Friday, 9 March 2018

Climate change

“Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Climate change refers to any significant change in the measures of climate including temperature, precipitation or wind lasting for an extended period of time. The term “climate change” is commonly used interchangeably with Global warming and Greenhouse effect. The Earth is surrounded by an envelope of gases comprising of N2, O2, CO2, water vapourand other gases. It is this blanket of gases that controls the temperature on Earth. Climate change is primarily due to the human use of fossil fuels such as oil and coal which emit greenhouse gases like CO2, Carbon monoxide in the atmosphere. These gases trap heat in the atmosphere which can have a range of effects on the ecosystem from melting of glaciers to rise in sea- levels, from floods in the low-lying areas to droughts in water deficient areas. While some quantities of these gases are naturally occurring and critical to maintaining Earth’s temperature, the world today is seeing a steep increase in the quantity of greenhouse gases- The atmospheric concentration of CO2 stands at about 400 ppm.Average surface temperature has risen by about 1.1 degree Celsius since the late 19th century,with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001.
Besides temperature rise, indicators of climate change include warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, decreased snow cover, sea level rise, severe extreme events, ocean acidification etc. Rising sea levels due to the melting of polar ice caps has increased the risk of flooding in low lying areas of most of the continents, warming ocean temperatures has contributed to stronger and more frequent storms, rising temperatures has led to an increase in the frequency and severity of wildfires and increased severity of heat waves has contributed to an increasing number of deaths.
The world community woke up to this threat to the planet in the 1990s with the adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992 during the Earth Summit on Rio de Janeiro. According to this convention, the developed countries initially agreed to a non-binding commitment to reduce the level of their greenhouse gases to 1990 level by 2000. During the COP3 held at Kyoto, Japan, legally binding obligations were imposed on the developed countries to reduce their overall greenhouse emissions by 5.2% below their 1990 level in the commitment period of 2008-12 with a shift to cleaner energies such as solar and wind. Kyoto protocol is based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and entered into force on February 15, 2005. Carbon trading is the mechanism employed for the implementation of the protocol. USA and China which together account for a huge 42% of world’s CO2 emissions are not a party to the protocol, which makes it effectively a non-starter. With the protocol expiring by 2015, world leaders sat down in 2015 to decide the future course of action to tackle climate change. So was born the Paris Agreement at the COP 21.
Paris Agreement is an international agreement to combat climate change. Aim is to limit the temperature rise to well below 2 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial level and “endeavor to limit” it to 1.5 degree Celsiusby the end of 21st century. Focus is on limiting the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally. The Paris Agreement has a ‘bottom up’ structure in contrast to most international environmental law treaties which are ‘top down’. It requires all parties to put forward their best efforts through “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs). There is a provision to review each country’s contribution to cutting emissions every five years so that they scale up to the challenge.The rich countries are required to help poorer nations by providing “climate finance” to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy.  Paris agreement is binding on all the countries, be it developed or developing countries. Paris agreement entered into force on 4th November 2016.

Recently in 2017, USA, largest greenhouse gas emitter withdrew from the agreement, which has put a serious question mark on the effectiveness of the climate change agreement. There is a pertinent need for all the countries to come together and work towards mitigation and adaptation. Green Climate Fund (GCF) was set up in 2010. It requires developed countries to contribute $100billion dollars by 2020 towards adaptation and mitigation efforts. Climate change entails serious implication for the economy of the world. The negative impact on the agriculture has the potential to cause severe hunger at the global level. Flooding of cities like Bombay and Shanghai can cause massive displacement of people, creating climate refugees. Thus, it is imperative to understand that each and every country of the world has equal stake in saving this planet from the fury of nature

Assistant Professor
School of Law

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