What is climate change governance?

Neha and R R Rashmi

Climate change is a major global environmental issue with severe local consequences. The global temperature has risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius in the last century and a half since pre-industrial times. The decade of the 2010s was the warmest on record with prolonged heatwaves over Eurasia, wildfires in North America and Australia, and growing concerns about the viability of low-lying areas and small island states due to the threat of sea level rise. In general, less developed countries are more affected than industrialized countries. For the period between 2000 and 2019, the highest-risk countries were Puerto Rico, Myanmar, and Haiti. All countries, rich and poor alike, must adapt to a hotter planet, weather-related loss events (storms, floods, heatwaves, and so on), human impacts (fatalities), and direct economic losses due to infrastructure or agricultural damage.

The causes of climate change are numerous and intricate, and its effects are unpredictable and connected. It will take massive, unprecedented international cooperation to find a solution. Several nations committed to keeping the global average temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius, and if possible, 1.5 degrees Celsius when they signed the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. However, countries’ combined pledges to reduce their emissions are still far from being adequate. If this were to happen, the temperature would rise by more than 3 degrees Celsius, which would have a terrible effect on the ecology and people (United Nations Environment Programme, 2019).

Building climate change solutions calls for a multilevel climate governance process that involves participation from all relevant societal segments. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) provides a platform for all stakeholders, including governments, corporates, and investors. NGOs, civil society, and world leaders gather and take decisions on the multilevel causes and impacts of climate change. The conference of parties of the UNFCCC is held every year to consider the challenges and plan effective changes through discussions and negotiations between governments (local and national), international organizations, the private and public sectors, civil society, academics, NGOs, and others.

Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change
• Based in Geneva, Switzerland, composed of 195 member states.
• WMO and UNEP founded IPCC in 1998 to offer periodical scientific assessments to decision-makers.
• IPCC assesses the risk of climate change due to anthropogenic activities, its potential impacts, and possible options for prevention.
• IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 under the Chairmanship of Dr R K Pachauri.
• The First Assessment Report in 1990 provided the scientific basis for the negotiation of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Global climate change governance
Scientists identified climate change as a global common problem because the atmosphere knows no boundaries, during the World Climate Conference held by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1979 (seven years after the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment). They called for global cooperation, including helping developing countries to understand the challenge better. The global climate change governance spans two agendas: the first is how to distinguish between the emission reduction duties of various nations and the second is the pursuit of global involvement.

Article 2 of the UNFCCC aimed to stabilize greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at a level that might avoid human interference with the climate system. By 2020, the GHG content in the atmosphere had to be brought down to 1990 levels for Annex I parties (40 industrialized economies)*. Bringing in the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR),” Annex I parties are obligated to give financial and other support to developing nations for climate action.

The first Conference of the Parties (COP) was held in 1995, and in 1997 the governments adopted an absolute cap on developed country emissions, requiring them to reduce their emissions by an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. This protocol, known as the Kyoto Protocol, is a landmark mitigation-centric “top-down” agreement with binding legal obligations. The Paris Agreement, a landmark multilateral climate change process, is a bottom-up process that was adopted by 196 parties at COP 21 in Paris on December 12, 2015. It became effective in November 2016 to strengthen the global response by limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius, above pre-industrial levels. This requires all countries to take action, with developed countries taking the lead and reaching the peak of global emissions early; casting legal obligations on everyone to take Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), laying down methods to coordinate and collaborate in the areas of global carbon trading system; establishing monitoring mechanisms for implementation of national pledges; providing financial support to developing countries and building capacity for addressing adaptation and mitigation needs.

TERI Team at COP 24 in Katowice.

The agreement operates on a five-year global stock taking cycle of countries’ climate action plans, NDCs with regular reports on their emissions and implementation efforts to collectively assess progress toward achieving the agreement’s purpose and inform future individual actions by parties.

Furthermore, the agreement aims to provide a more transparent framework for action and support by implementing appropriate mobilization, financial resources, a new technology framework and enhanced capacity-building for developing and vulnerable countries. Countries established an enhanced transparency framework (ETF) with the Paris Agreement. Beginning in 2024, countries will report transparently on actions taken and progress in climate change mitigation, adaptation measures, and assistance provided or received under the ETF. It also includes international procedures for reviewing submitted reports.

Although massive increases in climate change action are required to meet the Paris Agreement’s goals, the years since its implementation have triggered low-carbon solutions and new markets. Carbon neutrality targets are being established by increasing countries, regions, cities, and businesses. Zero-carbon solutions are becoming more competitive in economic sectors that account for 25% of emissions. This trend is most visible in the power and transportation sectors, which has created numerous new business opportunities for early adopters. Zero-carbon solutions could be competitive in sectors accounting for more than 70% of global emissions by 2030.

In addition, nations’ need to adapt to climate change’s current and future impacts is critical for preserving the gains and increasing the resilience of vulnerable communities. Adaptation in the form of better agricultural practices with drought-tolerant seeds, expanded irrigation systems, and improved access to seasonal weather forecasts; protecting freshwater from saline intrusion and damage to water infrastructure caused by solid storm surges in coastal areas; strengthening the ability to reduce the incidence of water- and vector-borne diseases; diversifying energy systems by expanding geothermal, solar, and biogas production, improving energy efficiency, and ad hoc energy production is significant.

• Kyoto Protocol entered into force on 16 February 2005 as was rectified by 55 countries of Annex 1 Countries.
• A rulebook named Marrakesh Accords was adopted in 2001 with flexibility mechanisms for trading and offsetting emissions.
• The United States did not join the Kyoto Protocol and backed away.

Governance for climate change in India
India is the world’s third-largest producer of greenhouse gases, making it one of the most climate-vulnerable countries. India is already undergoing climatic changes and the related detrimental effects on health and way of life, such as water stress, heat waves, drought, severe storms, and flooding. Despite these negative repercussions, India is regarded as one of the world’s most forward-thinking countries regarding addressing the numerous adverse effects of climate change on a national and international level. India’s climate change strategy has both domestic and global repercussions. The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) was approved on June 30, 2008. The UNFCCC received India’s intended NDCs on October 2, 2015.

The National Environment Policy (NEP) 2006, the National Action Plan on Climate Change (2008), the Energy Conservation Act (2001), the National Electricity Policy (2005), the Integrated Energy Policy (2016), and the National Policy for Farmers (2007) all serve as solid foundations upon which India’s NDC is built.

New policies and programs have been formed in a range of fields, such as e-mobility, green transportation, renewable energy, waste management, reforestation, water, etc. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced the national goal of achieving net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2070. The nation has also committed to boosting its non-fossil fuel energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030. It is currently capable of about 157GW.

India’s ongoing adaptation and mitigation measures include:
Enhancing energy efficiency (e.g., National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency) and producing and distributing clean energy. Construction of climate-resilient urban centres (e.g. Smart Cities Mission), encouraging the conversion of waste into wealth (such as the “Swachh Bharat Mission”) and a network of green transportation that is safe, smart, and sustainable (such as the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan for 2020).

Health (Health Mission), coastal regions and islands (e.g., Mangroves for the Future programme), disaster management (National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Programme), and water (e.g., National Water Mission (NWM)) and building capacity and managing knowledge (Indian Network on Climate Change Assessment (INCCA)) are all examples of adaptation measures.

Paris Agreement
• Countries to decide their own NDCs.
• 188 countries and the European Union joined the agreement.
• US re-joined the Paris Agreement in 2021 after announcing its withdrawal at the earliest in 2017.
• Formulated Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action.

Can we keep global warming from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius?
It is quite improbable that we will be able to stop global warming from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius because of the impact of accumulated and historical emissions. In this case, we must brace ourselves by developing proactive strategies to convert our economy into a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy. We need to work to improve long-term benefits for human civilization rather than short-term benefits to avert any catastrophic climate change. Following COVID-19, people will find it simpler to believe in the severe problems that require attention and their contributions to finding solutions.

YOUNGO is a recognized youth constituency under the UNFCCC. It is a project started by young people who attended COP but could not speak up for themselves during the 2009 negotiations. Thus, COY (Conference of Youth) was established before the 2011 Conference of Parties in Montreal and YOUNGO was acknowledged in 2011. It empowers children and youth on climate change and helps them build capacity through year-round webinars and workshops.

What to do?
Combating climate change with diplomatic prowess, consideration for adaptation, funding, technology, and public participation through capacity building is possible. To avoid catastrophic climate change, society must reduce its reliance on fossil fuels while pursuing low-emission development through forest conservation, agroforestry, sustainable land management, and ecosystem restoration. Such natural-based solutions could provide 30-37% of the cost-effective emissions reductions required by 2030 to keep global warming to 1.5-2.0°C.

We can support the country’s youth and motivate their participation in initiatives like creating school climate action plans under the guidance of principals and teachers to undertake action at the local level to create awareness, enhance capacity, and engage communities to bring behaviour change to accept low carbon developments by adopting the use of green hydrogen, biofuels, development of alternative fuels, and increasing the circular economy through resource efficiency and promoting the 3 Rs.

School climate action plan

In today’s world, where international action is critical, it is critical to involve future citizens in reducing climate change by raising awareness, building capacity, and changing behaviour. This can be accomplished by involving the country’s students in a school climate action initiative. This initiative allows students to play a role in addressing global challenges while promoting the knowledge, skills, and values required to take action for an environmentally sustainable society.

School Climate Action will be a climate change initiative led by students through classroom learning about climate change. This is reinforced by the school’s values and actions, which send formal and informal messages. A group of students will be formed. They will be guided and motivated to work with other school stakeholders such as students, teachers, principals, school staff at all levels, families, and community members to reflect and act on climate change. School governance, regular teaching-learning methods, school facilities, and collaboration with community members are all part of the approach. This will allow them to face the challenge in an informed way.


Neha is Senior Fellow and Area Convenor, Environment Education and Awareness, TERI. She can be reached at nehag@teri.res.in.
R R Rashmi is Distinguished Fellow and Programme Director – Centre for Global Environmental Research, TERI.

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