Climate negotiations: road to nowhere
The day after the climate negotiations ended in Katowice, Poland, news stories abounded with plaudits headlining the successful adoption of the so called rule book which would operationalize the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change. But looks can be deceiving. Climate Change negotiations are like a desi wedding. Everyone and their uncles are invited. Gate-crashers abound. Gossip rules. Old conflicts are resolved while new ones arise. It is a big photo opportunity and even celebrity sightings are quite common. Essentially, climate talks are about keeping up pretenses and success is relative! And while desi weddings have been at it for centuries, climate change negotiations are a more recent phenomena with a short history of 25 years or so. Yet it has to be said that they’ve got the routine down pat.
Consider this. Climate research is unequivocal in its conclusion that humans (primarily developed economies) are the primary cause of global warming and its impact on our environment. This research is also adamant in its analysis that if business’ approach to development is not altered significantly in the next few years, we will cross the point of no return, which will render us susceptible to a future where extreme weather events are a norm. In essence the entire social fabric of the world as we know it is under threat. Yet, you wouldn’t know it from the bonhomie that surrounds the annual gatherings.
We can perhaps measure progress in terms of climate action by asking three questions. One, are we on target to eliminate greenhouse gases so that we can remain within the 1.5 degree target alluded to by the Paris agreement and called for by the recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report? Two, will developing countries have the necessary technical and financial support of the developed countries as they move towards a zero carbon future? And finally, will the developed world which is primarily responsible for the dire straits that we find ourselves in, address the loss and damage as a result of climate extremes in the most vulnerable communities of the world?
Climate research is unequivocal in its conclusion that humans (primarily developed economies) are the primary cause of global warming and its impact on our environment. This research is also adamant in its analysis that if business’ approach to development is not altered significantly in the next few years, we will cross the point of no return
Unfortunately, the answer to all these questions is a resounding no. As it stands, all we’ve succeeded to do at the end of this year’s climate conference is buy enough time to come back next year and go through the motions again. The optimists amongst us might say that progress, however incremental, is still movement towards a climate secure future for our children. But who are we kidding? As it stands our current commitments will take us well beyond the 3 degree warming mark since the industrial revolution, by the end of this century. And while there has been an agreement to review these commitments prior to 2020 when the Paris Agreement comes into force, there is no reason to believe that the global community will be any more sanguine in willfully committing to an ambitious agenda. The impending withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement, the election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and what can only be termed his intransigence towards the climate accord, and ratcheting up of emissions by countries like China point to an era of despair and not hope. Meanwhile, the sea level rise is already beginning to threaten the future of small island states and coastal communities around the world, including Pakistan. The floods are increasingly severe, the heat waves more frequent and droughts are longer lasting.
This should be a cause of huge concern for Pakistan, which is already one of most affected countries. The Advisor to the Prime Minister on Climate Change, Malik Amin Aslam, has already highlighted his intent to work on reviewing and strengthening Pakistan’s pollution control strategies (the NDCs). Yet, it is still to be seen if we will continue to base our commitments on foreign funding requirements that will never materialize or whether we will rely on indigenous means to make a difference. Our energy needs will be front and center of this agenda and will call into question our plans for enhanced dependence on coal, especially at a time when access to renewable energy sources is becoming exceedingly easy. Similarly, and perhaps more importantly, Pakistan will need to mainstream adaptation plans at the national, provincial and district levels across the country.
The next iteration of climate talks will take place in Costa Rica and Chile in late 2019. Meanwhile, oblivious to our collective pretensions, the pollution levels continue to rise and the climate change cycle and its impacts continue to go into overdrive, oblivious to global plans for an effective climate deal.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.