Climate change has become a subject that has been talked about more and more over the years. It doesn’t come as a surprise that governments need to do something about it, but how do we start the action?
Horrible events run through our minds the second someone brings up climate change. We all know the world is beginning to end. But do we really? Sure, we read articles, go vegan and watch documentaries by David Attenborough warning us that we need to protect the precious nature. But how do you reach the billions of people that roam around the planet and get them to feel the need to change their ways? Maybe by addressing their governments first.
As written by NASA, the ‘effects of human-caused global warming are already observable and irreversible on the timescale of people alive today, which will only worsen in the decades to come’.1 Climate change causes more natural disasters such as more droughts and heat waves, more intense hurricanes and rising sea levels. There is even a climate change-induced famine in Madagascar, something that has never happened before.2 The pressure to change the climate for the better has become a need.
International Environmental Law
The classic approach of international environmental issues aims to limit cross-border damage to other states. This is also known as the no-harm principle. According to international common law, a state needs to ensure that activities within its jurisdiction will cause no harm to the environment of other states. This is also recognised by the International Court of Justice. The more modern approach focuses on sustainable development. This means finding a balancing between economic, social and environmental goals. The Paris Agreement, one of the most important climate treaties, complies with this principle as it tries to realise an integration of economic growth, protection of the positions of developing countries and protection of the environment.3
The Conference of Parties 26 summit, also known as the UN Climate Change Conference or COP26, brought parties together this year in Glasgow to accelerate action towards the goals of
the Paris Agreement. Essentially, they came to set furthers rules to make the Agreement operational. The President of this COP, Alok Sharma, opened the Conference with the following speech. “Six years ago in Paris, we agreed on shared goals. We said that we would limit the rise in global temperature to well below two degrees, pursuing efforts towards one and a half. This COP is our best hope of keeping this one and a half in reach. Let’s ensure that where Paris promised, Glasgow delivers.”
To explain the outcomes of the Conference in Glasgow, we first need to look at the Paris Agreement. Everything that was agreed in the city of love forms the foundation of the rules set by parties to tackle the problem of global warming. Almost 200 countries signed the Paris Agreement. This worldwide agreement binds the countries to do their best to prevent the climate from changing too much and to keep global warming under control.
‘The pressure to change the climate for the better has become a need.’
Since the global warming is already at 1.1 degrees and recent events all around the world start to show the effects, the commitments made in Paris weren’t enough anymore. The pledges made in Paris were to be revisited at the COP in Glasgow, to make sure the countries try to uphold their promises and to negotiate further promises and aims.4
Although the Paris Agreement is legally binding, the set up and executing of plans are in the hands of the national governments. The Paris Agreement works on a 5-year cycle of increasingly ambitious climate action carried out by countries in so called NDCs (nationally determined contributions).
What makes the Paris Agreement such a landmark, is that it is the first time a multilateral process is binding so many countries to undertake serious efforts for a common cause: climate change.5 It was drafted in addition to the UNFCCC (United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change) which has the ultimate purpose to limit dangerous human interference with the climate system. As you can see by comparing the two goals of the treaties, the Paris Agreement works out the details to achieve the goals set by the UNFCCC. Now, we see the exact same thing happening with the last COP in Glasgow, where the worked-out details from Paris were revisited and adjusted in accordance with the latest events and knowledge.
As explained, all climate treaties basically have the same goal with the same principles, only the details are to be more worked out over the years. Alok Sharma acknowledged the scale of the task remaining. He said: “We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5C alive. But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.”6 The Glasgow climate pact was adopted, and the future looks bright if we keep adjusting our goals and keep giving our best efforts to lower the rise of the temperature.
‘Let’s ensure that where Paris promised, Glasgow delivers.’
1 ‘The Effects of Climate Change’ climate.nasa.gov.
2 A. Harding, ‘Madagascar on the brink of climate change-induced famine’ bbc.com, 25 August 2021.
3 A. Nollkaemper, Kern van het internationaal publiekrecht, Den Haag: Boom juridisch 2016, par 11.7 en ICJ, Legality of the Use by a State of Nuclear Weapons in Armed Conflict, Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 1996, par 26.
4 ‘COP26: What was agreed at the Glasgow climate conference?’ bbc.com, 15 November 2021.
5 ‘The Paris Agreement’ unfccc.int.
6 F. Harvey, D. Carrington and L. Brooks, ‘COP26 ends in climate agreement despite India watering down coal resolution’ theguardian.com, 13 November 2021.