All change

Discover Germany, Switzerland & Austria - - Business - TEXT & PHOTO: GRE­GOR KLEINKNECH­T

Given that the dead­line for this col­umn fell a few days be­fore the De­cem­ber West­min­ster Elec­tion Day, you will be pleased to hear that the next cou­ple of col­umn inches are a Brexit free zone, for a change. When I asked the kids what I should be writ­ing about in­stead this month, the an­swer was: cli­mate change (ac­tu­ally they said‘the cli­mate emer­gency’).

Ok, but what does that have to do with lawyers, you may ask. Well, the UN has been busy for a while now cre­at­ing an ever more elab­o­rate le­gal frame­work of in­ter­na­tional con­ven­tions and agree­ments on cli­mate change, so that’s where the law comes in. In fact, the United Na­tions Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted as long ago as 1992 at the Rio Earth Sum­mit. Greta wasn’t even born back then. Let’s not dwell on how much CO2 all those del­e­gates will have gen­er­ated, jet-set­ting from one sum­mit to the next, ever since.

The UNFCCC en­tered into force on 21 March 1994. To date, 197 coun­tries have rat­i­fied the Con­ven­tion. Re­mark­ably for its time, the Con­ven­tion recog­nised that there was a prob­lem even though there was less sci­en­tific ev­i­dence of cli­mate change than there is now. Now, the penny even ap­pears to have dropped for arch petrol-head and fos­sil fuel di­nosaur Jeremy Clark­son, that cli­mate change is a re­al­ity. Against this back­ground, the Con­ven­tion set the ul­ti­mate ob­jec­tive of sta­bil­is­ing green­house gas con­cen­tra­tions “at a level that would pre­vent dan­ger­ous an­thro­pogenic (hu­man in­duced) in­ter­fer­ence with the cli­mate sys­tem”. It states that “such a level should be achieved within a time-frame suf­fi­cient to al­low ecosys­tems to adapt nat­u­rally to cli­mate change, to en­sure that food pro­duc­tion is not threat­ened, and to en­able eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment to pro­ceed in a sus­tain­able man­ner”. The Con­ven­tion puts the onus on de­vel­oped coun­tries to lead the way in cut­ting emis­sions, as they are the source of most past and cur­rent green­house gases. In ad­di­tion, in­dus­tri­alised na­tions agreed un­der the Con­ven­tion to sup­port cli­mate change ac­tiv­i­ties in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries by pro­vid­ing fi­nan­cial sup­port for ac­tion on cli­mate change.

Next, came the Ky­oto Pro­to­col, which was adopted on 11 De­cem­ber 1997, en­tered into force on 16 Fe­bru­ary 2005, and for the first time, set in­ter­na­tion­ally bind­ing emis­sion re­duc­tion tar­gets. In 2001 came the Mar­rakesh Ac­cord, which adopted de­tailed rules for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Ky­oto Pro­to­col; and in 2012, the Doha Amend­ment, which agreed new com­mit­ments for the pe­riod to 31 De­cem­ber 2020 and adopted a re­vised list of green­house gases.

On 4 Novem­ber 2016, the Paris Agree­ment en­tered into force with the cen­tral aim of strength­en­ing the global re­sponse to the threat of cli­mate change by keep­ing a global tem­per­a­ture rise this cen­tury well be­low two de­grees Cel­sius above pre-in­dus­trial lev­els and to pur­sue ef­forts to limit the tem­per­a­ture in­crease even fur­ther to 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius.

Th­ese agree­ments spawned such an enor­mous num­ber of ad­min­is­tra­tive bod­ies, in­sti­tu­tions and com­mit­tees, that I can­not even start to list them here. One of them is the fa­mous In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC), which is where the sci­en­tists try to grap­ple with the whole thing.

Yet, af­ter all that, we heard in the news this week that carbon diox­ide emis­sions have risen again this year. So once you start look­ing into this, you re­alise that the talk­ing has been go­ing on for nearly 20 years and con­tin­ues right now at the COP 25 UN Cli­mate Change Con­fer­ence in Madrid. No won­der then, that our chil­dren, who will need to make a liv­ing on this planet long af­ter you and I are gone, are slowly com­ing round to the view that it is time for the talk­ing to stop and the ac­tion to start. So, go on Greta, and thank you for what you are do­ing. As for me, I traded in the keys to the full-fat, full-bad Porsche 911 for the key­card to an all-elec­tric Re­nault Zoe. It isn’t of course zero emis­sion, given that it is prob­a­bly fed pre­dom­i­nantly by coal and gas-fired elec­tric­ity, but let’s hope it helps a bit.

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