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Climate negotiations: More of the same

They came; they saw; they hedged their bets and promised to do it all over again next year. Of course, I am speaking of the recently concluded the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP 23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany. This was supposed to be the year when the nations of the world united and began to put in place plans that would help realize the goals of the much celebrated Paris Climate Agreement of 2015. Yet, when all was said and done, there was little to show for nearly two weeks’ worth of interaction amongst the varied stakeholders representing the developed and developing world, civil society, private sector, academia and the communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The sense of urgency was limited to the Fijian children calling for renewed efforts to battle global warming at the opening ceremony of the conference.

Bonn is where it all started 25 years ago when the first Conference of Parties was held there in 1993. Though, it was the country of Fiji held the Presidency of COP 23 this year. Perhaps, aptly so, since small island states such as Fiji are amongst the most significantly impacted countries in the world. Pakistan, too, ranks regularly amongst the countries that continue to suffer the impacts of the changing climate. In its latest report, launched during the Bonn Conference, German Watch ranks Pakistan 7th on such a list, the Global Climate Risk Index. The regular floods and droughts that hit the country are a testament to such rankings. Research conducted by the Pakistani think tank Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) has revealed how climate change is already beginning to impact flood governance systems, migration patterns and the cotton value chain in the country.

It was in this context that the discussions took place in Bonn. The developing countries, especially those most at risk such as Pakistan coalesced around what is known as the Group of 77 which includes the India and China and challenged the developed world to honor its commitments made under Kyoto Protocol to not only drastically reduce emissions by 2020 before the Paris Agreement officially kicks in, but also to meet their commitments as part what’s known as the Warsaw Mechanism to address loss and damage as suffered by the most vulnerable. Yet, the movers and shakers, already fractured by the decision of the United States to withdraw itself from the Paris Agreement remained oblivious.

Research shows that even if the nations of the world were to abide by their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as submitted in the aftermath of the Paris Agreement, the global temperatures would still exceed the three degree centigrade mark above preindustrial levels. Moreover, this is of significant concern given the fact that the carbon emissions have increased globally for the first time in 3 years. And while China is mostly responsible for this rise due to its use of fossil fuels for energy production, the developed world also continues to lag behind their goals of limiting emissions. And although Pakistan’ contribution to global greenhouse emissions remains below 1%, they are expected to increase significantly as a result of our investment in coal power plants in the coming years. As it stands we have crossed the one degree centigrade mark and are already suffering significantly due to the impacts of a warming planet. We can only imagine the impact a three-degree warmer world entail.

The choice is clear, either the world completely eliminates greenhouse gases as part of its economic system or we can get ready for a world of recurring natural catastrophes, mass migration, extinction, conflict and turmoil. Yet, there is no reason to believe that the coming year will be any better in terms of climate negotiations and more importantly, climate action. While work will continue on a so called rulebook to outline progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement, there is little indication that concerns of the vulnerable will truly be reflected in it. The Green Climate Fund that aims to have 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to assist with mitigation efforts is significantly behind schedule, even with promises from countries such as France to pick up the slack left by United States. Similar promises have been made to reinvigorate the Global Adaptation Fund, an instrument necessary for the survival of the most vulnerable countries. Yet, financial contributions in this context thus far have been very meagre when compared with the challenges confronting us.

This essentially means that the most vulnerable nations of the world are on their own when it comes to dealing with the effects of climate change. A seachange in terms of global energy policy, cooperation and coordination efforts and sustainability is required if we are to keep global temperature rise to a minimum. Moreover, countries such as Pakistan which are most at risk will need to move beyond lip-service and rhetoric in terms of ensuring that local adaptation plans are put in place at the district level throughout the country. There will also have to be a concerted effort to harness the potential of renewable energy in Pakistan so as to limit our emissions. Unfortunately, as things stand there is sparse proof that we are any closer in moving towards these goals then we were 2 years back when the Paris Agreement was signed. Surely, the children of this world, from Pakistan, from Fiji and beyond, deserve a greater effort on the part of the global community in responding to the threat posed by climate change.

Dr Imran Saqib Khalid, "Climate negotiations: More of the same," Business Recorder. 2017-12-06.
Keywords: Environmental sciences , Environmental issues , International issues , Global Change , Climate change , United Nations , Pakistan , SDPI , COP

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