Initially, when it was first established in 1992, the Common but Differentiated Responsibilities played a vital role in determining how different countries would address climate change. The principle of the CBRD came from an idea of a ‘common heritage of mankind’, which describes a situation where all people across the world are equally responsible. However, although the principle acknowledges the equal responsibility that each country has in addressing climate change, it also acknowledges the differences that each country has in addressing these problems. Depending on economic and technical capabilities, each country may have different methods they might use to solve environmental issues. This principle is included in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), being first mentioned in the 1992 UNFCCC Treaty. The treaty was ratified by all countries involved in it, and they all acknowledged a shared responsibility in addressing climate change. However, in recent years, the role of the CBRD is evolving. Some have even argued that the CBRD doesn’t have the same level of relevance in contemporary times. Continue reading
The recent Paris Agreement, now entered into force, marks a significant step forward in cooperation to mitigate climate change and its effects. The Paris Agreement is finally a substantive treaty that delineates overarching targets and goals by which developed and developing countries can rally around. The US and China ratifying this agreement even signifies the pressing need for multilateralism to tackle the threat that global warming poses to all of humanity. Markedly significant to this agreement, is the aim to keep the global temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius, and to actively pursue action to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. While some say that Paris Agreement is not enough to solve global climate change, it’s the best that the world right now has to offer.
Compared to past negotiations for climate change, the Paris Agreement is decisively an improvement. In Rio 1992, The United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) recognized that there was a global concern for greenhouse house gas (GHG) emissions. The overall mission of the UNFCCC was to halt GHG emissions levels, yet it failed to enumerate actions to be taken. Alongside the UNFCCC, developed and developing states also disagreed upon how their roles would play out in the pursuit of mitigating climate change, especially since most emissions have come from industrial countries and imposing emissions regulations which would be unfair to the development of developing countries.
These discussions would go onto to influence the creation of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, where the “Common But Differentiated Responsibilities” model (CBDR) was a mechanism by which to operationalize the UNFCCC. This somewhat resolved the debates regarding the roles of developed and developing countries, but the CBDR within the protocol mandated emissions reductions to developed countries only. Bigger developing countries like China and Brazil were excluded from such commitments, to the chagrin of developed nations. Overall, however, the Kyoto Protocol, was largely ineffective because targets could not be met by countries who did sign on, and the US signed, but never ratified the protocol.
In 2009, the Copenhagen Conference reinforced the need to tackle climate change. This conference, however, finally saw developed states and developing states agreeing to towards setting limits on emissions. The Conference failed to produce a lasting treaty however, because targets and goals could not be agreed upon by all the states present at the summit. The current 1.5 degrees Celsius aim of the Paris Agreement was initiated at the Copenhagen Conference, but it was seen as a contentious definition as it was pulled from all resolution drafts, to the dismay of African and underdeveloped countries.
Coming back to present day, the fact that a global climate change treaty has finally been accepted by the international community is a tremendous feat for the Paris Agreement. The agreement is the result of overcoming and learning from the inadequacies of past negotiations and treaties. It is also the result of the surmounting pressure of states to create meaningful steps towards climate change, especially when each year is markedly becoming hotter and hotter. In respects to the role of developed and developing countries, the Paris Agreement makes no distinctions between the two, but encourages states to maximize the most they can to achieve the agreement’s aims as capable. Instead of mandating reductions to certain countries like through the CBRD, the Paris Agreement has implemented a framework to carry out it’s temperature aims: the Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs). These INDCs allows for states to voluntarily pledge their plans to implement the 1.5 degree aim, with a review process in place for states to strengthen these contributions.
Critics have noted, however, that these elements of the Paris Agreement leaves its effectiveness uncertain. Especially for the INDCs, since they have come under fire for depending too much on “the good will of world leaders.” Scientists have even contended that the temperature aims of the Paris Agreement are minimal at best, and will not prevent the world from warming nonetheless. Further, critics have brought up that the Paris Agreement lacks in specific numbers in regards to emissions reductions and financial investments. Yet above all these things, the Paris Agreement serves as a significant step in normalizing and creating a foundational step for climate policy in the international arena. People may have a bone to pick with technicalities of the Paris Agreement, but this has, so far been our best foot forward. Especially in a world with various interests, this is the best multilateral solution the world has yet to offer and it is better than having nothing at all.
Gaps remain in our knowledge about climate change, but the clear majority of scientists are currently convinced that the gradual rise of the Earth’s temperature has been especially evident since the late eighteenth century when the invention of power-driven machinery kick-started the Industrial Revolution and so caused an increase in the human-made gases that alter the atmospheres insulating effects. Gas molecules such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) create a greenhouse roof by trapping the heat remitted from the Earth which would otherwise escape into outer space. Since the 1950s, the emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil, and coal in order to produce energy, have climbed steadily and risen fourfold. As of 2005, the energy sector accounted for 75 percent of the worlds atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (with 70 percent of the global emissions from fossil fuel combustion) and 96 percent of the worlds CO2 emissions. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) here in the United States, by 2010, fossil fuel combustion amounted to 79 percent of US GHG and 94 percent of US CO2 emissions with 5 percent of US GHG emissions coming from the methane released by coal mining and oil and gas systems. In addition, according to Michael Jenkins (2007), President and CEO of Forest Trends, deforestation has contributed to climate change as it has accounted for, “17 to 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions…second only to energy use”. Continue reading