Back to Basics 1

While we ourselves are learning a lot here, we also want to offer some of this material learned to readers of this blog. So, at times, we will go back to “basics”.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is an alliance of 192 countries set up in 1994. Its point of departure is the conviction that human activity affects climate, mainly through CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. The member governments to the Convention committed themselves to gather and share information about greenhouse gas emission, to launch strategies aiming at reducing the impact of such emissions, and to promote adaptation measures with regard to the new conditions brought about by climate change. They also commit to support developing countries through financial means and technology transfer. To monitor and keep this Convention a body was created in the United Nations: the UNFCCC.

To accomplish the objective of “gathering information,” the UNFCCC called into existence the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: it started working in 1988. The Panel is composed of hundreds of scientists all over the world. Its latest report is built on the work of 500 scientists who wrote articles, and on another 2.500 scientists who reviewed these articles. Further review is also done at governmental level. The Panel is not directly involved in research, but uses already published peer reviewed scientific work. As a consequence, we are facing, in the work of the Panel, the best available science (BAS) today. Obviously, science evolves and grows by testing hypotheses and models: the Panel will produce a new assessment, AR5, around 2013. The results offered by the Panel leave us in little doubt: human induced global warming and climate change are a fact, that has to be taken into account in global policy making. If we accept science to diagnose our diseases, we have no reason not to accept the same science when it describes the situation of our planet.

The Panel divides its work into three main areas or working groups. Group I deals with the results of the physical sciences; Group II looks at impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; Group III investigates ways to mitigate Climate Change. The latest assessment report, AR4, was published in 2007 is very clear in distinguishing evidence, confidence and medium confidence. It also points out the issues on which there is no full agreement.

As a result of such scientific assessment, the Convention promoted in 1997 the so-called Kyoto Protocol that became legally binding in 2005. It sets concrete ad legally binding emission targets for those countries that subscribe. In Kyoto, the countries with the biggest  greenhouse gas emissions (the most developed countries) committed themselves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 5% under 1990 levels, and this in the period between 2008 and 2012. Greenhouse gas emission cuts would be achieved by national plans and through the “carbon market,” a mechanism of emissions trade. One of the most important debates at stake here in Copenhagen is precisely the continuity of that Kyoto commitment of the most industrialized countries.

 Since the Kyoto agreement, a lot has happened on the global scale: the targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have not been held (with some exceptions) and overall worldwide emissions have grown; new countries have emerged as very important greenhouse gase producers, countries that had not committed to the targets of the Protocol; we have become more conscious about the necessity for action in the long term actions on both counts of mitigation and adaptation … To sum up: there are many more actors in the game and the complexity and magnitude of the issues at stake have grown. This provides a new background that determines the negotiations in Copenhagen.

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