unitednations.jpg “Whatever gets done over the next 10 to 15 years, whatever gets invested particularly in the energy system … is going to determine the energy matrix that we will have for at least 50 years. It is going to determine the quality of life of this century and beyond,” U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres recently told the Associated Press. Climate change is easily one of the biggest challenges the modern world faces. We’re living in a world where different countries far outweigh each other in carbon dioxide emissions; as of 2011, 35.7 percent of the total global emissions of carbon dioxide came from the U.S. and China alone, while Australia had the highest carbon dioxide emissions per capita, according to a study done by the World Resources Institute. Making a coordinated, global effort to control climate change has never been more imperative. That’s where the U.N. comes in. But what have they been doing recently? The answer is a whole host of efforts.

Climate Conferences

Perhaps the biggest events surrounding the U.N. are the summits the global body holds. For instance, the 2014 Climate Summit last September saw world leaders from major sectors like business, finance and government gather to address climate change. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited the leaders and urged them to come up with plans to reduce emissions. The Climate Summit covered eight different action areas: agriculture, cities, energy, financing, forests, industry, resilience and transportation. For instance, delegates drafted an action plan to reduce carbon emission in the agricultural industry and promote sustainable farming practices. Action points included filling knowledge gaps so policy making and applying climate-smart agriculture could become a reality, creating metrics to measure climate-smart agriculture and looking to promote research/investment in sustainable agriculture, to name a few key points. More information on the outcomes of the 2014 Climate Summit can be found here. The U.N. also holds its annual Climate Change Conferences at alternating host countries, where milestone agreements are often made. The next conference is scheduled for later this year in Paris, and intense preparations for the conference are underway. Delegates are already working on what they are calling the “Paris Package”, or the agreement and decisions made at this year’s conference. The preliminary text the delegates are drafting is geared toward keeping the global temperature rise under two degrees Celsius and helping leaders understand what political decisions will need to be made before and at the Paris conference.

The Kyoto Protocol

A major agreement put into place at the annual U.N. conferences is the Kyoto Protocol, which holds developed countries to emission reduction goals. It was adopted in 1997 and currently runs until 2020. The first commitment period ran from 2008 to 2012 and the second goes from 2013 to 2020. After a complex ratification process the protocol came into force in 2005. According to the U.N., “The Kyoto Protocol is what ‘operationalizes’ the Convention. It commits industrialized countries to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions based on the principles of the Convention. The Convention itself only encourages countries to do so.” In short, this is the current major binding force out of the U.N. that may help to curb climate change. The goal of the first commitment period running between 2008 and 2012 was to reduce emissions by 5 percent compared to 1990 levels. In 2012, the Doha Amendment was adopted at the annual Climate Conference, which entered parties into the second half of the Kyoto Protocol that runs from 2013 to 2020. Some of the key points of the amendment, in addition to entering into a second commitment period, reassess emission reduction commitments and include a revised list of greenhouse gasses to be reported by the parties involved. But it’s not all speeches, reports and protocols. The U.N. is involved in some interesting and creative awareness campaigns as well.

Media Awareness

As far as media awareness goes, the U.N. is pretty slick when it comes to showing the public what climate change means in real world ways. The U.N. recently teamed up with the Mobile Film Festival to create an awareness film challenge about climate change. The film festival is encouraging people to make one-minute videos on inspiring people to act towards climate change. Participants are encouraged to make their films on their phones and submit them to the film festival website before September 28. One-hundred films will be selected, and the winner will receive a €30,000 grant from BNP Paribas to create a film over the next year. Other prizes like Best Actress and Best Screenplay will be awarded at a screening event that will take place in Paris during the U.N.’s annual Climate Change Conference. The festival reports that last year 750 films were submitted to its competition, and the films were viewed 2.7 million times in three weeks. The U.N. also does regular media outreach. Recently, the Secretary-General traveled to Norway to take a look at some of the melting glaciers. He spoke about the issue of climate change from the boat with the waters and skyline of the Norwegian Arctic in the background. He said, “I am just close to 250 meters to the glacier. It looks magnificent. But at the same time, I am alarmed that there are so many cracks that will soon break. They are melting very rapidly, and I fully agree with what scientists have been projecting. Unless we take action now, we will have to regret. We have to keep global temperature rise below two degrees as soon as possible.” The Norwegian glacial story from the U.N. also raises awareness for the upcoming conference in France. Additionally, a photo contest called the 1st Photographic Forum for the Planet is seeking photo submissions and testimonials about how beautiful and cherished our natural world is. The winning entries will appear in a white paper that will be submitted at the Climate Change Conference later this year. The goal is to use the photos to influence delegates at the conference to make positive choices with regard to the climate.