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The Paris Agreement and its predecessors

This article highlights the main international political movements and policies to respond to climate change.

Let’s explore the main political initiatives that are being taken in response to climate change. We’ve established that climate change is a WICKED problem that needs everyone to get involved to help mitigate the challenges it presents. So, what are the global governments doing about it?

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Above is a simplified timeline showing the events and agreements of the last 30 years. We recommend you take a look at this more detailed timeline produced by the UNFCCC but here are the key points:

  • The UNFCCC is a global convention for all countries to commit to fighting climate change.
  • The main global agreements that most countries have signed up to are the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.
  • Every year there is an annual conference called the Conference of the Parties (COP) at which countries meet and discuss their progress against the agreed protocols, discuss future directions in the fight against climate change, and commit to making the necessary changes.
  • COP is the major global policy forum for climate change action.
  • COP 26 was cancelled in 2020, and the global youth held a Mock COP event. The themes that arose out of this online conference are what this course has been built on. You’ll meet one of the organisers of Mock COP later in the course.

Whilst all the events on the timeline have contributed to the climate movement, you’ll have probably heard about the Paris Agreement and the upcoming COP26 recently in the news. The annual COP events are prestigious events where representatives from nations throughout the world meet to discuss and commit to climate change action. COP also assesses the progress of each nation’s commitment to addressing climate change, and the progress of The Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement at COP21 was the first time that all the participating nations committed to make ambitious efforts to keep the global temperature rise this century below 2⁰C above pre-industrial levels, ideally limiting the rise to 1.5⁰C. The Paris Agreement requires all the signatories to make their best efforts to reach this reduction through ‘nationally determined contributions’ (NDCs) and to report on their progress towards achieving these.

In the next Step you’ll hear about Mock COP and why it’s so important for COP26 to turn good intentions into practical action.

© University of Reading
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