2015 is a year for major decisions on how the world will move forward to address climate change. Negotiations are presently underway to reach a new universal global climate agreement in Paris this December that will put the world on a pathway that will keep the world's temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius.
2014 was the hottest year on record and projections show that 2015 will be even hotter. This century has already seen 14 out of the 15 warmest years since records began.
And the impacts are measurable and visible. Climate change is no longer a problem for the future. It is with us today, and will stay with us for many decades, even if we were to stop the emissions of all greenhouse gases tomorrow. All this is bad news.
But there is good news as well. In the last few years, there have been tremendous developments that are taking us in the right direction. There has been a remarkable renewable energy revolution - everywhere in the world, but some countries such as China, Denmark and Germany - just to name a few - have particular achievements in this area. We have seen major progress over the last few years that shows we can take action to address climate change, if we take action now,
We need new solutions to enable us to move toward the low-carbon future we need to achieve. We need all hands on deck - as the Secretary-General has been saying - to find effective ways to reduce emissions and also to adapt to the changes the world is already experiencing.
But considering the magnitude of the problem, the speed of change is not enough. The process needs to accelerate, more businesses must be engaged encouraging a race to the top - to the top of the most climate-friendly businesses - by not a few, but most businesses.
UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon has said, "Climate change is the defining challenge of our time. It affects us all, but it does not affect us all equally. We have a profound responsibility to protect and assist the world's poorest and most vulnerable people and to pass on to future generations a planet that is thriving and healthy."
There is no doubt the climate system is warming, according to reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the international body responsible for assessing the science related to climate change. Sea levels are rising, the amounts of snow and ice are diminishing, and the atmosphere and ocean are warming while concentrations of greenhouse gases are increasing. It is extremely likely that human influence is the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
Why does climate change concern the United Nations?
The impacts of climate change can multiply existing threats to peace, security and sustainable development. This has led UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to make it one of his key priorities. Addressing climate change is central to the work of the United Nations.
There is also need to ensure that the developments across the world happen in a more equitable manner than now. Developing countries, and especially the most vulnerable-who are being impacted by climate change but did not contribute to it--need to be supported for their adaptation needs, and all need financial and technology support to ensure access to the technologies needed for a low carbon growth.
"We need to act decisively to change humanity's relationship with our planet." Ban Ki-moon.
But tackling climate change also offers benefits and opportunities. Addressing climate change not only means reducing emissions, but it also leads to reduced pollution, better health, and building more efficient and liveable cities.
The UN helps to assess the state of the science on climate change through the IPCC. It provides a forum for bringing the world together to take collective action on climate change through UNFCCC. And it works in the field to help countries develop solutions that reduce emissions and promote sustainable development.
Negotiations for a new global agreement
At the core of international efforts to address climate change are the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol. These two treaties represent the international response so far to the compelling evidence, compiled and repeatedly confirmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that climate change is occurring, and that it is largely due to human activities.
In 1992, countries joined the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to cooperatively consider what they could do to limit average global temperature increases and the resulting climate change.
By 1995, countries realized that emission reductions provisions in the UNFCCC were inadequate. They launched negotiations to strengthen the global response to climate change, and, two years later, adopted the Kyoto Protocol. The Protocol legally binds developed countries to emission reduction targets. Its first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012. The second commitment period began on 1 January 2013 and will end in 2020. Parties to the Convention are negotiating a new international agreement that will be reached by the end of 2015.
What is the Climate Change Conference in Paris in November 2015 about?
COP 21-the Paris Climate Change Conference - is a major milestone on the road toward developing robust, long-term policy frameworks for low carbon economies. Paris is an opportunity to change the way we do things and embark on forward-looking strategies and policies that will not only allow us to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, but to build a prosperous and sustainable future.
The conference is expected to be attended by up to 50,000 participants including 25,000 official delegates from government, UN agencies, intergovernmental organisations, NGOs and civil society.