The international political response to climate change began at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, where the ‘Rio Convention’ included the adoption of the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This convention set out a framework for action aimed at stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” The UNFCCC which entered into force on 21 March 1994, now has a near-universal membership of 197 parties.
In December 2015, the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21/CMP1) convened in Paris, France, and adopted the Paris Agreement, a universal agreement whose aim is to keep a global temperature rise for this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Member States express their commitment to protect the planet from degradation and take urgent action on climate change. The Agenda also identifies, in its paragraph 14, climate change as “one of the greatest challenges of our time” and worries about “its adverse impacts undermine the ability of all countries to achieve sustainable development. Increases in global temperature, sea level rise, ocean acidification and other climate change impacts are seriously affecting coastal areas and low-lying coastal countries, including many least developed countries and Small Island developing States. The survival of many societies, and of the biological support systems of the planet, is at risk”.
Sustainable Development Goal 13 aims to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact”, while acknowledging that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change.
More specifically, the associated targets of SDG 13 focus on the integration of climate change measures into national policies, the improvement of education, awareness-raising and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warnings. Whereas, its alphabetical targets respectively call for the implementation of the commitment undertaken at the UNFCCC and for the promotion of mechanisms able to raise capacity for effective climate –change related planning and management in least developed countries and SIDS.
The outcome document of the Rio+20 Conference, the Future We Want underscores climate change as “an inevitable and urgent global challenge with long-term implications for the sustainable development of all countries”. Through the document, Member States express their concern about the continuous rising of the emissions of greenhouse gases and about the vulnerability of all countries, particularly developing countries, to the adverse impacts of climate change, and called for the widest cooperation and participation of all countries in an effective and appropriate international response to climate change.
The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report warns of changing weather patterns and rising sea levels due to accelerating GHG emissions from human activities. For many, a warming climatic system is expected to impact the availability of basic necessities like freshwater, food security, and energy, while efforts to redress climate change, both through adaptation and mitigation, will similarly inform and shape the global development agenda.
The links between climate change and sustainable development are strong. While climate change will know no boundaries, poor and developing countries, particularly the LDCs, will be among those most adversely affected and least able to cope with the anticipated shocks to their social, economic and natural systems.
The Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force on 16 February 2005, sets binding emission reductions targets for industrialized countries for the first commitment period 2008-2012.
Both the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) and Agenda 21 assert that the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), entered into force in 1994, is the key instrument for addressing climate change.
Agenda 21, which addresses climate change under its Chapter 9 (Protection of the atmosphere), recognizes, " that activities that may be undertaken in pursuit of the objectives defined therein should be coordinated with social and economic development in an integrated manner, with a view to avoiding adverse impacts on the latter, taking into full account the legitimate priority needs of developing countries for the achievement of sustained economic growth and the eradication of poverty."