International Climate Change Agreements

Have you ever wondered why climate change discourse always mentions Paris? Well, Paris is not only the capital of France, the city of love, or the so-called Ville Lumière, but also where the highest number of countries in history met to discuss climate change. Find out about this example of an international climate change agreement in our explanation below!

International Climate Change Agreements International Climate Change Agreements

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Table of contents

    International agreements to reduce climate change

    Before introducing a list of the most significant International Climate Change Agreements, let’s briefly understand what they generally aim at.

    International Climate Change Agreements mainly bring together government officials and scientists or other experts in the field to discuss issues related to the human-caused climate crisis that we are witnessing.

    With the human-caused climate crisis, we refer to the current global warming that we are experiencing due to CO2 emissions into the environment. CO2 is a greenhouse gas that is emitted from burning fossil fuels such as coal and petrol, which are non-renewable sources of energy for industries.

    Indeed, one of the original aims of such agreements was to find a consensus on the urgency of the challenges of climate change.

    In the past years, most political leaders of states and international organisations have realised that through global governance, we can coordinate a global political response that has a short-term and long-term impact on the world around us. Such efforts include CO2 emission reduction policies and setting longer-term targets such as net zero (zero emissions).

    Global Agreements and Globalisation

    International agreements to reduce climate change are a crucial example of political globalisation since they bring together representatives of all parts of the world to discuss issues related to the interconnectedness of the world. Therefore, International Agreements are a form of global governance.

    This is because Globalisation and the Environment are often seen as linked. Globalisation opened up capitalism, access to free markets, and industrialisation, leading to higher levels of pollution and the production of greenhouse gases. As these factors which contribute to climate change are having a global impact, the answer to the Challenge of Climate Change is often cited to rest on global political cooperation.

    The principal value of International Climate Change Agreements is that they attempt to tackle the issue globally since responsibilities and impact are shared but not equal.

    The Global North has historically contributed to CO2 emissions more significantly, and emissions from Global South countries are related to the production of goods consumed in the Global North.

    Branches of ecology, such as Deep Ecology, advocate for International Climate Change Agreements to focus on finding solutions that also acknowledge the disproportionate causes and effects of the climate crisis. Such a position is often described as climate justice, a political approach which seeks to transition to sustainable economies and ways of living that also consider the disparities between people in terms of responsibilities and the experienced impact of climate change.

    Climate change agreements timeline

    Agreements are usually reached after a summit held by the UN. These summits are Conferences Of the Parties (COP). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) plays a massive role in providing the scientific context on which actions are decided.

    Just before COP24 in Katowice, the IPCC published a report that warns of potential catastrophes such as heat waves, storms, and floods if the temperature rises after industrial levels exceed 1.5°1.

    International Climate Change Agreement UN Climate change agreements timeline StudySmarterFig. 1 The symbol of the UN, the most crucial international organisation that looks for solutions to the climate crisis.

    Now that you are familiar with the global context of International Climate Change Agreements take a look at this overview below:

    • 1992 - UNFCCC. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: This Convention brought together nearly all countries of the world to set a global consensus on the urgency of climate change and to express the need for a unified global framework to conform to the Challenge of Climate Change.
    • 1997 - Kyoto Protocol: During the Kyoto Protocol, CO2 Emission reduction was developed as the most crucial measure to mitigate climate change. The Kyoto Protocol put the UNFCCC into practice; however, it did not come into effect until 2005. High-polluting countries such as the USA were not signatories at first. A Senate resolution, the Byrd-Hegel Resolution, prevented the USA from adjusting to the targets set by the Protocol.
    • 2009 - COP15 Copenhagen: Copenhagen was a defeat for action on climate change since the new Kyoto Protocol, or Kyoto 2.0, was supposed to be articulated; however, most parties came up with a non-binding accord that was just taken note of and not adopted. On this occasion, the US under President Obama started leading the negotiations and temperature-rising was targeted at a maximum of 2°C.

    • 2012 - COP18 Doha and Doha Amendment: the parties which took part in this climate summit extended the Kyoto Protocol to 2020, but the USA still were not a signatory. On the other side, the Doha Amendment was a significant step since, under it, developed countries committed to assisting the Global South in action to mitigate the climate crisis

    • 2015 - COP21 Paris Agreements: This is the most significant agreement reached until that point in history as it required all countries (196 countries participated) to set emissions goals. We will explore this in detail in the following subsection of the explanation.

    • 2021 - COP26 Glasgow: The summit in Glasgow was postponed to 2021 due to the COVID19 Pandemic. The Summit resulted in the Glasgow Climate Act, which we will explore later.

    Paris agreement on climate change

    The Paris Agreements in 2015 were acclaimed as the most significant ones ever reached. The agreements aimed to set the action for the post-2020 scenario since the Kyoto Agreements were limited to that year.

    The main difference from past accords was that all countries were asked to develop emissions reduction goals and the agreements were legally binding.

    A legally binding agreement is an agreement where parties are required to meet their obligations and can be judged in front of a court of law if they do not engage adequately.

    However, mechanisms to pressure states to attain the goals were not developed.

    In 2017, US President Trump withdrew the USA from the Paris Agreements.

    Paris Agreements' main decisions

    The following overview will help you understand the main measures in place in 2015.

    • The primary mission is to keep the rise in temperature below 2°C maximum but aim below 1.5°C to significantly reduce the risk of catastrophes expected by the IPCC.
    • Countries were asked to submit personal targets named NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions).
    • Developed countries were obliged to continue financing the Global South to reduce emissions. By 2020 countries were asked to reach a target of $100bn in climate finance.
    • Every country was asked to submit five-year plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

    International Climate Change Agreements Temperature rise Paris agreement climate change StudySmarterFig. 2 IPCC reports and climate change summits express urgency with thresholds in the rise of temperatures from the pre-industrial period.

    Although the agreements were reached in 2015, completing the rules and regulations took many more years. The Paris Agreement Rulebook developed at COP24 in Katowice was a pivotal moment. The latter contains mechanisms to supervise countries' commitment to the Agreements, technological solutions and the rules for negotiations to set up climate finance in 2025.

    Climate finance is a process of local, national or transnational financing from any finance that aims at setting up an economy structured around mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.

    COP26 Agreements

    After the Paris Agreement, several countries, 60% of the Paris Agreements' total signatories, submitted their NDCs (see above) before COP26 in Glasgow in 2021.

    These are some of the aims developed during the summit:

    • Stepping up financial support for adaptation, especially in areas already hit by the effects of climate change.
    • The US and China (the two biggest CO2 emitters) will cooperate to cut emissions and switch to clean energy.
    • Some countries, such as Canada, Brazil, Russia, China, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the US and the UK made significant commitments against deforestation, methane emissions, and coal usage.
    • Climate finance was programmed in collaboration with financial organisations committed to incentivising a transition to a sustainable economy.

    At the same time, however, an IPCC report announced that the 1.5°C thresholds would be exceeded within the next two decades regardless of the proposed emission reduction. In order to prevent warming between 1.5 and 2.0°C2, the IPCC report calls for global political leaders to enact larger-scale emission reductions in our CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions.

    The summit was followed by the signing of a final agreement, the Glasgow Climate Pact, which focuses on reducing coal and fossil fuels and demands stricter emissions-reduction targets by participants by the end of 2022.

    International Climate Change Agreements Pollution Climate change agreements timeline StudySmarterFig. 3 CO2 Emissions are the leading cause of climate change.

    International Agreements on climate change effects

    To understand the effects of International Agreements, we can look at the aftermath of the Paris Agreement. This chart will help you visualise its successes and shortcomings, which also generally tell us what the effects of International Agreements are.

    Paris Agreements effects

    Successes Failures
    Legally-binding agreementHowever, no enforcement or penalties mechanisms
    The USA and China's participation was significant in setting the terrain for a global commitment since the countries hadn't yet been involved in emission-reduction measures.Demands for the ratification of the Agreements by the USA were not enforced, so President Trump was able to withdraw the USA from the Paris agreement.
    States are required to set emission targetsFreedom to select one's emission targets leads to non-ambitious targets.

    Post-Paris-Agreements scientific data tells us that the temperature rise will reach 2.1°C by 2100 despite countries' commitments for 2030. However, the Climate Action Tracker3 tells us that if the countries that have set net-zero targets for 2030, with no emissions and a complete transition to green energy, the temperature rise could remain under 1.8°C.

    Obstacles to International Agreements' success

    • Sovereignty concerns: states see global governance as a threat to their political independence. Collective action demands collective decision-making and collective implementation. These lead to the need for international organisation and measures. These organisations take decisions on a majority and not unanimity since it is easier and quicker; however, this is often seen as undermining countries' sovereign power.

    • Climate change denial: The global rise of populism in Europe, South America and North America saw politicians refusing the urgency of the problem that scientific data indicates. President Trump's withdrawal of the USA from the Paris Agreements was also driven by climate change denial.

    International Climate Change Agreements - Key takeaways

    • International Climate Change Agreements are an example of global governance.
    • UN summits where climate change is discussed and measures designed are called COPs.
    • The IPCC is a UN scientific body that provides reports on human-caused climate change.
    • The main International Climate Change Agreements are the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol, the COP15 of Copenhagen, the COP18 of Doha and the following Doha Amendments, the Paris Agreements, and the COP26 in Glasgow.
    • The Paris Agreement is a legally binding agreement requiring countries to submit individual emission-reduction targets.
    • The Paris Agreement pushed for climate finance.
    • The COP26 in Glasgow set tighter emissions reduction targets, and some countries committed to stopping deforestation.
    • Sovereignty concerns and climate change denial, are two key reasons for these agreements' effects being limited.

    References

    1. National Geographic (2018), 'Climate change impacts worse than expected, global report warns'.
    2. IPCC (2021) 'Summary for policymakers'
    3. Climate Action Tracker (2021) 'Despite Glasgow Climate Pact, 2030 climate target updates have stalled'
    4. Fig. 1 United Nations Logo https://pixabay.com/vectors/nations-symbol-un-united-2022429/
    5. Fig. 2 Thermometer in Summer (https://pixabay.com/photos/thermometer-summer-hot-heat-sun-4294021/).
    6. Fig. 3 Pollution (https://pixabay.com/photos/pollution-environment-drone-aerial-4796858/).
    Frequently Asked Questions about International Climate Change Agreements

    How does international agreements reduce climate change?

    International Agreements aim to reduce climate change through emissions-cut and financial incentives to reduce polluting industrial activities. 

    What was the name of the first international agreement on climate change?

    The UNFCCC was the first international agreement on climate change. UNFCCC stands for "United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change".

    What international organisation is responsible for climate change?

    The UN is the main international organisation for the development and coordination of global governance to respond to the climate change challenge. 

    How does international agreements mitigate climate change?

    International agreements aim at mitigating climate change by pressuring state actors to reduce emissions and invest in sustainable development. 

    Why are international agreements important?

    International agreements are important for finding a global solution to a global challenge, therefore coordinating responsibilities, commitment and action globally. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following statement is true? 

    The IPCC takes care of _____. 

    When was the first international climate change agreement established? 

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