Last week, delegates from 190 countries attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Doha, Qatar. In 1992, the first UNFCCC conference was held in Rio de Janeiro and was known as the Earth Summit. Each year the conference seeks to identify agreements among world governments to lower greenhouse gas concentrations. Over the past 20 years, the part about finding agreement among countries has been difficult.
The 1997 conference produced the Kyoto Protocol, a greenhouse gas reduction agreement, which most industrialized countries signed. President Bill Clinton signed the Protocol, but Congress did not ratify it. In 2005, President George W. Bush rejected the agreement. The Kyoto Protocol was set to expire this month; however, it has now been extended to 2020. The Protocol actually set binding targets for most industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2009, there was agreement that the UNFCC should take actions necessary to keep the average global temperature from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit from the temperatures recorded just before the start of the Industrial Revolution. Today the average global temperature is 59 degrees and the temperature not to be exceeded is 60.3 degrees. Emissions are increasing rapidly, especially among developing countries using coal, and the feasibility of the international goal to control the global temperature is questionable.
At this year’s conference, there was agreement that the richest countries should provide financial aid to the poorest nations for the “loss and damage” of climate change since the poorest countries have contributed the least to the problem and are also the most vulnerable. However, the process for determining the amount of aid and how it will be distributed is yet to be decided.
Delegates also decided that a new international agreement will be developed by 2015 and take effect in 2020. China and the U.S., the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, will figure prominently in the new agreement. Although China is classified as a developing country, it is the largest emitter and soon will be the world’s largest economy.
Global emissions of carbon dioxide are at a record high and developed countries are principally responsible as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity. The pace and scale of actions by the international community to reduce emissions and concentrations of greenhouse gases is of great concern.
Carsten is Portfolio 21 Investments' founder and Chairman. He has 30 years of experience in socially and environmentally responsible investing.