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The Laziska coal-fired power plant near Katowice, Poland, where the U.N. climate change conference was held. The Laziska coal-fired power plant near Katowice, Poland, where the U.N. climate change conference is being held, Dec. 12, 2018 (Photo by Monika Skolimowska for dpa via AP Images).

The Uneven Global Response to Climate Change

Monday, Feb. 10, 2020

Recently published climate science ultimately underscores the same points: The impacts of climate change are advancing faster than experts had previously predicted, and they are increasingly irreversible. One recent blockbuster report, from a United Nations grouping of biodiversity experts in May 2019, found that 1 million species are now in danger of extinction unless dramatic changes are made to everything from fuel sources to agricultural production. Despite these warnings, however, scientists confirm that the world remains on pace to blow past the goal of restricting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, likely with catastrophic consequences.

Persistent climate skepticism from key global figures, motivated in part by national economic interests, is slowing diplomatic efforts to systematically address the drivers of climate change. In particular, U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement immediately undermined the pact but has also had long-term implications. Countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia, who were never eager to participate in the first place, now have cover to back away from their commitments.

Despite these hurdles, negotiators made substantive progress during a U.N. climate change conference in December 2018, putting in place an ambitious system of monitoring and reporting on carbon emissions for nations that remain part of the agreement. But the latest round of talks in December 2019 ended in abject failure.

Frustration with the slow progress and persistent challenges toward achieving increasingly urgent targets has spurred newfound activism, particularly among young people. The Fridays for Future movement, with its coordinated student walkouts to demand action on climate change, has become the face of this wave of protests and may prove a political threat to parties that downplay climate action. The gains made by Green parties in the European Parliament elections in May 2019, as well as in a series of national elections in Europe, show just how potent a voting issue climate change can be.

WPR has covered climate change in detail and continues to examine key questions about what will happen next. Will Friday for Future upend existing political orders and usher in new, climate-focused leaders? What role will climate change play in the upcoming U.S. presidential election? Will global leaders manage to transform ambitious emissions goals into actions? Below are some of the highlights of WPR's coverage.

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Greta Thunberg Is Right About the Climate Crisis. Now What?

In January, Greta Thunberg addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the latest in a series of appearances at high-profile international events where she has excoriated the world’s leaders and elites for their inaction in tackling climate change. She is right that the threat posed by the climate crisis makes it the single most urgent challenge facing humankind. But recognizing that does not make the problem any easier to solve.

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Climate Change Diplomacy

The global political effort to address climate change is moving ahead, despite the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris agreement. But it is unclear if global leaders will ever agree to measures that rise to the level of what is needed. Success hinges particularly on the continued participation of major emitters, including India and China, which is not a guarantee. The effort could receive a much-needed boost if Trump is defeated in 2020 and a new president moves quickly to recommit U.S. leadership and resources to the effort. But even that is uncertain.

Impact, Mitigation and Adaptation

The developing world is actually leading the way on mitigation and adaption efforts. Morocco has invested heavily in solar power, and India has implemented a moratorium on any new coal plants. It’s no surprise that some of the most ambitious mitigation and adaptation efforts are coming from countries that are most immediately menaced by the effects of climate change. But those efforts are often constrained by limited resources and the unwillingness, for now, of developed countries to help fund them.

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in June 2019 and is regularly updated.