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Our Changing Climate
Signs of Climate Change
Causes of Climatic Change
Future Climate Trends and Impacts
The Economics of Climate Change
Global Environmental Decision-making
Observations and Science Informing Policy
  The Important Role of Earth observations  
Future Challenges

There are several examples of far-sightedness by governments as nations have struggled to assemble a coherent system of global environmental decision-making in response to increasing environmental awareness: e.g. the Montreal Protocol (on protection of the ozone layer) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). There are, in fact, 500 or so international environmental agreements now in effect, of which about 150 are global treaties. But environmental trend indicators suggest that our prodigious efforts at environmental diplomacy have so far largely failed to make serious headway against the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.

Basic principles of good global environmental decision-making were pioneered at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. 172 nations endorsed environmental governance principles when they signed the ‘Rio Declaration on Environment and Development’, a charter of 27 principles meant to guide the world community toward sustainable development. The problem in applying these good governance practices is not their novelty, but the fact that they profoundly challenge traditional government institutions and economic practices.

The challenge is further complicated politically by the mismatch in timing between the environmental and political/electoral impact, and by the fact that only through international action – commonly agreed and commonly implemented – can the problem of climate change be addressed, since profound structural and economic re-engineering will be involved for participating nations. Disparities between developed and developing countries will emerge and nations may seek competitive advantage in the process. Such
teething problems have all been apparent in the definition and implementation of treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC, which imposes binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries relative to their 1990 levels.

At the international level, there is rhetorical commitment to the goals of sustainable development and participatory decision-making. However, there is far less commitment to localising these goals in national policies and decision-making practices. There is a fundamental reluctance in our societies to shoulder the domestic political and financial costs to make global environmental treaties enforceable

Geographical Pattern of Surface Warming. Projected surface temperature changes for the late 21st century (2090–2099). The map shows the average projection for one of the IPCC emissions scenarios. All temperatures are relative to the period 1980–1999.




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