Climate is the result of the interaction between sunrays inclination on Earth and elements such as latitude, ocean currents, glaciers, etc. It determines many environmental characteristics of a region, such as flora and fauna, so that in each climate area it is possible to find similar environments.
Climate can change due to natural or anthropic factors. In the last decades, the rapid increase in the global temperature has been related to the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere produced by human activities, as recognized also by the scientists group of IPCC (Intergovernmental panel on climate change), that studies the climate change on the basis of the United Nations’ mandate. Among the most impactful human activities there are: the use of fossil fuels (coal, methane, gas, oil), deforestation (forests are one of the main CO2 absorption tanks with a very important function in climate mitigation), the depletion of natural resources, the exploitation of lands through unsustainable agricultural practices and the intensive livestock farming. Time plays an important role in the fight against climate change; looking at the positive experiences in this area can be a winning move.
Since the beginning of the pre-industrial age, the global average temperature has increased by approximately 1° C. Effects of warming occur with always more frequent extreme natural events (floods, hurricanes, storms) and slower natural processes (desertification, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and biodiversity loss) leading to dangerous consequences on the environment and people. The global scenarios prefigure a growing shortage of drinking water and arable lands, the accentuation of inequalities between the North and the South of the world, mass migration and conflicts.
A global problem
The “Earth Summit” held in Rio in 1992 led to the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the first international agreement on climate change. While not establishing binding thresholds to GHG emissions for the Parties, the text of the Convention included the possibility for the signatories to adopt, during successive Conferences of the Parties (COP), protocols in which mandatory emission limits would be defined. The most important of these acts, adopted in 1997 during the COP3 and entered into force 8 years later, was the Kyoto Protocol, which committed its Parties by setting internationally binding emission reduction targets.
A landmark in the negotiating process is represented by the COP21 held in Paris in December 2015. At the end of the Conference 195 countries have signed a Global Agreement on climate change with the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the ambitious objective of keeping the temperature increase below 2°C, limiting it even further to 1.5°C.
- among its highlights, the Agreement includes: the reduction of emissions through voluntary commitments at national level to be reviewed every 5 years. The Agreement requires all Parties to put forward their efforts through “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) and to strengthen these efforts in the years ahead. This includes requirements that all Parties regularly report on their emissions and on their implementation efforts;
- an annual fund of 100 billion dollars for developing countries;
- the importance of preventing, minimizing and addressing losses and damages associated with the adverse effects of climate change recalling the (Warsaw International) Mechanism for Loss and Damage ;
- the global objective to increase adaptability, strengthen resilience and reduce the vulnerability to climate change.
The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016, thirty days after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 % of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession with the Depositary.
The fight against climate change constitutes one of the five objectives in the Europe 2020 Strategy, made even more ambitious by the European Commission proposal to further reduce emissions by 2020 from 20% to 30% if other major economies commit themselves to doing it as well.
The emission reduction targets gradually grow in proportion to a longer timeframe. In fact, in October 2014, EU leaders agreed on new climate and energy targets for 2030 including a reduction of 40% in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels and, in a long-term perspective, of 80-95% by 2050.
This challenge considers on the one hand the need to realize mechanisms for reducing greenhouse gases (mitigation), acting on the causes of global warming, and on the other to adopt adaptation measures that reduce the impacts of temperature rise; the adaptation measure should also be designed to create a greater flexibility to changes and to take advantage of it both in terms of environmental sustainability and of socio-economic effects.
Adaptation and mitigation are complementary actions and they are considered as some of the most important tools we have in Europe to deal with the issue of climate change.
In this context the European Commission has developed the “EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change” (2013), which aims to strengthen the resilience of European countries in front of the Earth’s overheating threat and encourages them to adopt national strategies.
In line with the EU directives, the Italian Ministry of the Environment, Land and Sea has developed a National Adaptation Strategy with the scientific coordination of the CMCC (Euro-Mediterranean Centre on Climate Change). The document provides the instructions to combat the impacts of climate change on the environment and in the socio-economic sector, representing a reference framework for drawing up adaptation plans by regions and municipalities. Adapting to the threats of global warming and mitigation actions are a challenge that involves, besides central governments, local authorities, citizens, associations, the private sector and different stakeholders as well. Therefore, it is necessary to cooperate at all levels and also to promote bottom-up initiatives.
In this context, an important role is played by the New Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, presented in 2015 by the European Commission. The initiative involves thousands of local and regional authorities that have voluntarily committed themselves to reach on their territories the energy and climate targets set by the European Union . Most authorities agree with the 40% reduction targets of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and promote the integration of climate change mitigation and adaptation actions under a common umbrella.
In order to put in place concrete actions, Covenant signatories commit themselves, in particular, to draw up a Baseline Emission Inventory and an Evaluation of climate change risks and vulnerabilities, as well as to realize a Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan (SECAP).