Recognizing Climate Change: The Early Days

The journey of organized climate action is fascinating as it is dynamic, evolving from just a fledgling awareness to a global movement. From the early days of recognizing the threat it posed to the planet, through groundbreaking international treaties and into today’s diverse and innovative strategies, the narrative of climate action is one of growing urgency and collaboration. This article will explore the pivotal moments and agreements that have come to define the movement.

The recognition of climate change began with a discovery, tracing back to the 19th century. However, it wasn’t a cause of concern until the second half of the 1980s. Scientists brought climate change to the attention of the general public following a record-breaking heatwave in the summer of 1988.

Establishing the IPCC

In 1989, the United Nations created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to study climate change and its effects on politics and the economy. As the reality of global warming became accepted, scientists explored its potential consequences, including extreme heat waves, severe droughts, and stronger hurricanes due to warmer sea temperatures. They also warned that melting polar glaciers could raise sea levels significantly by 2100, posing a threat to coastal cities. The following decade would see an explosion in awareness of climate change.

The United Nations: Pioneering the Fight Against Climate Change

The UN’s efforts have focused on bringing countries together to discuss, negotiate, and set actionable goals to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming, showcasing a commitment to leading worldwide initiatives for environmental protection and sustainability.

The Earth Summit and the creation of the UNFCCC

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a key international treaty aimed at combating human interference with the climate by stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Signed in 1992, the UNFCCC established a framework for negotiating specific international treaties (known as protocols) to set binding emissions reduction targets for countries.

The Conference of Parties

The Conference of the Parties (COP) was established as the supreme governing body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to oversee and promote the implementation of the Convention in the fight against climate change. Comprising all countries that have ratified the convention, the COP meets annually to assess progress, negotiate agreements, and set climate policies aimed at reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. The first Conference of the Parties (COP1) was held in Berlin, Germany, in 1995. This inaugural session marked the beginning of the annual meetings under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to address global climate change challenges.

The Kyoto Protocol

Signed in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol, set binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the EU to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This marked a significant move towards understanding and addressing climate change at an international level. It introduced market mechanisms like emissions trading to encourage cost-effective greenhouse gas reduction, establishing a rigorous system for monitoring, reporting, and ensuring compliance with emissions targets. 

The Paris Agreement

The Kyoto Protocol’s mechanisms and targets laid the groundwork for global climate action. However, its adoption highlighted the challenges of imposing uniform targets across diverse economies. This led to the signing of the 2015 Paris Agreement – a significant evolution in global climate policy. Expanding the commitment to include 195 countries, it introduced more flexible and ambitious climate goals aimed at keeping global warming below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement requires all participating countries to set their own climate action plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs),  for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These plans are updated every five years, with each update intended to be more ambitious than the last. This is done to reflect the agreement’s goal to progressively increase global efforts to limit global warming. It also emphasizes the importance of financial support for developing countries, promoting transparency in reporting, and a global stocktake every five years to assess collective progress towards the agreement’s long-term goals.

Climate Action in the Present Day

Significant progress was made in the global adoption of climate action following the Paris Agreement. Sustainable initiatives and climate-fighting actions gained substantial momentum globally. These include corporate emissions reduction pledges, urban climate resilience enhancements, financial sector shifts away from fossil fuels, technological advances in renewable energy, growing public demand for climate action through social movements, and accelerated national efforts to meet climate goals. 

The journey of climate action has evolved from an emerging awareness to a comprehensive global movement. Through groundbreaking treaties like the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, countries around the world have united to confront one of our biggest challenges. Today, we see an unprecedented level of commitment from nations, businesses, and communities towards reducing emissions, enhancing resilience, and fostering sustainability. As we continue to build on this momentum, the future of climate action promises even greater collaboration and progress towards safeguarding our planet for future generations.