To prevent an irreversible chain reaction of climate catastrophe, we must marshal our scientific acumen, political will, and technological prowess on a global scale to contain global temperature rise.
When it comes to the climate crisis, we are running out of time.
In 1994, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change established the Conference of the Parties (COP) to encourage UN member states to meet annually to discuss scientific data and technological advances related to climate change and implement international environmental agreements. Despite the global interest in addressing climate change, the next 29 years would be characterized by lukewarm international efforts to divert a climate catastrophe. In line with this record, the recent COP27 hosted by Egypt failed to secure cooperation on key issues and induce the necessary commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
One of the earliest international environmental treaties was the Montreal Protocol of 1987. The Montreal Protocol was a success because all 197 UN member states ratified the treaty and it effectively coordinated international efforts to eradicate about 99 percent of ozone-depleting substances (ODS). One major reason behind its success was that it established a “Multilateral Fund” to provide financial backing to countries, especially those who were not meeting their goals. It also prioritized the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities” by giving developing countries more time to eliminate their production of ODS.
The Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force in 2005, was the first “legally binding” climate treaty that aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, it was not successful because the United States never ratified it and China was not required to commit to stringent emissions reduction targets. As this treaty required real economic sacrifices from industrialized countries, it was unable to effectively coordinate international efforts.
The most comprehensive environmental treaty to date was the Paris Agreement of 2015. The Paris Accords required all UN member states to commit to containing average global temperature increases to below 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures through setting nationally determined contributions (NDCs). However, this unenforceable agreement was vulnerable to the vicissitudes of domestic politics that led countries to renege on their climate commitments or abandon the treaty altogether, as the United States did under President Donald Trump. Consequently, most climate change experts say that countries’ emissions reduction plans are not sufficient and will not be executed quickly enough to contain temperature increases to 1.5°C.
What lies behind the failure of international climate treaties to secure meaningful action?