Mary Jane Spiteri – Reading for a Bachelor’s Degree in European Studies at the University of Malta
Published on 27th April 2020
So the climate is changing, and that’s no secret at this point. The environmental and public health repercussions of this undeniable reality have become increasingly relevant in the realm of International relations over the past decade. If these challenges persist, climate change will continue to demand more of our attention and resources.
The United Nations (UN) has referred to climate change as “the defining issue of our time” (United Nations 2020). But what happened to the Climate and why is it changing?
Earth’s temperature keeps increasing, sea levels continue to rise and glaciers are melting away. This is all the result of a warmer climate with average temperatures higher than what we are used to.
Natural processes lead to gradual changes in the climate over the years, however, over the past century, a rapid trend of global warming has become evident (Harvey 2018). The exchange of a number of different gases between the earth and its atmosphere is vital for its proper functioning and for supporting life on earth. However, as human populations have expanded and industrial and agricultural developments have increased, more fossil fuels than ever before have been burnt, resulting in the release of greenhouse gases at a significantly faster rate than that of natural processes alone. This increase in greenhouse gases is what has disrupted the natural balance of atmospheric gases, resulting in heat-trapping of the Earth’s surface. This is what is known as global warming, which is one of the main driving forces of climate change (Kweku 2017).
But in the midst of this climate crisis, we remain optimistic and hopeful. If there’s one thing that unites every single one of us, it is the very planet we all call home. It might be too little too late to nip this in the bud, but moving forward, we are guided and united by our common desire of ensuring a healthy planet for present and future generations.
Achieving global environmental change must therefore be a collective effort. Acting together to face this challenge is crucial, but if only it were so simple! Over 200 different states make up the international political system, each with their own type of economy, politics, greenhouse gas emissions and views on the significance and urgency of environmental protection. Specific codes of conduct cannot be imposed on any individual state as no superior authority has this competence. In order for results to be achieved, countries must negotiate to reduce global carbon emissions and find common ground.
The UN’s goal to achieve global cooperation to combat climate change is today founded on the Paris Agreement which is dedicated to taking ambitious action to strengthen the global response to climate change and its impacts. The agreement builds upon the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) which entered into force in 1994, and has today reached near-universal membership. Even with limited scientific backing at the time, the Convention established that there was a problem which needed to be solved. Today, over 25 years of international climate diplomacy later, the Paris Agreement continues to strive to keep the global temperature this century from rising to “well below 2 degrees celsius above preindustrial levels” (UNFCCC 2015, Article 2(a)).
The agreement has proven to be a catalyst for global climate action, however it has also faced its own challenges. President Donald Trump’s announcement of the United State’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement (to be effective in November 2020) raised many concerns, especially with the US being the second largest GHG emitter (Chan et al 2018). In spite of this however, the agreement has proven its lasting stability and instead of other countries following this example and abandoning their commitment, many have reaffirmed their allegiance.
Other global efforts include the UN sustainable development goals (SDG) and the European Green Deal. SDG number 13 deals with global cooperation for climate action while the Green Deal aims to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent and devises a roadmap for a sustainable economy. These have proven that our shared concerns and common goals can indeed lead to international cooperation and effective policy responses.
Climate change is impacting all of us and will continue to do so. The clock is ticking, but it is not too late yet. This is a complex global issue which requires globally-coordinated responses. The appropriate mitigation and adaptation actions and international policy agreements are what is needed to win this fight. We must be disciplined and adjust our behaviours for our own sake. It’s a small price to pay to protect this climate that impacts our lives in so many ways. Now its our turn to make a change, and this time for the better.
Disclaimer: the views expressed in this publication are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Society.