Climate Changes : Issues and challenges !

Climate Changes : Issues and challenges !

At a glance

  • The Conference of Parties (COP) is the annual meeting of the 196 countries plus the European Union that have joined the UN's Climate Change Convention. The 26th COP (COP26) will take place in Glasgow in November 2021.
  • Climate change is a global problem with unequal impacts – addressing climate change is a matter of justice.
  • Progress has been slow. Until now, few countries have taken strong action –  and current commitments to reduce emissions are still far from sufficient.
  • But there is now a clear destination shared by the whole global community. Action is increasing in more and more countries and at many levels of society. Momentum needs to build rapidly – and there is a role for everyone, from local to global scales, in making this happen.

What is the problem?

Addressing climate change is a matter of justice – but also politically contested


Climate change disrupts ecosystems and threatens to alter fundamentally the conditions for life on our planet. It affects everyone – but is likely to hit the poorest first and hardest. Addressing climate change involves reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit temperature rise (mitigation) as well as preparing for the consequences of living on a warmer planet (adaptation). Action on all levels, from global to local, is required to make sure this happens quickly and in a just manner, with the responsibility for taking climate action, as well as the benefits of doing so, distributed fairly across and within countries.



What are the key characteristics of the problem?

The Kyoto dilemma


The first attempts to implement the UN Climate Change Convention led to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol at COP3, in 1997. The treaty agreed legally binding emissions reduction targets for developed countries, but set no targets, either binding or voluntary, for developing nations. It included options for the developed countries to fund emissions-reducing projects in other countries, and count these emissions reductions towards their own targets. In the end, however, fears over the economic costs of mitigation meant that the developed nations agreed to targets which amounted to an overall reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of just 5% below 1990 levels in the period 2008-2012. In spite of this relatively modest goal, the US never ratified the protocol, and Canada was later to withdraw from it, further reducing the share of global emissions covered by the treaty.



What is the solution?

The Copenhagen interpretation


Despite falling well below the expectations for a global treaty, the Copenhagen Accord planted some important seeds. It articulated a goal of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2°C, and called for future consideration of strengthening this target to 1.5°C. It set a target of $100bn per year of climate finance for developing countries by the year 2020. And, in the absence of collectively negotiated emissions targets, it asked all parties, developed and developing, to provide a list of voluntary planned mitigation actions and targets.

With no quantified emissions targets, and no sanctions, the Accord was widely condemned as insufficient in its time. But with hindsight this list of hasty face-saving compromises can be seen as the first draft of a new approach, which was developed over the next few years, and adopted – to some fanfare – at COP21 in Paris, in 2015. 



What is stopping the solution being implemented?

A step in the dark


But, at the same time, the Paris Agreement is a step in the dark. With no top-down negotiated targets or sanctions, and only guidance based on expectations about what kind of ambition countries should aim for, there is a clear risk that countries will leave it to others to act. Indeed, the first round of NDCs, even if fully implemented, would still lead to an estimated temperature rise of at least 3°C by the end of the century. And time is running out – scientists warn that we must halve global emissions within the decade, and continue with steep reductions thereafter, if we are to put the world on an emissions pathway consistent with the relatively ‘safe’ limit of 1.5°C.



How can these barriers be removed?

Pledge, review and ratchet – the work starts here


These challenges are real, and allow no room for complacency. The innovative ‘bottom-up’ approach of Paris is far from being risk-free. On the other hand, experience had already shown that holding out for a global treaty with top-down targets was no option at all.

The results of the initial stocktake were disappointing, but not unexpected – in fact they were anticipated by the ‘pledge, review and ratchet’ process. More positively, the 191 NDCs submitted represent a very high rate of engagement with the process. Further, following the 2018 stocktake, 48 new or revised NDCs have been submitted. Admittedly, these revised submissions amount to only a 2.8% reduction by 2030 compared to the countries’ original NDCs, and are consequently still a long way off course for 1.5°C or even 2°C. However, these developments show the process is beginning to work – albeit with a long way to go. Many more parties should submit revised NDCs this year. COP26 will be an important first chance to analyse critically countries’ responses to the review and ratchet process.




As we approach thirty years since the adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, there is justifiable frustration and anger at the slow pace of action, and the injustice of this. This is reflected, for example, in the youth-led climate strikes that swept around the world in 2019 as well as the formation of more radical activist movements such as Extinction Rebellion.