CLIMATE CHANGE AND INTERNATIONAL LAW

Authors:

Riya Mathur, Durham University England

Sameera Naiyar, Jamia Millia Islamia University

Editor: Masoom Israney, Middlesex University Dubai



Global warming and its effects, collectively called climate change, have already had an observable impact on our environment in the form of melting glaciers, accelerated sea-level rise causing frequent floods, as well as on our health and financial markets. The inception of the relationship between international law and climate change dates back to 1972 when the first UN environment conference in Stockholm was held, and further led to the formation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or the UNFCCC is an international treaty which was opened for signature at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, also popularly called the "Earth Summit." Upon ratification, it set out its objective to "stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system[1] The membership of this Convention is said to be almost universal owing to the fact that it is signed by nearly 197 countries. The limits set on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries under this Convention are not binding, and there exist no enforcement mechanisms. Rather, it guides on how certain international treaties can be agreed upon to further achieve the main objective of the UNFCCC.

This Convention was based on the notion of States having common but differentiated responsibilities, which was the most relevant part of the Rio Declaration. This was because it was agreed upon by the Parties of the Convention that it was in the developed countries that the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases had emerged. Moreover, the per capita emissions of developing countries were still relatively low.[2]

Kyoto Protocol

An important international treaty which built upon the aim of the Convention is the Kyoto Protocol. It was adopted in Kyoto, a small town in Japan on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. It essentially recognises that different countries have common but differentiated responsibilities based on their capabilities owing to economic development. Therefore, the obligation is on developed countries to help combat the detrimental effects of climate change, and China, India, and other developing countries were exempted from the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol. It mainly sets targets for industrialised countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.[3] The Protocol separated countries into two groups: Annex I contained developed nations, and Non-Annex I contained developing countries. Emission limits were placed on Annex I countries only. Non-Annex I countries could invest in projects to lower emissions in their countries. [4]

This treaty saw two commitment periods: the first commitment period lasted from 2008 to December 2012, in which a financial crisis and the dissolution of the Soviet Union were the two major factors for lower emissions. The second commitment period started when parties to the Convention met in December 2012 in Doha, Qatar, to make an amendment to the Protocol through the Doha Amendment. While it made additions to the Protocol in terms of new emission reductions targets for the second commitment period, it had a considerably short lifespan. The Paris Climate Agreement replaced the Kyoto Protocol in a sustainable development summit held in Paris in 2015.

The Montreal Protocol

The Montreal Protocol, which was agreed on 16th September 1987, and entered into force on 1st January 1989, had its primary objective as ensuring the protection of the ozone layer by phasing out the production of various substances that contribute to the depletion of ozone. This treaty has been regarded as one of the most successful international treaties due to its widespread adoption and implementation, which has made a substantial positive change in ozone levels.

2019 Climate Action Summit

The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, hosted the 2019 Climate Action Summit on 23 September 2019 to meet the climate challenge with the objective of boosting ambition and accelerating actions to implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.[5]

The summit was held in New York. The theme of this summit was “Climate Action Summit 2019: A Race We Can Win. A Race We Must Win”. [6] It essentially sought to challenge states, countries, cities, companies, investors, and citizens to step up action in the areas of energy transitions, climate-financing and carbon pricing, industry transition, nature-based solutions, cities, and local action resilience.

Antonio Guterres has directed the leaders to come up with plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by the year 2050. These demands set a high benchmark for ambition. Only a handful of largely developed countries have by far committed to the goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. Guterres also demanded that countries reduce their carbon emissions by at least 45% by 2030, to end subsidies of fossil fuels and ban the setting up of new coal plants after 2020.

The Climate Action Summit strengthened the global understanding that the limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius is the socially, economically, politically as well as scientifically safe limit for the ending of global warming by the end of this century, and for achieving this the world needs to accomplish the zero-transmission limit by 2050.[7]

In preparation for the Summit, nine coalitions were established so as to make sure transformative outcomes are consistent with an appointment for the Member States. The coalitions specialise in the following action areas:

1) social and political drivers of change;

2) transition to renewable energy;

3) industry;

4) infrastructure, cities and native action;

5) nature-based solutions;

6) resilience and adaptation;

7) mitigation;

8) finance and carbon pricing; and

9) youth and citizen mobilization.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to assess climate change based on the latest science. It was created with the ultimate objective of providing policymakers with regular scientific evaluations and assessments on climate change and its implications. It also focuses on potential future risks and puts forward the various adaptation and mitigation options. The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was published back in 2014. The next Assessment Report, AR6, is supposed to be published in 2022.[8]

The land is already under growing human pressure, and global climate change is adding to those pressures. At an equivalent time, keeping heating to well below 2ºC is often achieved only by reducing greenhouse emission emissions from all sectors, including land and food, the Intergovernmental Panel on global climate change (IPCC) said in its latest reports.[9]

IPCC assessments and special reports are prepared by three Working Groups, each watching a particular aspect of the science associated with climate change: working party I (The physics Basis), working party II (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability), and dealing Group III (Mitigation of Climate Change). The IPCC also features a Task Force on National Greenhouse Emission Inventories, whose main objective is to develop and refine a strategy for the calculation and reporting of national greenhouse emissions and removals. The Working Groups and Task Force handle the preparation of reports, selecting and managing the experts who are employed as authors. The activities of every working party and, therefore, the Task Force is supported by their Technical Support Units (TSU).

Conclusion

With the prevention of climate change being the need of the hour, international law in the form of treaties and protocols has been a massive success in creating a basis for negotiating multilateral solutions. Although there has been evidence of a few shortcomings in this area, it has largely produced some of the most effective treaties and protocols, often having an almost universal member base.

[1]." United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (adopted on 9 May 1992, opened for signature on 4 June 1992), art. 2. [2] NCERT, Contemporary World Politics (National Council of Educational Research and Training 2019). [3] Ibid. [4] 'What Is The Kyoto Protocol? | Earth.Org - Past | Present | Future' (Earth.Org - Past | Present | Future, 2020) <https://earth.org/the-kyoto-protocol/> accessed 18 August 2020. [5] Step up climate action, improve health, change lives (United Nations Climate Action Summit, 23 September 2019) <https://www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2019/09/23/default-calendar/united-nations-climate-action-summit > accessed 17 august 2020 [6] Climate Action Summit 2019 (SDG Knowledge Hub, 23 September 2019) < http://sdg.iisd.org/events/un-2019-climate-summit/> accessed 17 August 2020 [7] Climate action <https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/un-climate-summit-2019.shtml> accessed 17 august 2020 [8] The Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC <https://unfccc.int/topics/science/workstreams/cooperation-with-the-ipcc/the-fifth-assessment-report-of-the-ipcc> accessed 17 august 2020 [9] Zee News ( Aug 08, 2019) https://zeenews.india.com/environment/land-under-pressure-from-humans-climate-change-ipcc-report-> accessed 18 august 2020

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