In December 2015, delegates from more than 190 nations will gather in Paris to agree on a new global treaty on climate change. This will be the 21st Conference of the Parties under United Nations auspices since the first meeting in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The Paris meeting may well be the last chance to settle a problem, that of the global warming, that, absent urgent action over the next decade, could spin out of control.
Scientific evidence of the incumbent disaster is contained in the three reports and a summary, issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, composed of the world’s leading climate scientists. The first, published in Stockholm in September 2013, confirmed that global warming is caused largely by the burning of fossil fuels and, to a lesser extent, by deforestation (according to the Global Forest Watch, between 2000 and 2012 2,3 million square km have been lost – an annual average of an area a bit larger than Greece – and 800.000 square km of forest have been planted, with a negative balance of 1,5 million square km). The second, released in Yokohama end of March 2014, said that profoundly negative effects were already being felt, including increasing pollution, shrinking glaciers and more persistent droughts ad warned of worse to come, like rising sea levels, loss of species and decreasing agricultural yields. The third report, released in mid-April 2014, focuses on “mitigation” – how to fight rising temperatures by limiting the build-up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Despite investments in cleaner and more efficient energy in the United States, Europe and China, emission of greenhouse gases have risen almost twice as fast in the first decade of this century as they did in the last decades of the 20th century, putting in jeopardy the emissions target agreed upon in Rio to limit warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial level. Beyond that increase, the world could face truly alarming consequences. To avoid that fate, global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by between 40 and 70 per cent compared with 2010 by mid-century.
The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 compelled developed nations to cut CO2 emissions by 2012 of a percentage referred to the 1990 levels (5,3% for 37 countries and 8% for the European Union). This objective has been more or less reached thanks partly to the advent of renewable energy and partly to the industrial slackening in Western Countries induced by the economic crisis since 2008. That is true particularly for the European Union whose Directive on climate change – better known as 20-20-20 – obliged all Member States to cut by 2020 of 20% CO2 emissions on the 1990 level, to cut of 20% the energy use in a more efficient way and to bring to 20% the share of renewable energy in the total output. But the objectives, a bit ambitious, put by the Directive 20-20-20 have not withstood the anxiety for the unemployment and the growth of an economy weakened by the persistent debt crisis. With the intention to find a suitable balance between the protection still dependent on the use of carbon and fossil fuels the Member States have decided, last October, to extend to 2030 the objectives on emissions and renewable sources. The agreement foresees a compulsory cut of 40% of CO2 emissions on the 1999 level and brings to 27% the share of energy coming from renewable sources on total output.
Indications of political will and commitments to concrete action corresponding to the urgency expressed by scientists have been expressed by the two countries which are at the same time the greatest economic powers in the world and the biggest emitters of CO2: the United State, among the most industrialized advanced countries, and China, among the emerging countries. In 2009, in Copenhagen, the USA committed to cut the emissions of greenhouse gas of 17% by 2020 on the 2005 levels. As a matter of fact the emissions have decreased only of 7%. Making use of the extraordinary powers assigned by the Congress, President Obama announced in June 2013 the two great objectives of the “Climate Action Plan”: cutting the carbon emissions and relaunching under the American aegis the international cooperation for the protection of the environment and the fight to global warming. Moreover the Plan foresees to redouble by 2020 the quantity of electric power produced by renewable sources, to increase the standards of the use of fossil fuels, to grant credit guaranties for the introduction of new technologies in carbon caption, to improve the efficiency of the power network and to preserve the role of forests for the mitigation of emissions. At the Copenhagen Summit in 2009 China committed to cut of 40-45% the carbon share and to reach by 2020 the objective of 15% of total energy consumption assured by not fossil fuels. The XII° Five Year Plan (2011-2015) confirmed the commitments assumed in 2009 and announced a general strategy of environmental protection based on decarbonization, energy conservation, development of new energies, enforcement of institutional building, deeper and more effective methods of surveying, investments in research and international cooperation. However, even if the announced measures will be executed, the demand of energy in China, determined by the necessity to maintain the country’s economic growth at the programmed rate, will continue for many years more to be fed mostly by carbon and fossil fuels and that will influence the commitments assumed by China at international level in the field of environment and climate change.
The Conference in Paris, from 30 November to 11 December 2015, will be a crucial appointment for the Global Environmental Governance. The 195 countries sitting at table of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are committed to find a new agreement to cut the greenhouse gas emissions. A pact to whom also the Developing Countries, which were excluded by the Kyoto, and United States must adhere. Today conditions are more favorable for a global deal. About 30 countries or group of countries – counting the EU as one – have climate legislation and many more have set targets. The report in last September from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate made a convincing case that “we can achieve both better growth and a better climate”. The plunging cost of renewable energy and abundant opportunities in other areas such as energy efficiency make it possible to lay the foundations of an economy with lower greenhouse gas emissions for a minimal additional cost. Moreover, some measures to address climate risk, including improved energy efficiency and support for innovation, are likely to strengthen growth, not weaken it, as well as providing other benefits such as reductions in air pollution. For the first time in the history of international relations science, technological innovation and economy are united to open the path to a more sustainable development an a better way of living.