Climate Change, Opinions

Climate change negotiations – time does matter

ISLAMABAD: Climate change negotiations started in Bonn with the promise to make progress on the Paris Agreement.

Germany announced 100 million euros to combat climate change before the start of the conference. This announcement conveyed the message of seriousness of Germany in negotiations.

Fiji, President of the conference, insisted on meaningful engagement and progress on the Paris Agreement. It presented the agenda for adoption.

China and India strongly objected to the agenda as it missed the “pre-2020” targets for developed countries. The pre-2020 targets set by the Kyoto Protocol are obligatory for Annex-1 countries, which included all developed countries.

Need to build Pakistan’s climate expertise

In 1997 at Kyoto, it was decided that it was necessary for the developed states to cut greenhouse gas emissions to control climate change. Developing countries look at these targets as historic responsibility of the developed world.

Although these targets had to be met by 2012, at Doha the deadline was extended to 2020 in response to requests made by the developed countries. Unfortunately, this could not bring positive change in the attitude of developed countries. Many of these countries did not ratify the 2012 Doha commitments.

The omission of the pre-2020 targets led developing countries and the G-77 to formally launch a request for the adoption of Kyoto Protocol at its 20th anniversary.

Fiji tried to solve the issue but got no success. China, India and G-77 countries rejected the proposal by the presidency. It was made clear that no compromise would be made with the European Union on the pre-2020 targets. The lesson learnt was that old tactics were coming back and the developed world was still trying to delay action.

Apart from this, the parties in the conference are trying to develop a rulebook for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The rulebook will draw the sketch of an implementation plan to achieve the targets of mitigation, adaptation, financing, etc.

The major point of focus in the Paris Agreement is to reach the peak of emissions as soon as possible to ensure that the temperature rises by less than two-degree Celsius. However, words “as soon as” do not convey the urgency and seriousness of global players. Rather, they provide an open ground to the countries to play according to their intentions and will.

Scarce resources

Financing to cope with climate change would be the main point of interest for the developing and least developed countries. Right now limited resources are pledged. Although there are multiple actors in the field, the amount of finance is very low. The issue is very important for Pakistan which is ranked at seventh place on the vulnerability index. Although Pakistan’s contribution to the emissions is the minimum – 0.08% on per capita basis, it is feeling the impact.

From 1999 to 2003, Pakistan faced droughts which severely damaged agriculture, livestock and economy. Thousands of animals died due to the drought in Balochistan and other parts of the country. Many people migrated from the province in search of livelihood opportunities.

From 2010 onwards, Pakistan has become a victim of floods. Estimates suggest that by 2015 Pakistan had suffered a loss of about $18 billion due to the floods. Therefore, it places very high importance to the fight against climate change.

Avoiding targets

Unfortunately, progress at Bonn did not support expectations. Developed countries tried to avoid pre-2020 targets and financing commitments by using different tactics. The US sent a low-level delegation to Bonn.

There were also other areas of concern for the developing countries. For instance, there was not much progress on controlling loss and damage as most of the countries vulnerable to climate change were from this group.

A recent index developed by Germanwatch, a German organisation working on climate change vulnerabilities, showed that the most vulnerable countries were from the southern Hemisphere.

Prominent examples from the recent past are floods in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. Pakistan suffered heavily due to the 2010 floods as its economy lost about $10 billion.

To overcome the loss, these countries need help from the international community. Although two insurance initiatives were adopted on November 14, the utility of these initiatives still need to be analysed in the context of vulnerable countries.

Moreover, commitments under the Paris Agreement are not very ambitious rather they are well below required levels. Analysis shows that the committed emission cuts will allow a four-degree rise in temperature, which is well beyond the limit of two degrees.

Although a facilitating dialogue will start next year to look into the commitments and need to revise them, there is little hope that countries will take the right path.

It is clear that the world has to wait longer to get a meaningful outcome from climate negotiations. But the question is whether it has the luxury to waste time. A simple answer is No.

Climate change impacts are already in place and these are playing havoc with national economies and the social fabric. This year, widespread floods caused devastation all over the world. Although the US emerged as a biggest denier, it had to face the worst impact of climate change. It has faced losses of billions of dollars as hundreds of thousands of people have been displayed.

If the US cannot cope with the challenge, then it would be extremely difficult for the developing and least developed countries like Pakistan to counter the challenges of climate change single-handedly. Therefore, there is a need of global commitment to tackling the climate change.

However, the attitude of world leaders is not very hopeful and each country is focusing on its economic interest by ignoring climate change. Most importantly, we cannot waste time in negotiations and do nothing because timing does matter in the fight against climate change. If we missed the time, then it would be too late.

The writer is the Head of Centre for Future Policy and Head of Research Coordination Unit, Sustainable Development Policy Institute