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United Nations Global Issues

Climate Change

In the 19th century, an awareness began to dawn that accumulated carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere could create a “greenhouse effect” and increase the temperature of the planet.  A perceptible process in that direction had already begun — a side-effect of the industrial age and its production of carbon dioxide and other such "greenhouse gases."

By the middle of the 20th century, it was becoming clear that human action had significantly increased the production of these gases, and the process of “global warming” was accelerating.  Today, nearly all scientists agree that we must stop and reverse this process now — or face a devastating cascade of natural disasters that will change life on earth as we know it.

UN Climate Change Conference in Doha, 2012, agrees to a new commitment period for the Kyoto protocol

In December 2012, a UN climate conference in Doha, agreed to a new commitment period for the Kyoto protocol, a treaty that limits the greenhouse gas output of some developed countries, and affirmed a previous decision to adopt a new global climate pact by 2015.


Much of the evidence already seems apparent to the layman as well.  Most of the hottest years on record have occurred during the past two decades.  In Europe, the heat wave in the summer of 2003 resulted in over 30,000 deaths.  In India, temperatures reached 48.1 degrees Centigrade — nearly 119 degrees Fahrenheit.

Two years later, the ferocity of Hurricane Katrina in the United States was attributed in large part to the elevated water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico. And in one of many terrain changing developments, 160 square miles of territory broke away from the Antarctic coast in 2008 — its bindings to Antarctica having literally melted away.

The UN family is in the forefront of the effort to save our planet.  In 1992, its “Earth Summit” produced the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a first step in tackling the problem.  In 1998, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to provide an objective source of scientific information.  And the Convention’s 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set emission reduction targets for industrialized countries, has already helped stabilize and in some cases reduce emissions in several countries.

"We must limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees. We are far from there, and even that is enough to cause dire consequences. If we continue along the current path, we are close to a 6 degree increase".

"Too many leaders seem content to keep climate change at arm’s length, and in its policy silo. Too few grasp the need to bring the threat to the centre of global security, economic and financial management. It is time to move beyond spending enormous sums addressing the damage, and to make the investments that will repay themselves many times over".

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations (February 2013)

The UN has consistently taken the lead in taking on climate change.  In 2007, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to former United States Vice-President Al Gore and the IPCC "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change".

The Kyoto Protocol set standards for certain industrialized countries.  Those targets expired in 2012.  In the meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions from both developed and developing countries have been increasing rapidly.

The Copenhagen Accord was agreed to by Heads of State, Heads of Government, Ministers and other heads of delegation at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.

In December 2010, climate change talks in Cancún concluded with a package of decisions to help countries advance towards a low-emissions future. Dubbed the “Cancún Agreements,” the decisions include formalizing mitigation pledges and ensuring increased accountability for them, as well as taking concrete action to protect the world's forests.

In 2011 the world population reached 7 billion. It is expected to grow to 9 billion by 2043, placing high demands on the Earth’s resources.

There is alarming evidence that important tipping points, leading to irreversible changes in major ecosystems and the planetary climate system, may already have been reached or passed. Ecosystems as diverse as the Amazon rainforest and the Arctic tundra, may be approaching thresholds of dramatic change through warming and drying. Mountain glaciers are in alarming retreat and the downstream effects of reduced water supply in the driest months will have repercussions that transcend generations.

In 2011 the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa produced the Durban Platform . In Durban, governments decided to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, but not later than 2015.

In December 2012, after two weeks of negotiations at Doha conference, nations moved forward on climate change and extended the Kyoto Protocol. The renewal will keep existing climate targets until a new international agreement comes into effect in 2020, pending a new pact to be decided on by 2015.