Climate change poses a serious threat to peoples’ livelihoods and to ecosystems across the globe. Addressing climate change requires concerted action at the international level. Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement, Parties meet regularly to advance the international framework for addressing climate change, including the mitigation of climate change, the adaptation to a changing climate, and the support given to developing countries. The upcoming 27thConference of the Parties (COP27) will take place in Sharm ElSheikh (Egypt) from 6 to 18 November 2022.
The international framework for addressing climate change
The UNFCCC constitutes the overarching framework for addressing climate change. Under this framework, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997, which established greenhouse gas emission targets for developed countries only and did not prevent global emissions from increasing substantially in the last two decades. In 2015, the Paris Agreement was adopted, which commits all its Parties to ambitious mitigation and adaptation actions. The Paris Agreement addresses the mitigation of climate change, including through carbon markets, the adaptation to climate change, loss and damage associated with its adverse effects, and support given to developing countries. The main instruments for increasing climate action are the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) which Parties have to communicate regularly, and the global stocktake, a process for assessing collective progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement. The goals of the Paris Agreement aim at (1) limiting the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit this increase to 1.5°C; (2) increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and to foster climate resilience; and (3) making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development. Greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation and international maritime transport are also addressed by specialised United Nations agencies. These sectors are characterised by strong emission increases in recent decades, and instruments for effectively mitigating these emissions are currently not in place. The emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which also increased strongly in recent years, are also addressed by the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol.
Implementation of the Paris Agreement
In the years following the adoption of the Paris Agreement, Parties negotiated the rules for its implementation. At the climate change conference in Katowice in 2018, major decisions related to mitigation, adaptation, support and accountability were adopted. At COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, these decisions were complemented by the rules for international carbon markets and by guidance for transparency. The current focus of the climate negotiation is on the implementation of the Paris Agreement, which includes a work programme to increase mitigation ambition, the framing of the global goal on adaptation and the provision of support to developing countries. At COP27, the technical phase of the first global stocktake is underway. As a key input to this process, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Sixth Assessment Report, which compiles the latest available science on current and future climate change, on the challenges of adaptation, and on options for mitigation.
Stakeholders in the negotiations
In the international negotiation process, Parties are organised in groups of Parties with common interests or national circumstances. The most important negotiation groups include the group of G-77 and China, an association of developing countries, and the Umbrella Group, which represents many developed countries. The European Union also acts as a negotiating group. Beside Parties, non-governmental organisations, intergovernmental organisations and United Nations specialised agencies attend the climate change conferences. They play a critical role by providing expert input and making the case for the urgency of climate action.
Climate policies of main Parties
In order to keep the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement within reach, substantial reductions of greenhouse gas emissions are required in the years ahead. Large economies, such as the members of the G20, have a particular responsibility because they account for the majority of global emissions. While all G20 members have announced and implemented mitigation actions in recent years, the targets of most NDCs are not in line with the goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5°C. Several G20 members communicated long-term strategies which include an objective of climate neutrality by mid-century. This objective requires a deep transformation of their economies and energy systems in the years to come.
Recent developments affecting the negotiations and climate action
The Russian Federation’s war on Ukraine brought, among many other impacts, insecurity to energy markets and supply chains, threatening food security, and it impacts the transition to low-emission energy systems. In many countries, coal will replace gas as a fuel in the short term, leading to higher greenhouse gas emissions. But many economies, in particular the European Union, aim at making their energy systems more sustainable and less dependent on fossil fuel imports from Russia. The COVID-19 pandemic affected climate change negotiations in the past 2.5 years. Large in-person meetings started being held again from November 2021. Virtual or hybrid meetings were held successfully in many cases. The multiple lockdowns during 2020 resulted in a modest reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions of approx. 5% that year, but in 2021 these emissions again reached a record high. This indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic did not lead to sustained emission reductions. Comprehensive actions are urgently needed to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and respond to the growing impacts of climate change.