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Global climate change key issues

What are the key issues around climate change? Read our analysis for insight into the Kyoto Protocol, carbon emissions and other important topics.

Further responses to climate change

Carbon credits

These can be explained as being a quota of carbon emissions. They are an attempt to control carbon emissions. If a country wishes to burn fossil fuels to develop their industry and they are going to produce an increased amount of CO2 as a result then they may buy carbon credits in order to proceed. The carbon credits authorise them to produce excess carbon. Countries may sell their credits to traders who deal with other countries. There is a monetary value attached to the ability to produce or reduce carbon emissions. The main aim of the scheme is to place a cap on the amount of carbon produced and keep levels to s pre-determined amount.

EU emission trading system

This is similar in principle to Carbon credits in that an allocation is assigned to a country (an EU member state) and these allocations can then be traded with other countries. Within a country the allocation may be distributed to power stations and factories. If one of these installations exceeds their allowance then they have to purchase more form another company or apply to the government to increase their original amount. The principle is “cap and trade” and the EU emissions trading system is the largest of its kind.

Example of local responses

In the UK there are many examples of schemes that exist that are representative of many schemes in other countries. The government has invested money into promoting schemes for householders to reduce their impact on the environment for example by providing subsidies for insulation reducing the amount of heating required.

Companies who carry out new build housing in the UK have to meet certain conditions such as a percentage of houses have solar energy contributing to their energy mix. Many companies now install solar panels for existing properties too, usually involving heavy subsidies from local government schemes.

Increased emphasis on recycling schemes, using public transport, investment in foot/cycle paths and encouraging people to source food locally are examples of things that take place on a small scale but have a very large cumulative effect.

Global inequalities

It is very unfair for countries trying to develop their manufacturing and trade that they have to comply with international treaties and laws limiting their emissions when those countries who are already developed have a history of pumping carbon dioxide (and other pollutants) into the atmosphere. The MEDCs (More Economically Developed Countries) also have the advantage of using technology they have developed to keep emissions down but still compete on the world markets. This is a difficult problem for the poorest countries but a great convenience for the wealthier ones. Not only are their economic impacts on the poorest countries but they are often the ones who are most vulnerable from the impacts of global warming; coastal and river flooding for example. Poorer countries rarely have the provision to protect themselves by reducing the risk and lessening the impact of flooding, nor do they have the infrastructure to get back on track and recover from a climate related disaster.

Whilst scientists are building a model of climate change for the last 3 billion years, there appears to have been a significant warming of global temperatures since 1980, with the 1990s being the hottest decade of the 21st century.

Responses to global warming

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control (IPCC)

Set up under the UN in 1988 the IPCC to prevent human action from interfering with the levels of greenhouse gasses to such an extent that the natural climate change cycle was disrupted. The organisation

carries out a review role rather than carrying out its own research and monitoring of changes in the atmosphere. Following reviews, the IPCC produces assessment reports which act to serve as summaries of the situation related to climate change.

Stern report

The Stern report was commissioned by the UK government to focus on the economics of climate change and was published in 2006. The report had many findings but the main message was that there would be benefits of taking “strong, early action on climate change”. The report also confirmed the already accepted idea that climate change “threatens the basic elements of life for people around the world”.

The Stern report received support and criticism but undoubtedly had the effect of promoting international discussion about what to do especially across Europe. The consensus was that doing nothing was not an option.

Kyoto agreement (1997)

The full name of this agreement is “The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change” (UNFCCC). It is an international agreement that places controls on industrialised and newly industrialising countries.

The primary concern of the agreement is to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses from human activity. The agreement acknowledges that the current high levels of greenhouse gasses has to be attributes to MEDCs and whilst it does not restrict directly the emissions of LEDCs, it does expect them to reduce their emissions in the medium to long term.