Achieving Global Environmental Policy

On this past Earth Day, Monday, April 22nd, you probably saw a lot of social media posts and articles celebrating Earth and our planet's beauty and life. It seems that everyone loves the Earth and wants to see action to protect our home; so what's stopping us from achieving that?

NASA’s Earth Day Campaign

NASA’s Earth Day Campaign

Global climate change policy has been notoriously difficult to implement with tangible, lasting effects. Disparities in equity and resources, coupled with polarized politics and climate change deniers, complicate matters even further.

International environmental policies have been reached with successful results. The Montreal Protocol of 1987 . Backed by scientific data that chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are used in fridges and aerosol sprays, significantly deplete the atmosphere of ozone, and evidence of a growing hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica, the international treaty planned to phase out the production of these damaging chemicals. It was universally ratified, as it was signed by 197 countries. Without this treaty, we would literally sunburn in 5 minutes, and the global climate would have been at least 25% hotter than it is today.

Projection of the ozone concentration in 2065 without the Montreal Protocol

Projection of the ozone concentration in 2065 without the Montreal Protocol

Why was this treaty so successful?

Just like fossil fuel companies today fighting climate change policy, this treaty faced a lot of backlash from chemical companies. But once the industry developed new products, chemical companies supported the switch from the old chemicals. The treaty was ratified by so many countries because of the the stipulated trade provisions, which only allowed signatories to trade with other signatories, incentivizing countries to join the commitment. The protocol also introduced the Multilateral Fund to provide incremental funding for developing countries to help them achieve each their own goals.

The Kyoto Protocol

A similar treaty was made to internationally reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1992 at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, aka the Earth Summit. The treaty was finalized in 1997 with necessary targets for greenhouse gas emissions; every country has ratified the treaty besides the United States. Developing countries, like China and India, were not forced to reduce their emissions because they had not contributed much to the century long build up of carbon dioxide. The U.S. did not agree with this policy, so they didn't sign. Many countries failed to reach their emission goals, and the United States and China continued to emit greenhouse gases that overturned reductions made during this time period. Despite the Kyoto Protocol, from 1990 to 2009, worldwide greenhouse gas emissions increased by almost 40%.

The failure of the Kyoto Protocol brings up underlying issues of equity that makes international climate change policy difficult to reach. Emissions from the past century resulted mostly from the United States and other developed countries as they were in the process of becoming global powers; so is it right that developing countries, who are currently in the process of building up their own economies and infrastructure, must pay the price for the world giants' past history of emissions?

The answer isn't easy because this scenario certainly does not sound fair, but regardless, the global temperature continues to rise.

The Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement, which was created in 2016 and has been ratified by 185 parties so far, seeks to address these issues of equity by using nationally determined contributions in which individual countries, both developed and developing, submit their own pledge based on how much they think they can reduce. Additionally, the Paris Agreement has technology and building frameworks in place to support action in developing countries to assist them in reaching their own goals.

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While the Paris Agreement is good start, it still needs work; there are no mechanisms in place to ensure that countries are bound to their NDC’s. Should there be real consequences for those that do not follow their commitment? Is that even possible?

Since Brexit in 2016, there have been three emergency summits to discuss the issues at hand; doesn’t climate change demand the same attention? We need to not only address disparities in equity across different nations, but also realize that climate change policy should not involve nationalistic borders, or a you vs. me mindset. Strong environmental policy is something people from all backgrounds want and need, and it is time for our global leaders to deliver.

-Lily Lee

Clean Consulting UCLA