arctic cooperation and to get a first-hand impression of climate change and the challenges it poses for Greenland.
In May 2017, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme published the updated report ‘Arctic Climate Change Update 2019’ to its second Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic assessment report. According to the updated report, the pace of change in the Arctic is so rapid that new records are being set annually, and each additional year of data strengthens the already compelling evidence of a rapidly changing Arctic. The report sets out the following fundamental conclusions:
- the Arctic is rapidly shifting into a new state, driven by rising temperatures caused by increases in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere;
- trends over the next few decades are largely determined by past, present, and near-future emissions, requiring planning for adaptation at local and global scales;
- efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the coming years can limit the extent of Arctic climate change, especially after mid-century, but the Arctic of the future will certainly be very different regardless of the emissions scenario; and
- arctic glaciers, ice caps, and the Greenland Ice Sheet would continue to melt even under ambitious emissions reductions, contributing significantly to a long-term rise in the sea level.
IPCC report on climate change
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading body for assessing the science related to climate change. It was established by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization to provide the world with clear scientific assessments and reports on the current state of climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic consequences.
The IPCC is a scientific body. It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change. Thousands of scientists from every part of the world contribute to the work of the IPCC.
On 30 August 2010, the IPCC welcomed the findings of an independent review of its processes and procedures by the InterAcademy Council, which is a respected 18-member umbrella group for various national academies of science from countries around the world.
The review lasted nearly four months and examined every aspect of how the IPCC’s periodic climate science assessments are prepared, including the use of non-peer-reviewed literature and the reflection of diverse viewpoints. The review also examined institutional aspects, including management functions, as well as the panel’s procedures for communicating its findings to the public. The review report contains numerous recommendations on how to further improve and strengthen the policies and procedures of the IPCC.
The IPCC has released five assessment reports, in 1990, 1995, 2001, 2007 and 2014.
The IPCC is currently in its Sixth Assessment cycle. During this cycle, the panel will produce three Special Reports, a Methodology Report on national greenhouse gas inventories and the Sixth Assessment Report. On 1–5 May 2017, the IPCC held a scoping meeting in Addis Ababa to draft the outline of the Sixth Assessment Report, which brought together 200 experts. The Sixth Assessment Report is due to be completed in the first half of 2022.
Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (Working Group Report I) contains in its Summary for Policymakers evidence of climate change. Some of the most important are as follows:
Observed changes in the climate system
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.
Detection and attribution of climate change
Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise and in changes in some climate extremes . . . This evidence for human influence has grown since AR4. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook (WEO)
WEO draws on the latest data on energy markets and technology trends and provides detailed analyses of energy issues including oil, gas and coal supply and demand, renewable energy technologies, electricity markets, energy efficiency, access to energy, and demand-side management to 2040. WEO 2018 was released on 13 November 2018. Electricity is the special focus of WEO 2018.
WEO 2018 sets out that the geography of energy consumption continues its historic shift to Asia and that oil markets, for instance, are entering a period of renewed uncertainty and volatility, including a possible supply gap in the early 2020s. Further, demand for natural gas is on the rise, which erases talk of a glut as China emerges as a giant consumer.
WEO outlines multiple future pathways for global energy to 2040. One of them is the ‘New Policies Scenario’, which describes where existing policies and intentions might lead the energy system, in the expectation that this will inform decision-makers as they seek to improve this outcome. The New Policies Scenario reflects all government policies that are already in place as well as those that have been announced. Under current and planned policies, modelled in the WEO 2018 New Policies Scenario, energy demand is set to grow by more than 25 per cent to 2040, requiring more than US$2 trillion a year of investment in new energy supply.
The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2019 is to be released on 13 November 2019.
UN Climate Change Conferences
Each year, sessions of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCC (COP) and of the Conference of the Parties Serving as Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP) are held as a UN Climate Change Conference.
In the first year of this publication, 2009, the conference (COP15 and CMP5) was held in Copenhagen. It did not deliver the results expected or at least hoped for, which was legally binding agreements on emission reduction and limitation targets, and activities for all parties under the UNFCCC and for developed parties under the Kyoto Protocol. However, the negotiations resulted in a political agreement entitled the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ and a decision (Decision 2/CP15) stating that the COP ‘takes note of the Copenhagen Accord of 18 December 2009’. The accord was attached to the decision as an unofficial document and was agreed upon by 114 parties to the UNFCCC. The parties further agreed to establish a procedure whereby states supporting the Copenhagen Accord could accede to it.
As some of the main elements, the states (parties) agreeing on the Copenhagen Accord:
- recognised the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2°C to combat climate change;
- recognised that deep cuts in global emissions are required according to science;
- agreed that developed countries (Annex I parties) will commit to economy-wide emissions targets for 2020, to be submitted to the UNFCCC secretariat by 31 January 2010, and agree that these parties to the Kyoto Protocol will strengthen their existing targets;
- agreed that developing countries (non-Annex I parties) will implement mitigation actions – nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMA) – to slow the rise in their carbon emissions and that information on the NAMA was to be submitted to the UNFCCC secretariat by 31 January 2010;
- agreed that least developed countries and small island developing states may undertake actions voluntarily and on the basis of international support; and
- recognised the crucial role of reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), the need to enhance removals of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission by forests and the need to establish a mechanism (including REDD-plus) to enable the mobilisation of financial resources from developed countries to help achieve this.
At COP17 and CMP7 in 2011 in Durban, South Africa, the parties reached an agreement, now known as the Durban Platform, that extended the Kyoto Protocol from 1 January 2013. The agreement to extend the Kyoto Protocol was an accomplishment that avoided a gap between the phases of the Protocol. At the following COP18 and CMP8 in 2012 in Doha, Qatar, the parties further adopted a proper amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, the ‘Doha Amendment’. The amendment extends the Kyoto Protocol for a second period, until 31 December 2020. Thirty-seven countries and the EU are committed to new reduction targets for this second period, which are included in the amendment. Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Russia did not commit for the second period.
Since COP15 and CMP5 in Copenhagen in 2009, one of the most important UN Climate Change Conferences was COP21 and CMP11, which was held in 2015 in Paris, France. The conference closed with the adoption of the first-ever legally binding global climate agreement, the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement consists of 29 articles and was concluded by 196 parties (195 countries and the EU). The Paris Agreement provides a long-term goal of keeping the increase of global warming to well below 2°C and the aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C (article 2). According to article 4 in the Paris Agreement, the governments agreed to aim to reach global peaking of GHG emissions ‘as soon as possible’ and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter. However, no specific target for emissions was fixed. The developed countries agreed to continue to support the climate actions in developing countries (article 9). The parties further agreed to meet every five years (from 2023) in order to take stock of the implementation of the Paris Agreement and to assess the collective progress towards achieving the purpose of the Paris Agreement and its long-term goals (article 14).
In 2016, COP22 and CMP12 was held in Marrakesh, Morocco. The conference also served as the first ‘Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement’ (CMA1), the governing body of the Paris Agreement. Being the first UN Climate Change Conference after the adoption of the Paris Agreement at COP21, the Climate Change Conference in Marrakesh was an important transitional moment, pivoting from the years of negotiation that produced the Paris Agreement to a new phase focused on implementation. The participating parties adopted 35 decisions, mostly related to the implementation of the Paris Agreement, and agreed to finalise the more detailed rules for implementation by 2018.
The following COP23, CMP13 and a second meeting of the parties to the Paris Agreement (officially referred to as CMA1-2) was held in November 2017 in Bonn, Germany. The focus of the conference was to advance the ambitions set out in the Paris Agreement and to achieve progress on its implementation guidelines. The participating parties agreed on the ‘Talanoa’ Dialogue, which is a process designed to help the implementation of contributions by 2020 and help each party consider the adequacy of their actions. The participating parties adopted 12 decisions, making significant progress towards clear and comprehensive implementation guidelines for the Paris Agreement. One of the key decisions was the decision to operationalise the Local Communities and Indigenous People’s Platform, which is a way to ‘strengthen the knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples related to addressing and responding to climate change’ and to increase their involvement in climate negotiations. Further, the participating parties decided on the establishment of a gender action plan to enhance the participation of women in UNFCCC processes, recognising their critical role in climate action.
Most recently, COP24, CMP14 and CMA1-3 was held in December 2018 in Katowice, Poland. One of the important tasks was to ensure the full implementation of the Paris Agreement. The participating parties agreed on a common framework and details for reporting and reviewing progress towards their climate targets in the Paris Agreement Rule book. The conference also brought a close to the Talanoa Dialogue. The high-level section issued the Talanoa Call for Action, which calls upon all countries and stakeholders to act with urgency. Further, the conference had major focus on the special report on the impacts of global warming, published by the IPCC. Another outcome was a proposal by the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, to convene a Climate Summit in September 2019.
COP25, CMP15 and CMA2 will take place in Parque Bicentenario Cerillos in Santiago de Chile, Chile from 2 to 13 December 2019 with a pre-sessional period from 25 to 30 November 2019.