Beyond Borders: Progress on a Global Level

Two experienced UNFCCC activists explain how to become “climate smarties” and create a fair, effective and ambitious global climate deal.

Generally, when we discuss the effects that greenhouse gases have on the world’s atmosphere, we prefer the term climate change. Global warming simply isn’t an accurate description. But we do like one thing about this description: it reminds us that the problem we face isn’t just local or national, it’s global. Humanity is experiencing a global problem -- and that problem requires a global solution.

The United Nations has a very important part to play in fighting climate change. It provides a forum for governments to work together, and hammer out solutions to international problems. Global problem- solving is a long, slow process -- and a thankless one a lot of the time. You may have read news articles about the countless international conferences on global warming and wondered what goes on at those meetings. Different nations bring competing agendas to the table; representatives from all nations must overcome language and cultural barriers; and national governments face pressures at home from business, organized labor, and opposition parties. The world’s glaciers may be receding faster than international agreements can move forward.

And yet, despite all the impediments, the world’s nations make progress. Even better, sometimes they enjoy huge successes, such as the international agreement to stop the destruction of the ozone layer. Our world today is a safer place because of global agreements.

Global agreements hold countries accountable for certain actions and give nations a set of rules enforced through United Nations international law.

The world’s governments have been struggling with climate change for more than 20 years. The process has been painfully slow, and those governments still have a lot to do. But, right from the start, every country (well, almost every country) agreed that no one nation can solve the problem of climate change alone.

Why Global Agreements Are Important

Countries can do a lot to tackle global warming individually, as we discuss in Chapter 10. But the problem is far too great, and the solutions are far too complex, for countries to attempt to address climate change on their own. Each country is responsible for a portion of greenhouse gas emissions and has the ability to reduce global emissions anywhere from a fraction of a percentage up to 25 percent. But it is only with a collective effort that global emission can be reduced 50 to 80 percent. The world needs a global agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions and fight climate change.

Excerpted from Global Warming for Dummies, Elizabeth May and Zoe Caron (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).