Energy Policy

Evolution of International Action


Before we can dig into where things stand with the Paris Agreement or how likely it is to be successful moving forward, we need to take a stroll through the history of international (and eventually the global) scale efforts to address climate change. We'll see that this is much more of an evolutionary process than a revolutionary one. 

This infographic (which I broke into two separate pieces to make it easer to consume) was put out by The Climate Group around the time the Paris Agreement was forged. I can't find an active link for it on their site anymore, but I think it does a nice job of breaking up our decades of work on this problem to show the very slow pace at which things have moved historically and where the important jumps are in terms of how we think about tackling this problem. Let's take a look.

description of historical climate policy attempts at UNFCCC level
Credit: The Climate Group, 2015

Evolution of policy options

  • When the UNFCCC is created, we see that we're initially dealing with a much smaller subset of countries and that we're only talking about voluntary actions.
  • As we move toward the Kyoto Protocol days, we're looking at setting actual binding targets for the developed countries but only voluntary targets for developing countries. (This ends up causing a lot of blame-game between the developed and developing economic powerhouses - in particular US vs China.)
  • We learn from the lessons of the Kyoto Protocol that we all need to be in this truly together. And so the Paris Agreement marks the first time that we're all in, and we're all beholden to targets. The difference? Countries get to set these targets themselves.

Imagine this image below is a clock. If you look at about 1 pm, you see that in the late 1980s, the UNFCCC is established.  It isn't until about 9 o'clock at that the Paris Agreement is adopted and here we stand somewhere around 10-11 o'clock or so, wondering where it will take us.

timeline of historical climate policy attempts at UNFCCC level
Credit: The Climate Group, 2015