Read below general information about:
International Agreements on the Environment & the state of our Climate:
Climate Change refers to changes in weather patterns on earth over an extended period of time, such as the rise in temperatures seen in recent years.
Today’s growing body of evidence on climate change supports the principle that the earth’s climate is rapidly changing in response to continued inputs of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and other greenhouse gases ― such as methane, nitrous oxide, ozone ― to the atmosphere resulting from human activities. Of these greenhouse gases, CO2 has had the largest effect on global climate as a result of enormous increases from the pre-industrial era to today. Although changes in climate are natural, human activities such as fossil fuel combustion, land use, deforestation, and current agricultural practices magnify these changes.
Climate change is undeniably one of the greatest challenges of our times and today we face an increasing amount of droughts, heat waves, extreme weather events, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and the threat of ongoing biodiversity erosion that puts at risk the natural development of our planet’s ecosystems. The past two decades have included 18 of the 20 warmest years since record-keeping began in 1850.
The last five years have been the five warmest years yet recorded.
July 2019 was the hottest month on Earth since 1850.
This year was a severe warning alert that our planet is consistently recording hotter and hotter temperatures, and this requires serious action on the part of all nations if we wish to have a sustainable future on this planet. By continuing on the path that we are on right now, we will soon surpass the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement’s 2°C of warming, after which the predicted effects on the planet and people’s lives will most likely be irreversible.
Now is the time for real global action to reverse man-made climate change.
The UN meetings that are due to take place between now and the end of 2020 are critical as they will decide our ability to keep climate change to survivable levels and to restore nature to the equilibrium we need required for the planet’s survival.
The key International Agreements on the Environment:
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)
The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
The United Nations Global Sustainable Goals 2015-30 (SDGs)
COP, or the “Conference of the Parties” refers to the governing body of an international convention, which meets periodically to assess progress. The three main United Nations international Conventions on the environment with a COP are:
—United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international environmental treaty to: stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent interference with the planet’s climate system, and its COP is its the supreme decision-making body. COP24 took place in Poland in December of 2018. COP25 will take place December 2019 in Santiago, Chile.
—United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), was set up to: combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought through national action programs that incorporate long-term strategies supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements. The most recent meeting, COP13 took place in Ordos City, China, 6-16 September 2017. UNCCD COP14 is scheduled to take place in October 2019 in New Delhi, India.
—Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has three main goals including: the conservation of biological diversity (or biodiversity); the sustainable use of its components; and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources). The CBD also includes the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing. COP14 CBD took place in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt, in November 2018. The CBD COP15, will take place in October 2020 in Beijing, China.
The three challenges of climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss are equally essential to protecting the health of our natural environment, all of its species, and nature’s ability to provide food and fresh water to the growing human population.
Read about ACTIVATE’s contribution to a UNCCD (U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification) event at the U.N. New York Headquarters: the SAVE THE EARTH Green Corps U.N. Exhibition presented in partnership with the NGO Future Forest.
Event organized by Future Forest, in collaboration with the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) and the UNCCD. →
Read about our contribution to the COP14 CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) with the Future Earth organization
in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt 13-29 November, 2018. →
More important information:
Background information on the COP for the UNFCCC:
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) opened for signature in 1992 during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and later entered into force in 1994. Through this instrument, the United Nations has equipped itself with an action framework to fight global warming.
After its entry into force in 1994, the UNFCCC Secretariat was established in Geneva. It was then relocated to Bonn in 1995 following the “First Conference of the Parties” (COP1) in Berlin. Today, this UN Convention has near-universal membership. The 197 countries that have ratified the Convention are called the Parties to the Convention.
The COP was created and put in place in order to structure the efforts of the Parties to the Convention as they address climate change. The COP meets annually to review and assess the implementation of the UNFCCC and any other legal instruments the body adopts with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fighting climate change. These annual UN climate change conferences are commonly referred to as COP.
Since 1995 there have been twenty-four COPs. The ground-breaking agreement on Climate Change of the Paris COP21 in 2015 must be ratified by the 197 Parties to the Convention.
The Paris UN Climate Change Conference COP21
The Paris UN Climate Change Conference COP21 of 30 November - 11 December 2015 was hailed as an agreement that would set the standards of future global political cooperation, agreement and action on impactful climate solutions. It was also regarded as the most important international decision and focused political document on global climate governance in more than 20 years with the aim of preventing major and irreversible damage to our planet’s human and natural systems.
On the final day of this Paris Summit, world leaders from around the world signed a global climate Agreement, a legally-binding treaty for all signatories. President of the Cop21, Laurent Fabius called the agreement “a turning point..and a universal action of peace by 196 countries” in the global process to save the planet. The Agreement it was noted at the time, must also be ratified nationally, and will not become binding to its member states until 55 parties who produce over 55% of the world's greenhouse gas have sanctioned it.
The essential aim of the Paris Agreement is to: “strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.”
Although the Paris Accord was seen by many as insufficient to halt global warming, falling far too short of what was hoped for, including a lack of mechanism to ensure that countries enforce the measures, it has been established that it is a good start when compared to the past attempts. With this action, governments, businesses, experts, advocates, civil society and citizens worldwide did finally officially recognize the universal nature of climate change, marking a pivotal moment in modern environmental history, and a significant shift in global perception on climate progress.
Climate update 2015-19:
2015-2019 have been the five top warmest years on record
In 2018, NASA declared the year was the fourth-warmest year in 139 years of records, with average temperatures across land and sea surfaces 1.42 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average. The summer season of 2018 saw some of the strongest, longest-lasting global heat waves in decades affecting countries from Siberia to the Mediterranean, from North America to East Asia; at least nine all-time temperature records were broken in the USA and in many places around the world. Kumagaya, Japan reached 42°C, the highest-ever recorded temperature in the country; a village in Oman saw temperatures remain above 42°C for 51 hours straight, which would break the world record for highest minimum temperature ever; the dramatic wildfires of 2018 can be seen as a global-scale phenomenon, in Europe this year across Europe is up by roughly 40%.
In August of 2018 the team of climate scientists published a climate study which showed that even if the carbon emission reductions called for in the Paris Agreement are met, there is a risk of the planet entering “Hothouse Earth” conditions. Currently, global average temperatures are just over 1°C above pre-industrial levels and rising at 0.17°C per decade. The Agreement’s aim to limit temperature rise to 1.5C-2C above pre-industrial levels, by the end of the century - a threshold believed to be a tipping point for the climate - may not be enough to prevent other processes which drive further warming, even if the world stops emitting greenhouse gases. Climate scientists believe that a domino-like cascade of melting ice, warming seas, shifting currents and dying forests could tilt the Earth into this “hothouse” state of extremes that would be far less supportive of human life.
In the context of the 2018 summer’s drought, heat waves and wildfires, it is even more evident that we are shifting the planet’s delicate ecological balance. This study indicates that within these ‘hothouse conditions’, global average temperatures may reach 4-5 degrees Celsius higher even if the Paris emissions reduction targets are met, and more drastic global action may be necessary. The report argues that maximizing the chances of avoiding such a “hothouse” state requires other efforts, such as improved forest, agricultural and soil management; biodiversity conservation and technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it underground.
On 1 October 2018, an important new report was released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC )* ― the leading U.N. consortium of scientists studying the speed and scope of human-caused temperature rise ― authored by 91 researchers from 40 countries citing more than 6,000 scientific references, detailed the challenge it will be to keep the planet from warming beyond the 1.5-°C target, considered the aspirational goal of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.
As human activity has already resulted in about a 1°C increase in average global temperature since pre-industrial times, the report determines that if humans continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at the current rate, the global mean temperature will likely rise to the 1.5°C mark sometime between 2030 and 2052. The report indicates that these conditions will spur dramatic consequences: sea levels will continue to rise threatening coastal ecosystems and infrastructure; flooding, drought and extreme weather events will wreak havoc on communities around the globe; many species will continue to be driven toward extinction and marine ecosystems could face “irreversible loss” including massive destruction of the world’s coral reefs. Only “unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” will prevent this outcome.
The summer of 2019 has also proven to be record-breaking. Temperatures in July soared to historic highs throughout Western Europe, and heat records were shattered in regions of Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK. The dangerous temperatures across the European continent—as well as parts of the United States and Asia—come as the most recent research reveals that the planet is warming at an unprecedented rate not seen in the past 2,000 years. Following this the heat wave, the extreme temperatures shifted north and began massive ice melts in Greenland which has been losing up to 12.5 billion tons of ice in a single day, while record wildfires rage from the Amazon to the Arctic.
As greenhouse gas concentrations lead to a rise in global temperatures, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) expects that 2019 will be in the five top warmest years on record, and that 2015-2019 is to be the warmest of any equivalent five-year period on record.
In other words, that the Earth’s surface temperatures have most probably reached their warmest ever since the last inter-glacial period 125,000 years ago.
* The IPCC was created 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. Through its assessments, the IPCC determines the state of knowledge on climate change. NB, It was the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report that provided the scientific input for the Paris Agreement.
Some background to the topic of Climate Change and its relation to the topic of water:
Climate change is a multidimensional issue. At the center of the climate change discussion is water.
The dramatic increase in the Earth’s temperature in recent years due to global warming has shifted and disrupted the planet’s natural hydrological cycle and put our ecosystems under increasing stress. The consequences of these changes are affecting life across the globe; on the most basic level, in the form of extreme weather patterns and their effects - colder winters, more intense floods and dramatic hurricanes, superstorms; severe drought, wildfires and longer and drier summers, melting glaciers and rising sea levels worldwide. These changes will continue to affect our lives if the global community does not have an integrated and unified response.
In addition to this, water experts agree that even if our dependence on fossil fuels is reduced and greenhouse gas emissions are reversed, if we prolong our continued abuse of our planet’s fresh water and its water systems, we will not be able to stop climate change.
Thus, in order to tackle the greatest challenge of our age, climate change, we must also appreciate the need to address the world’s multiple water crises from every angle - not only from the environmental - and consider the larger perspective of corporate, economic, political pressures that are still driving our water governance.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Agreement adopted by world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly on 25 - 27 September 2015 just prior to the Paris Agreement was a powerfully significant and collective action - on poverty, injustice, gender equality, health, global development and environmental sustainability. Each goal agreed upon at the Sustainable Development Summit has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years.
“The global goals provide a unique opportunity to end poverty, reduce inequality, build peaceful societies and fix climate change. All nations and all citizens have a role to play to achieve these global goals. We hope that the message of the goals will reach everyone on the planet..” ― U.N. Sec. General Ban Ki-Moon, referring to this universal sustainable development campaign.
Within this vision of ensuring a healthy planet for future generations were pledges that had to do more specifically with water-related issues:
• CLEAN WATER AND SANITATION (Goal #6): “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”
• DECISIVE CLIMATE ACTION (Goal #13): “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”
• LIFE BELOW WATER (Goal #14): “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”
“WATER DAY” at the COP21: During the Paris Summit, the World Water Council and over a dozen members of the international water community came together in a collective effort represented by the #ClimateIsWater initiative, with the shared objective of elevating the recognition for water and climate at the political level, and in the climate change discussions from one COP to the next. The need to place water issues at the heart of climate discussions was stressed, as the reality is that water does not adequately or explicitly appear in the official agenda - although all impacts of climate change are manifested through water. In 2016 the World Water Council plans to build on the momentum of the #ClimateisWater campaign, including at the COP22 scheduled to take place in Marrakesh in November 2016.
“It is through water that we can measure both the severity and the acceleration of global warming; however, we can also see that, through water, solutions can be found.” ― Ségolène Royal, France’s energy and environment minister at the COP21 ‘Climate is Water’ event.
Nonetheless, water-related issues did appear in the Paris agreement through the following elements:
• In reference to the post-2015 Sustainable Development Framework, in which water is a specific objective in Global Goal #6.
• In reference to human rights in the preamble; that the right to water and sanitation was recognized as a fundamental right in 2010.
• Through the importance given to adaptation and its financing, in which water is a central issue.
• Through the emphasis on the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, in which water is the first priority for adaptation.
U.N. Resolution on Human Rights to Water and Sanitation: On 17 December 2015, the United Nations General Assembly passed and adopted a Resolution on the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, recalling the 28 July 2010 resolution, which recognized the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights. With this renewed measure, the U.N. recognizes the distinction between the human right to water and that of sanitation; the two issues remain related and both are derived from the right to an adequate standard of living. The text was adopted by consensus, so all UN Member State have now agreed the following:
• That everyone is entitled “to have access to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use”.
• That everyone is entitled “to have physical and affordable access to sanitation, in all spheres of life, that is safe, hygienic, secure, and socially and culturally acceptable and that provides privacy and ensures dignity”.
A Paris Agreement citizens’ initiative on climate change:
The People’s Climate March
29 November 2015
On 29 November, hours before world leaders meet at the Paris Climate Summit, global climate change marches took place in over 2000 cities around the world to ask political leaders to make a bold commitment to action to solve the planet’s growing crises. It was the largest global climate change mobilization in history.
People around the world joined the Marches to set out their demands on climate justice. These public events marked the start of two weeks of actions that had been planned to take place over the duration of the summit, to build global mobilization and a united effort by individuals everywhere who striving for a future that benefits people and planet alike.
The Climate March events culminated in a mass demonstration in Paris on 12 December.
The Cyprus People’s Climate March was organized by the environmental NGO Friends of the Earth Cyprus, a member group of Friends of the Earth Europe and Friends of the Earth International.
ACTIVATE’s partners in Nicosia, Cyprus and Seoul, South Korea, marched alongside their fellow citizens in support of this common purpose.
These United Nations SDGs and COP Agreements will together potentially shape global efforts to address some of the world’s most pressing future challenges, reconcile the economic and environmental goals of the global community, and inspire future decisive and meaningful action for people and the planet - to safeguard the integrity of our vital ecosystems for a liveable climate, for clean air, and for pure water.
See below for COP UNFCCC updates
Updates on the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change
2015 Paris | Climate Change Summit | COP21
2016 Marrakesh | Climate Change Conference | COP22
2017 Bonn | Climate Change Conference | COP23
2018 Katowice | Climate Change Conference | COP24
2019 Santiago | Climate Change Conference | COP25