The layperson’s guide to climate change. What’s happening and what’s being done about it.
Understanding the impact of climate change can be a little bit of a learning curve. And, it’s a hot topic these days, occasionally promoting political polarization. Next time you get into one of these discussions, you’ll be able to hold your own.
Better than that, though? As a result of educating yourself, you’ll make a difference by curbing your carbon footprint.
So. What does it mean when world leaders talk about carbon markets? What is the Kyoto Protocol? And what was so significant about the Paris Agreement?
These and many other questions arise whenever news about climate change surfaces.
Global warming and global cooling are cyclical.
The OSS Foundation tells us that the world climate has oscillated between warm periods and ice ages during the past one million years.
However, human activity over the past 150 years has disrupted this natural and relatively slow cycle. This disruption has accelerated global warming, and each year is getting warmer compared to the last. This is the climate change that countries around the world are trying to fight and stop.
There was a need to establish a clear goal and define what it means to stop climate change.
The upper limit for temperature increase that scientists came up with was 2 degrees Celsius.
Why 2 degrees?
There are two aspects to setting this threshold: scientific and political.
The scientific aspect is that if the planet’s temperature increases more than 2 degrees Celsius, most island nations, such as Malta, would submerge, either entirely or partially. Additionally, most coastal cities in the United States of America, China, India, South Africa, and Europe would also lose significant low-lying regions. Essentially, vast tracts of hospitable land would disappear.
Moreover, we would also see an increase in the duration and intensity of droughts, floods, hurricanes, and other weather phenomena.
Scientifically, those are the reasons why the number is significant, though it wouldn’t cause a massive uproar in a lot of non-coastal regions. This is where the second aspect of setting this goal came into being: the political discourse regarding climate change required countries worldwide to agree on a number. They needed to choose a threshold significant enough to get every country on board.
Forty-seven countries of the United Nations are island nations, so they readily agreed to any efforts to stop climate change. However, many landlocked nations were still reluctant. Nevertheless, diplomatic efforts made those reluctant nations realize that if 47 countries flood, it would create a vast refugee crisis in land-locked countries. This maneuvering helped get many landlocked countries on board as well.
Now that we understand the primary goal of all climate agreements, let’s take a look at a few significant treaties repeatedly mentioned in the news.
One that comes up most often is the UNFCC or the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The UNFCC is a non-binding international treaty with 197 countries as its signatory.
The UNFCC treaty explicitly mentions limiting global temperature increases by 2 degrees Celsius.
However, as previously mentioned, this is a non-binding treaty.
The UN needed something to operationalize this treaty and make countries accountable.
In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol (KP) was adopted by the world’s developed nations. KP is binding on signatory countries. Per the protocol, all signatories were required to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5% by 2013.
They further agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 13% by 2020. Via KP, the developed countries agreed that since they had been significant emitters of greenhouse gasses for the last 150 years, they’d take on more responsibility.
This agreement was codified by the phrase, “Common but differentiated responsibility.”
This also meant that each country was required to develop its own goals related to reducing emissions.
As a result, it took all the countries nearly eight years to ratify this protocol. So, the Kyoto Protocol (KP) came into force in the year 2005.
Of course, by then, countries like China and India had become significant contributors to greenhouse gasses. So, to bring all the new emitters on board, KP was amended to provide three services:
- Reporting and verification services: To ensure that KP could verify the goals of countries.
- Flexible market-based mechanisms: To aid developing countries via technology transfers and financing. Also, developed countries were allowed to accomplish their emission reduction goals by helping other countries.
- Compliance services: To establish quality standards that would provide transparency and credibility to the carbon market.
What is the carbon market?
The carbon market is a market in which carbon emissions are treated as a commodity, and countries can help each other reduce emissions.
In simple terms, every time a country helps another country, they earn points. Also, each time countries reduce emissions, they get points
Let’s talk about the Paris Agreement.
While the Kyoto Protocol was limited to a few countries, the Paris Agreement is all-encompassing.
The delay in enforcing the Kyoto Protocol had created an urgent situation. The goal was to get as many countries as possible to come on board to stop climate change. It was adopted by 196 parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on November 4, 2016. As a result, fifty-five of the major economies responsible for 55% of the world’s carbon emissions ratified the agreement; thus, they brought it into force.
Today, it has near-universal membership. The 197 countries that have ratified the Convention are called Parties to the Convention.
The Paris Agreement has given a significant boost to the fight against climate change.
The Paris agreement has components similar to what KP has, offering:
- Appropriate financial aid
- Technology transfer frameworks
- Enhanced transparency services to member countries
Climate change is an existential threat to the world. Earlier estimates of when we would hit the 2-degree threshold have been revised multiple times.
We already crossed the milestone of 1-degree Celsius of temperature rise in 2019.
Having come together and agreed to save the planet, all involved countries must now act before it’s too late.
Some countries are making significant strides toward mitigating climate change.
Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, one of the CAT’s constituent organizations, said, “Few major emitters are taking the kind of action that will keep warming to 1.5 Celsius, but some, like India, the EU, and China, could step up. However, suppose all governments meet their Paris Agreement target. In that case, we calculate the world would still see 3 C of warming. Still, warming is likely to be even higher, given that most are not taking enough action to meet their targets. We still have a long way to go.”
Nevertheless, some countries are making considerable efforts:
Morocco’s National Energy Strategy calls for generating 52 percent of its electricity production from renewables by 2030.
Already Morocco has made a significant impact on the problem, thanks to projects such as the Noor Ouarzazate complex, the largest concentrated solar farm globally, which covers an area the size of 3,500 football fields, it generates enough electricity to power two cities the size of Marrakesh.
India has emerged as a global leader in renewable energy. It is investing more in them than it is in fossil fuels. Having established a goal of generating 40 percent of its power through renewables by 2030, its progress has been rapid.
Dear to our heart, as Costa Rica is home to the PuraVida Cure brand, we are so pleased to add her to our list.
Costa Rica has launched an economy-wide plan to “decarbonize” the country by 2050. The Central American nation aims to show other nations what is possible to address climate change.
In 2018 it had already generated 98 percent of its electricity from renewable sources—primarily hydropower—for the fourth consecutive year.
In 2019, Costa Rica unveiled a plan to achieve zero emissions by 2050 to fight climate change. The goal would be to produce no more emissions than it can offset by maintaining and expanding its extensive forests.
Such emission cuts are crucial to holding increases in global temperature to well under 2C (3.6F), the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
Lynette Garet is a bilingual freelance writer. A U.S. ex-pat living in Costa Rica with her wife Silvia, when not busy with writing projects, she can be found hanging with her favorite “stinky boys” (the Grand-Littles), tending to her garden, cooking, reading, enjoying good wine, and dancing in the kitchen to music from a limitless list of genres.