The UN's Climate Change Involvment and Impacts

In 1988, the United Nations established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC was created at the request of several UN nations to bring together international awareness of the earth’s changing climate. Although the IPCC does not conduct its own scientific research they do collect a wide variety of international studies relevant to the understanding of climate change. Contributors to the IPCC vary and include thousands of global scientists who voluntarily provide research without pay. The IPCC connects scientists and policymakers to better equip the world with actions of “adaptation and mitigation” against climate change.

By 1992 the UN introduced the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC acts on the findings of the IPCC, which at that time indicated that the changing climate was "more than likely", “human induced”. That understanding prompted the UN to start global initiatives to combat the growing concern of global warming. The emission of GHGs into the earth’s atmosphere is a result of over a century of global industrialization, deforestation and other contributing factors. A major role of the IPCC is to collect data on amounts of GHGs being produced and reduced by each country. 

The UNFCCC itself has no binding power, in that it does not serve as a formal agreement by its member nations to reduce or stop global warming. It also does not have any means to enforce regulatory actions on any country. What the UNFCCC does is provide specific frameworks for international treaties to set limits on greenhouse gases.

Within five years, in December of 1997, the UN introduced the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement that recognizes developed countries as the leading contributors to global warming. The protocol’s primary purpose is to hold its members accountable to the reduction of carbon emissions, the leading cause of global warming. The Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding agreement under international law and has 192 countries involved. The UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol ensures that member countries pay attention to their GHG emissions and are moving towards reducing emission levels to degrees considered acceptable. It is important to note that the United States does not intend to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, even though they are the second highest emitters of GHGs.

In summation, the IPCC brings together scientists and governments to assess the situation of climate change. With that collection of data they established the UNFCCC that provides frameworks and guidelines based on the collected data. The Kyoto Protocol is a binding agreement that enforces member countries to act on those guidelines and keeps watch over their progress.

A major implication of these actions is awareness. In 2007, the IPCC received additional international acclaim after jointly winning the Nobel Peace Prize with former US vice-president, Al Gore. That award, along with Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006, catapulted the subject of climate change to a higher level and moved the topic of climate change from conferences and labs to homes and streets. The level of publicity that the IPCC has managed to muster from their findings has pressured major carbon emitting countries to respond to the public discourse. In President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Address, he stated that “[c]limate change is a fact.” Secretary Kerry made an equal claim: “The science is clear [on climate change]. It is irrefutable, and it is alarming”. International figures highlighting the issue of climate change is extremely beneficial to Micronesian countries.

Christopher Loeak (RMI President) addresses the UN

Christopher Loeak (RMI President) addresses the UN

Under the United Nations the IPCC has offered a platform for Pacific leaders to voice their concerns and have placed Climate Change on a global stage. In 2012, Christopher Loeak, the President of the Marshall Islands continued to share with members of the United Nations the difficulties of climate change to his people. As a low-lying atoll nation their experience of climate change is extremely severe. Three drastic effects of human induced climate change that are being experienced in the Marshall Islands and throughout Micronesia include: sea-level rise, severe droughts and heavy rain. Other countries such as Palau and the FSM have experienced extreme typhoons. The Marshall Islands are among other atoll countries in the Pacific that are considered to be the first victims of climate change. President Loeak also wrote an article that was featured in the NY Times in September of 2013, claiming “Climate Change Has Reached Our Shores”. Other Pacific nations have been receiving publicity as victims, such as the nations of Kiribati and Tuvalu. President Anote Tong of Kiribati proclaimed that Climate Change is, “the greatest moral challenge facing humanity at this moment.” Such a strong statement may serve to embolden other nations to start acting against climate change as a moral obligation.

With 195 parties to the convention, the UNFCCC is a good showing of solidarity. As mentioned earlier a collection of thousands of international scientists united under a similar goal has shaped the IPCC into a unified response. The example of solidarity shown through these groups has also influenced similar movements in smaller contexts. The Majuro Declaration was signed in September of 2013, enhancing cooperation between Pacific nations with a goal to, “demonstrate climate leadership”. 

On a smaller level, the Federated States of Micronesia drafted the, “Nationwide Climate Change Policy in 2009”, they indicate in the “Vision” section of the policy that the country “strives for global agreement on [GHGs]… of the climate convention (UNFCCC)…”. The policy is a clear example of countries drafting and initiating policies that align with UNFCCC findings and protocols. From international organizations, councils and conventions, to governments of the smallest nations in the world, the response to climate change has never been louder. Starting from the top, the United Nations led the way by establishing the IPCC, which led to the enactment of the UNFCCC then eventually the Kyoto Protocol. This cascade of conventions, protocols and “unpronounceable acronyms” raised awareness and empowered nations.

Sources and additional reads:

  1. United Nations; UNFCCC.
  2. United Nations; IPCC.
  3. FSM Government site; “Nationwide Climate Change Policy 2009”.
  4. The White House Website; “President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address”.
  5. NBC News; “Gore, U.N. climate panel win Nobel Peace Prize”.
  6. United Nations; General Debate of the 68th Session, the Marshall Islands.
  7. The New York Times; “Climate Change Has Reached Our Shores”.
  8. Vimeo; “The Impacts of Climate Change on Kiribati and the Pacific Islands Region: Risk and Resilience”.
  9. The Majuro Declaration.
  10. TFB. “Climate Change, COFA Nations”.