Climate change is the greatest environmental challenge currently facing humanity. Today, the accumulated effects of human activity are threatening the climate system and survival of our planet.
Given this situation, the debate on climate change and its socio-economic implications has taken precedent, as well as the need for countries and institutions to adopt strategies to prevent global warming and its fatal consequences.
The majority of these discussions are taking place in the context of negotiating multilateral policies stemming from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (effective since 1994) and the Kyoto Protocol (2005).
From 1995 to date, yearly meetings – known as the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – have been taking place; during which various agreements designed to address the problem have been adopted, but which thus far continue to be insufficient in order to effectively combat climate change.
This year, in December the 21st International Climate Change Conference will be held in Paris, France. One of the main aims of the event is to reach a defining global agreement on the fight against climate change.
Dr. Ramón Pichs-Madruga, deputy director general and senior researcher at Cuba’s World Economy Research Center (CIEM) and member of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Bureau, highlighted the importance of establishing a global, legally binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In an interview with Radio Habana Cuba, Dr. Pichs-Madruga stated, “The conference is being held in a context where advances have been insufficient. Thus far we have seen a process advancing at two different speeds: on one hand there are scientific studies on climate change which are progressing rapidly, with reliable research, reports and analyses demonstrating the impact, causes and consequences of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as strategies and responses by countries to tackle the situation; and on the other, multilateral policy negotiations are progressing at a much slower and checkered rate.”
“The results, therefore, have been limited, and have failed to meet the expectations and demands presented by scientists as viable ways to advance along a path of sustainable development, conscious of the challenges represented by climate change,” he states.
A BIT OF HISTORY…
More than a decade ago, the majority of the world’s nations signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in order to reduce global warming and adopt measures to combat the inevitable rise in the planet’s temperature.
In 1997, world leaders agreed to add a new clause to the agreement, known as the Kyoto Protocol, which includes legally binding measures and with a commitment to reducing carbon emissions by 5% during the period 2008-2012.
“With this Protocol a quantitative commitment to reducing greenhouse gasses – in particular by industrialized nations – was adopted,” explains Ramón Pichs-Madruga, also a Master of Social Sciences graduate.
”The first period of the Protocol ended in 2012, during which new commitments – scheduled to come into effect in 2013 – were agreed upon. This still hasn’t happened due to the failure of various countries to ratify them, thus demonstrating how slow and fragmented the process of multilateral negotiations has been,” he notes.
During the 2011 Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Durban, South Africa, the adoption of the so-called Durban Platform – a global pledge to negotiate a new international climate treaty by 2015, which will come into effect in 2020 – was highlighted as one of the most important outcomes of the event.
According to Pichs-Madruga, this is one of the reasons why the world is expectantly looking toward the Paris Conference.
THE IPCC: AN ORGANIZATION WITHOUT BORDERS
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created in 1988, in order to comprehensively review and assess the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding climate change, its causes, possible repercussions and response strategies.
Every seven years the international organization issues an assessment report in order to provide governments with a range of options to tackle the phenomenon, without making policy recommendations.
The organization and its reports on the current state of scientific knowledge concerning the potential impacts of, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, is crucial to providing political leaders thorough and reliable information, which could contribute to their decision making, especially when a global climate change agreement is imminent.
Currently effective is its Fifth Assessment Report, finalized at the end of 2014 by over 800 scientists from the organization’s 85 member countries, including three work groups: physical science basis; impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and climate change mitigation.
In comparison to previous reports, the current document puts greater emphasis on assessing the socio-economic impacts of climate change and its consequences for sustainable development, regional aspects, risk management and adaptation and mitigation responses.
The report warns that the continuation of greenhouse gas emissions at their current rate will cause increased global warming and drastic changes to all components of the climate system, thus increasing the probability of generalized and severe consequences which could affect all levels of global society and the natural world.
According to Ramón Pichs-Madruga, “There are three main messages in the Fifth Report. One is that global warming is undeniable and that there is ever increasing evidence that human activity is the predominant cause of greenhouse gas emissions.”
“The second message is important because it relates to the lack of significant action taken by countries in response to the phenomenon; and if harmful gas emissions continue to increase, the effects of climate change will be even stronger, more extreme and more generalized.”
”And the third message is that there are still achievable responses to this problem, but immediate action must be taken given that, the longer the delay, the greater the associated costs and risks will be,” notes the expert.
The Cuban economist states that adaptation solutions exist. “We can ensure that impacts remain at a manageable level through targeted mitigation actions. In this sense, efforts to reduce energy consumption – thus reducing carbon levels in the atmosphere – would be of vital importance.”
One of the objectives under discussion since 2010 has been ensuring that the Earth’s temperature does not exceed 2ºC above pre-industrial levels.
According to Ramón Pichs-Madruga, by 2050 we would need to see a significant reduction of between 40 to 70 percent of 2010 greenhouse gas emission levels, in order to achieve this goal.
“It’s a difficult target which demands a great effort from an economic, technological and institutional point of view, but it is still achievable. However, it won’t be viable forever, either we act now or lose the opportunity, the window of action is shrinking rapidly,” he notes.
”This is why the IPCC talks so much about the need for immediate action, given that any delay means the risks and associated costs will be greater in the future. It’s true that investments for mitigation actions cost, but the cost of inaction is much greater than the cost of response to climate change strategies,” warns the Cuban researcher.
Sixty-four years ago, unprecedented changes in our Earth’s climate over decades to millennia were observed. The report concludes that atmospheric and oceanic temperatures have increased, volumes of snow and ice have decreased, sea levels have risen and the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere have soared staggeringly in comparison to their levels 800,000 years ago.
TOWARD PARIS 2015
After the Copenhagen debacle of 2009, the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012, the previous commitment made in Cancun 2010 not to maintain global temperatures below 2ºC and the IPCC report (2014), it has been internationally acknowledged that a global and legal agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must be reached at Paris 2015.
The conference is being held at a crucial moment and must result in an international accord on climate change with the potential to limit global warming.
According to Ramón Pichs-Madruga “unfortunately, to date, actions taken by countries have not be sufficient enough to advance toward fulfilling the aim of maintaining global temperatures below 2ºC”.
So, since the 2011 Durban Conference, calls have been made to reach a global agreement to combat climate change, thus all countries are expectantly looking toward Paris as the event in which this goal might be achieved.
Historically the Conferences of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change have been spaces where differences between the North and South have been put on display.
“Unfortunately the biggest losers tend to be those who have contributed the least to the problem. The most vulnerable are generally the poorest regions, which lack the ability to respond to many of the effects of climate change,” he states.
CUBA TACKLING CLIMATE CHANGE
Despite being a country with a low rate of carbon emissions, Cuba has made historic contributions to the fight against climate change. There exists on the island a high level of political will to deal with the issue, which has been prioritized by the Cuban government.
”Cuba has made significant advances when it comes to adaptation, mitigation and international cooperation,” states Ramón Pichs-Madruga.
”In regards to adaptation actions, we have one of the most renowned metrological and extreme weather warning and response systems; important investments have been made to develop farming methods and crops better adapted to high temperatures: work has been undertaken to more effectively exploit water resources through diversion mechanisms; while the issue continues to take precedent in campaigns, research and studies,” explains the specialist.
”In regards to mitigation, since 2005 Cuba has been implementing a program which promotes the use of renewable energy sources. These actions – part of the Energy Revolution – are of vital importance to the reduction of energy consumption and consequently carbon emissions,” he states.
Cuba has had a strong presence in the work of the IPCC since its foundation. The creation of its Fifth Assessment Report saw the contribution of six Cuban authors, including Ramón Pichs-Madruga.
The Cuban economist has been affiliated with the group since 1997, working primarily with the IPCC Bureau. In 2008 he was elected as co-president of the Work Group 3 responsible for climate change mitigation assessments.