Climate Change: Changing the Perspective of the Argument

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Nearly seventeen years have passed since the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (“Kyoto Protocol”) was introduced.[1] The purpose of the protocol was for signatory nations to develop and implement a strategy for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.[2] The United States signed on to the protocol, but it was never ratified, and the country withdrew support in 2001.[3] Even though some of the world’s largest emissions producers did not ratify it, the Kyoto Protocol went into effect in February 16, 2005;[4] fifty-five parties accounting for fifty-five percent of world carbon dioxide emissions ratified the Convention.[5]

Fast-forward to modern times, and climate change is making its way back to the forefront of world discussion. In early November 2014, the United States and China entered into an agreement to reduce carbon emissions.[6] This is a big development not only because it is China’s first-ever commitment to reduce emissions,[7] but also because it is an agreement between the two largest producers of emissions in the world.[8] It should be noted that China was a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, but did not set any target for reductions, and regardless of that, has experienced an increase in emissions in the past years.[9]

The timing of this agreement, though, is likely going to be a big talking point. The agreement comes just days before the G20 Leaders’ Summit convenes in Brisbane, Australia.[10] President Obama’s statements during the summit have made it clear that he wants some sort of world climate deal to be discussed[11] and, with both China and the United States being members of the G20,[12] this new agreement could push the issue. However, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, an opponent of the man-made climate change theory, has tried to push the issue to the margins of the summit.[13] Whether any global plan is developed or even discussed is yet to be seen, but maybe a change in perspective is needed.

Quite often people get bogged down in the debate over whether climate change is real and whether or not humans are to blame. The proof offered by most proponents of human-caused climate change is surface temperature increase and sea level rise.[14] However, these effects do not readily convey a sense of danger because there is no directly evident impact on humans; people tend to disregard things that do not affect them.[15] To effectuate a change in attitude towards dealing with climate change, the discussion will need to overcome the self-interested nature of humans by clearly connecting environmental effects with negative effects on humans.

For instance, one of the current theories is that as the planet warms, it will become harder to control and fight vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever, and West Nile virus.[16] These diseases, which historically were limited to hot, humid regions of Africa and South America, recently have shown up in new locations as climates have changed.[17] For instance, West Nile virus first appeared in the United States in 1999.[18] These kinds of diseases often lack a cure or vaccine, have unpleasant symptoms, and sometimes prove to be fatal even with treatment.[19] While this may undermine the goal of those who seek to focus solely on the environmental effects, and think that should be reason enough to change climate policy, pointing out the human consequences is not a bad strategy if it helps elicit change.


[1] Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Dec. 10, 1997, U.N. Doc FCCC/CP/1997/7/Add.1, 37 I.L.M. 22 (1998) [hereinafter Kyoto Protocol].

[2] Id. at art. II.

[3] Kyoto Protocol Fast Facts, CNN Library, http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/26/world/kyoto-protocol-fast-facts/ (last updated Apr. 8, 2014).

[4] Id.

[5] Kyoto Protocol, supra note 1, at art. XXV.

[6] Mark Landler, U.S. and China Reach Climate Accord After Months of Talks, N.Y. Times (Nov. 11, 2014), http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/12/world/asia/china-us-xi-obama-apec.html.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Corina Haita, The State of Compliance in the Kyoto Protocol, ICCG Reflection No. 12/2012 (2012), available at http://www.iccgov.org/en/iccgstudies/the-state-of-compliance-in-the-kyoto-protocol/.

[10] See Australia 2014, G20, https://www.g20.org/australia_2014 (no longer available) (stating that the G20 Leaders’ Summit begins on November 15, 2014).

[11] Neil Sands, Obama pushes for world climate pact after China deal, Phys.org (Nov. 15, 2014), http://phys.org/news/2014-11-obama-world-climate-pact-china.html.

[12] G20 Members, G20, https://www.g20.org/about_g20/G20_members (no longer available).

[13] Sands, supra note 11.

[14] Id.

[15] Lois Rogers, Climate Change: Why We Don’t Believe It, New Statesman (Apr. 23, 2007), http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2007/04/climate-change-british-opinion.

[16] Umair Irfan, Climate Change May Make Insect-Borne Diseases Harder to Control, Scientific American (Nov. 21, 2011), http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/climate-change-may-make-insect-born-diseases-harder-control/.

[17] See id.

[18] Id.

[19] Seeid.


Posted by Paul L. Comer on Fri. November 21, 2014 11:13 AM
Categories: Climate Change

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