Climate Change: An Analysis

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Climate change is a long-term shift in weather conditions identified by changes in temperature, precipitation, winds, and other indicators.

The earth’s climate is regulated by the balance between incoming and outgoing solar energy, which determines the Earth’s energy balance. Any factor that causes a sustained change to the amount of incoming energy or outgoing energy can lead to climate change.

Factors causing climate change

Factors that cause climate change can be divided into three categories, viz., external natural factors, man-made factors and natural internal factors.

External natural factors include changes in volcanic activity, solar output, and the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. These factors primarily influence the amount of incoming energy and generally have a short-term effect. On the other hand, natural internal factors include variations in ocean currents or atmospheric circulations.

It is the man-made factors, that is, climate change caused by human activities, which is of greatest concern. This is because it influences both incoming and outgoing energy and could have far-reaching environmental, social, and economic consequences.

Why does it matter?

If climate change continues at the present rate, then earth in future (by 2100) will be no longer liveable. Already the signs in the form of changes in precipitations (Chennai floods in 2015); rise in sea levels; changes in seasonal periods as visible from no fix period for winters, summers or rainy seasons; warmer sea surface temperatures means stronger and frequent typhoons (in 2015 almost every other typhoon or hurricane was a category V storm); and last but not the least, the emergence of environmental refugees which will entail a huge political, economic, social and strategic cost for countries living on the fringe of coasts.

Efforts so far

The first instance of awareness towards this phenomenon was made in 1962 when the Club of Rome published “Limits to Growth” and later on Brundtland Commission in 1987 emphasised in sustainable development.

But the first concrete steps towards controlling climate change came in the form of Montreal Protocol (1987) that emphasised on controlling Ozone gas so as to lessen the size of Ozone hole. This treaty has been so far the most successful treaty in environmental space.

To tackle the climate change more effectively, in 1990s, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came into being leading to organisation of Conference of Parties (COP) that saw the coming together of all the UN member nations. So far 21 COP have been held with the COP 21 being held in Paris, France.

Paris climate summit 2015

United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21 or CMP 11 was held in Paris, France, from 30 November to 12 December 2015. It was the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The conference negotiated the Paris Agreement, a global agreement on the reduction of climate change. The agreement facilitates enforcement of global green house emission reduction measures in the post-2020 (post Kyoto Protocol) scenario.

The agreement will become legally binding if joined by at least 55 countries which together represent at least 55 percent of global greenhouse emissions.  Such parties will need to sign the agreement in New York between 22 April 2016 and 21 April 2017, and also adopt it within their own legal systems

Achievements of the summit

• The accord achieved one major goal. It limits average global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures and strives for a limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) if possible.
• Every country will need to submit their plans every five years. Moreover, the reporting and monitoring system is to be more transparent and comprehensive. In particular, emerging and developing countries that now dominate emissions like China will be part of that system.
• The agreement calls for developed countries to raise at least 100 billion dollars annually in order to assist developing countries

Sticking points in the accord

• COP21 does not mandate exactly how much each country must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Rather, it sets up a bottom-up system in which each country will set a “nationally determined contribution” and then explain how it plans to achieve it.
• Though, the agreement calls for the creation of a committee of experts to “facilitate implementation” and “promote compliance”, but it won’t have the power to punish violators.
• Another issue, was whether there would be compensation to be paid to countries that will see irreparable damage from climate change but have done almost nothing to cause it. Not much is achieved on this.

The Paris summit is a step in the right direction, although a small one. As it stands, it will at best slow the pace at which the world reaches a possible disaster. Growth of the world economy has been more than the fall in emissions per unit of output. If growth is not to be sacrificed this rate of decline must be increased.

What really matters is not the Paris agreement, but what follows. The national plans must be ambitious and swift. The world also needs a new pattern of investment and technological innovation, new sources of finance, backed by changed incentives. It is far too early to feel confident that the curve of emissions will now bend downwards.