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Climate Change

5 Big Promises Made At Annual UN Climate Talks And What Has Happened Since

Ahead of whatever decisions come from this year’s negotiations, here is a look at five big promises from nearly 30 years of talks, and what’s happened since

5 big promises made at annual UN climate talks and what has happened since
Negotiators are debating how fast fossil fuels should be reduced and how a major transition to green energy would be paid for, raising the possibility of a historic agreement

Dubai: When United Nations climate talks wrap up at some point this week in Dubai, big promises will likely be made about how the world is going to combat climate change, caused by the burning of fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal. Negotiators are debating how fast fossil fuels should be reduced and how a major transition to green energy would be paid for, raising the possibility of a historic agreement.

Previous summits have ended with funds established to help developing countries transition to green energies, pledges to slash pollution and promises to keep people most vulnerable at the centre of policy discussions.

But have countries stuck to their word?

Ahead of whatever decisions come from this year’s negotiations, here is a look at five big promises from nearly 30 years of talks, and what’s happened since.

Also Read: COP28: India Reduces Its GDP Emission Intensity By 33% Between 2005-2019


The third climate summit took place in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 — one of the warmest years recorded in the 20th century.

Known as the Kyoto Protocol, the agreement asked 41 high-emitting countries across the world and the European Union to cut their emissions by a little more than 5 per cent compared to 1990 levels.

Emissions cuts can come from many places, from deploying green energies like wind and solar that don’t produce emissions to making things that do, like vehicles with combustible engines, run more cleanly.

Despite the agreement to cut emissions, it was only in 2005 that countries agreed to finally act on the Kyoto Protocol. The United States and China — the two highest emitters both then and now — didn’t sign the agreement.

Also Read: COP28: In Final Hours Of Dubai Climate Talks, Most Crucial Draft Document Excludes ‘Fossil Fuel Phase Out’

In terms of sticking to the promises made, Kyoto wasn’t successful. Emissions have increased dramatically since then. At the time, 1997 was the hottest year on record since pre-industrial times. 1998 broke that record, as have more than a dozen years since then.

But Kyoto is still considered a landmark moment in the fight against climate change because it was first time so many countries recognised the problem and pledged to act on it.


By the time the 2009 conference in Denmark came around, the world was capping off its warmest decade on record — which has since been broken.

The summit is widely regarded as a failure for the impasse between developed and developing countries on slashing emissions and whether poorer nations could use fossil fuels to grow their economies. Still, it did see one major pledge: money for countries to transition to clean energy.

Rich countries promised to channel USD100 billion a year to developing countries for green technologies by 2020. But they didn’t reach USD100 billion by the start of the 2020s, drawing criticism from developing states and environmentalists alike.

Also Read: At COP28, UN Chief Proposes Deal On Phasing Out Fossil Fuels

In 2022, the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development said rich countries might have finally met and even exceeded the USD100 billion goal. But Oxfam, a group focused on anti-poverty efforts, said it’s likely that 70 per cent of the funds were in the form of loans that actually increased the debt crisis in developing countries.

And as climate change worsens, experts say the funds promised are not enough. Research published by climate economist Nicholas Stern found that developing countries likely need USD 2 trillion for climate action every year by 2030.


It wasn’t until 2015 that a global pact to fight climate change was adopted by nearly 200 nations, which called on the world to collectively slash greenhouse gases. But they decided it would be non-binding, so countries that didn’t comply couldn’t be sanctioned.

The Paris Agreement is widely considered the single biggest UN achievement in efforts to confront climate change. It was agreed upon exactly eight years ago on December 12 to a standing ovation at the plenary.

Nations agreed to keep warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, and ideally no higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Also Read: Latest Global Adaptation Goal Draft Calls For Closing Finance Gap And Global Stocktake Consideration

Paris’ legacy continues, with the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees still central to climate discussions. Scientists agree that the 1.5 threshold needs to be upheld because every tenth of a degree of warming brings even more disastrous consequences, in the form of extreme weather events, for an already hot planet.

The world hasn’t exceeded the limit set in the Paris agreement — it has warmed around 1.1 or 1.2 degrees Celsius since the early 1800s — but is currently well on its way there, unless drastic emissions cuts are made quickly.


Six years after Paris, global warming had hit such a critical point that negotiators were looking to recommit to the goal of capping warming to the levels agreed in 2015.

Average temperatures were already 1.1 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial times.

The Glasgow summit was postponed until 2021 as the world was emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. It included mass protests headlined by climate activist Greta Thunberg, who helped lead a global movement of youth activists to demand more action from leaders.

After last-minute disagreements over the language of the final document, countries agreed to “phase-down” coal, less strong than the original idea of a “phase-out”. India and China, two heavily coal-reliant emerging economies, pushed to water the language down.

Also Read: COP28 Plan To Triple Renewables Is Doable, But Not Easy, Companies Say

The burning of coal is responsible for more emissions than any other fossil fuel, approximately 40 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Burning of oil and gas are also major sources of emissions.

So far, countries have failed to deliver on the Glasgow deal. Emissions from coal have slightly increased and major coal-using countries have yet to begin moving away from the dirtiest of fossil fuels.

India is a case in point. It’s dependent on coal for more than 70 per cent of power generation, and plans a major expansion of coal-based power generation capacity over the next 16 months.


At last year’s climate talks in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, countries for the first time agreed to create a fund to help poorer nations recover from the impacts of climate change.

Coming a few months after devastating flooding in Pakistan that killed nearly 2,000 people and caused losses of over USD 3.2 trillion, COP27 delegates decided to set up the loss and damage fund so that destroyed homes, flooded land and lost income from crops damaged by climate change would compensated.

After disagreements around what the fund should look like, the fund was formally created on the first day of this year’s talks in Dubai. Over USD700 million has already been pledged. The pledges — and the amounts the countries choose to commit — are voluntary.

Climate experts say the pledges are just a fraction of the billions of dollars needed, as climate-driven weather extremes such as cyclones, rising sea levels, floods and droughts are increasing as temperatures rise.

(This article is part of a series produced under the India Climate Journalism Programme, a collaboration between The Associated Press, the Stanley Centre for Peace and Security and the Press Trust of India.)

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which in its Season 10 is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Ayushmann Khurrana. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In a world post COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental well-being, self-care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India. 

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