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CLIMATE CHANGE AND MULTILATERAL AGREEMENTS UNDER INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL LAW: POSITION, PROBLEMS AND SOLUTION

Introduction:

Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns which may be natural or human-induced phenomena. It has become one of the most pressing issues in the world at present. It has also become a major focus of International Environmental Law, which is a body of international law made of various treaties and agreements and multilateral organisations which are concerned with solving environmental issues and promoting environmental sustainability around the globe. There are various international treaties and organisations made to solve the issue of climate change, however, these treaties and organisations have failed to achieve the aims and obligations which are set by them. In this blog, we shall discuss the same.

Climate change- Meaning and definition:

Climate change is a term that refers to the long-term changes in the Earth’s climate system, including temperature, precipitation, wind patterns, ocean currents, and sea level. Climate change can be caused by natural factors or by human activities. Climate change can have a significant impact on the environment, society, and economy, such as altering ecosystems, affecting biodiversity, threatening food security, increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and contributing to global health issues. In today’s world, climate change is mostly caused by increasing emissions of greenhouse gases largely because of human activities leading to an increase in average global temperatures.

The term ‘climate change’ is defined by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as ‘Climate change means a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods’.

Thus, in simple words, climate change is long-term and drastic changes in weather and other climatic conditions because of natural or manmade activities which may adversely affect the ecosystem, society, and global economies.

Multilateral treaties and organisations related to climate change:

Multilateral treaties are agreements that involve three or more parties, which may be countries or international organisations. They are often used to address complex issues that require cooperation and coordination among multiple factors, such as trade, security, human rights, environmental protection, and development. They hold an important position in international law. As climate change has become a global issue, it has got the attention of the world. So, to address this issue, multilateral agreements and treaties have been made and international organisations have been established. Some of the important agreements related to climate change are:

Montreal Protocol 1987 is an international treaty to gradually eliminate the production and emissions of harmful substances which deplete the ozone layer. It required every signatory to the treaty to stop the production of harmful substances such as chlorofluorocarbons to protect the ozone layer. The treaty was signed by 197 countries. It is successful in reducing ozone-depleting substances from the atmosphere.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an intergovernmental body of the UN established in 1988 to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications, and potential future risks, as well as to put forward adaptation and mitigation options. The organisation currently has 195 members.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international treaty adopted in 1992 and ratified by 197 countries to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system. It is a forum for international discussions aimed at stabilizing and reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Kyoto Protocol is an extension of UNFCCC and is the first legally binding climate treaty internationally. The signatories to the treaty were required to reduce their carbon emissions by an average of 5% below 1990 levels and a monitoring system was put in place to monitor the progress of the signatories, the majority of which were developed nations.

Paris Agreement is the latest treaty related to the issue of climate change adopted in 2015 by 196 nations. It aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. It also aims to reach net-zero carbon emissions and become carbon neutral within the next 50 years.

Current position of Multilateral agreements related to climate change:

Of all the above important treaties, only the Montreal Protocol has achieved its objective of eliminating and reducing emissions of gases depleting the ozone layer and is regarded as the most successful treaty in the world. The Kyoto Protocol which aimed to reduce carbon emissions expired in December 2012. According to reports, the Protocol was successful in helping reduce carbon emissions by 7% of the signatories, however, it is also criticised as it focused only on carbon emissions and ignored other pollutants, was inefficient and did not have any impact on climate change. The Paris Agreement is still in force, which has ambitious climate action goals and ratified by most countries around the world. However, the implementation of this agreement is facing challenges because of the competing interest of signatories and lack of political will, and other reasons related to international law.

Problems and challenges:

There are many challenges in implementing the treaties and addressing the issue of climate change, making it difficult to reach the aim assigned by the treaties. Following are the problems which are impacting the implementation of treaties related to climate change:

  • There is a lack of enforcement mechanism which fails to monitor the progress of signatories related to the implementation of the treaties and make them accountable for failure to meet their assigned targets.
  • The signatories to the treaties have competing interests, which makes them reluctant to act as per the requirements of treaties which is making it difficult to have a common agreement and resolve the issue of climate change.
  • There are also economic problems involved. To fight climate change and achieve carbon neutrality, there is a requirement for significant investment, which is why developing countries are reluctant. Also, many countries fear that it will hamper their economic growth.
  • There is also a lack of political will and commitment to implement the treaties from all the signatories due to different political agendas and interests. Due to this, there is also a lack of public awareness and support. To implement the treaties and tackle climate change effectively, public support is required. The lack of public support is making it difficult to implement the treaties.
  • Finally, lobbying by big businesses and MNCs to avoid getting penalised or to avoid the passing of a law related to the environment to protect their interest is also creating challenges in the implementation of treaties.

Impact of delay in implementation of climate change treaties:

The delay in the implementation of climate change treaties can have significant impact on humans, the global economy, and the environment. Climate change can lead to more frequent and severe natural disasters which can cause loss of life, displacement, and damage to infrastructure and property. It can also have significant economic impacts, including reduced agricultural productivity, increased healthcare costs, damage to infrastructure and property, environmental degradation, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and ocean acidification. It can also lead to social instability, economic migration, and increased debt burden.

Potential solutions:

After studying the problems related to the implementation of multilateral agreements, we can investigate potential solutions which could help address climate change:

  • There should be enforcement mechanisms and a monitoring system in multilateral agreements, which can penalise countries for failing to meet their targets and incentivise those who complete their commitments.
  • Developing countries are reluctant to fight climate change mostly because of the investments required, which may be a burden on them. The developed countries should support and provide funding and the required technology for the same.
  • The signatories to the treaties and agreements should take up their problems on an international forum to discuss and solve them with the help of other signatories, which can reduce conflicting interests between them.
  • Governments should invest to increase public awareness related to the risks of climate change and the need for action through campaigns and political leaders should also take a role in addressing the issue of climate change. Also, lobbying by businesses should be discouraged.

Conclusion:

Climate change is currently an important topic in international environmental law. It is a phenomenon where there is a long-term change in the weather conditions of a region due to natural or man-made factors. To solve this issue, there are various agreements made at the international level. However, there are many challenges related to the implementation of the treaties, but there are also potential solutions available that may help in the implementation of treaties and tackle climate change.

Author(s) Name: Aditya Nisal (Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune)