Talks

COP 25, a new step change

 By Eniday Staff

What do the dates 14 June 1992, 11 December 1997 and 12 December 2015 have in common? They are the milestones on the path to understanding our planet, marking the dates when the world came together to discuss global climate change…

Climate change is caused by climate-altering gases, the most prolific of which is carbon dioxide. As an essential part of the life cycle of animals and plants, CO2 is naturally present in the atmosphere, but human combustion activities have substantially increased CO2 levels. Everything from coal-fired power stations, ship chimneys, motorbike exhausts to kitchen cookers generates varying amounts of carbon dioxide, adding to atmospheric concentrations in such significant amounts that we are now seeing a rise in temperatures and adverse effects on natural ecosystems. If we continue on this path, glaciers are at risk of melting, with the knock-on effect of rising sea levels.

Heading in the right direction

To understand the impact of carbon dioxide, consider that without any CO2 in our atmosphere, Earth’s average temperature would be more than 30 degrees lower.  And so, it is clear that we owe the Earth, with its micro-organisms, plants, animals, mammals and humans, a much higher duty of care than we have given it up to now.
On June 14 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, the first real Earth Summit, convened by the United Nations to initiate a dialogue on the actions to be taken to limit the impact of human activities on the equilibrium of our planet. The result at the end of the 11-day conference was the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The convention was the starting point for the launch of a panorama of policies, which all 165 signatory countries committed to, with the aim of reversing global warming and tackling its consequences.

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United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (legal.un.org)

So, what of the impact of Rio? Reaching a consensus between 165 countries, each with its own history and legitimate needs, might seem an impossible ask, but there was no other way to tackle this issue. But was it a success? If we look at the aims of Rio and the progress made since 1992, on the surface it appears that the group of 165 could certainly have achieved more. It is only when we start to observe things at a country by country level that we can begin to see how many of the signatory countries to the UNFCCC made progress in the final years of the last century. It is certainly true that European countries were at the forefront of this move in a positive direction. Their efforts and willingness to take the lead produced visible results and this includes the efforts of Italy, particularly its energy sector. It has been said that the UNFCCC was merely the first step on a long and complicated journey, and each country had a clear duty to make an individual contribution.  To this end, the United Nations has convened what is now called the Conference of Parties (COP) every year since 1995, when the Convention entered into force, albeit, initially, without the involvement of some key players, including the United States, China, India and Russia. Subsequently, the number of countries participating in the development of the convention has risen to the current 197 members, each involved in different ways and with different methods.

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Kyoto Protocol U.S. Vice Pres. Al Gore delivering the opening speech of the conference in Kyōto, Japan, that led to the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, December 1997 (Katsumi Kasahara/AP Images)

The absence of the US

But what of the other two dates? They relate to the Kyoto COP 3 of 1997 and the Paris COP 21 of 2015. At the first, work began on defining the specific obligations of signatory countries to ensure a reduction in climate-changing gas emissions. Not all UNFCCC countries signed up for the commitments made in the ancient Japanese capital and those that did accounted for just one sixth of global carbon dioxide emissions. It wasn’t until the Paris conference that a clearly defined simple target was set, to limit the average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, now standing at around 0.7 (between 0.5 and 0.9 according to different data and measurement methods).  The scientific community has suggested that this limit will ensure the global effects of climate change can be contained within manageable levels, especially in relation to regional climate changes and rising sea levels. The target may easy to understand but it will be anything but easy to achieve, still it has been backed by practically all signatory countries, with the  exception of the United States following Trump’s administration. But progress has been slow amongst those signing up.  According to estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, activities carried out so far on a global level are nowhere near sufficient to meet the target and at this rate, by the end of the century, the increase in average temperatures could be much higher than the expected 1.5 degrees, possibly reaching 3.5 degrees. This lack of global action stems from the withdrawal of the United States coupled with economic growth in Asia, especially in China and India, with a resulting rapid increase in energy supply. Europe meanwhile is continuing to push forward and make a concerted effort to drag the rest of the world with it. And so, the challenge for the COP 25 Madrid is to raise awareness amongst the more reluctant countries and encourage them to take further steps towards reducing emissions.

READ MORE: The carbon climate solution by Michelle Leslie

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Eniday Staff