Environment in 350 words
The 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) convened to review the adoption of the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) begins tomorrow (Nov 30) in Paris — a city struggling to regain normalcy after the recent terrorist attacks.
The conference, organised by the UN, has been dubbed the biggest ever for France, as it brings a large number of heads of states to the city. Some 50,000 participants, from government and intergovernment organisations, UN agencies, NGOs and civil society, will be attending this mega event.
Tracing the history of these conferences, one finds that the implementation of international political response to climate change began at the Rio Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992, where the ‘Rio Convention’ included the adoption of UNFCC. This convention set out a framework for action aimed at stabilising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” The UNFCC, which entered into force on March 21, 1994, now has a membership of 195 parties (states).
Unlike the 20 conferences held since 1994, this one will hopefully for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, “with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.”
On the run-up to COP21, the signatory states were asked to submit their respective voluntary Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) documents that explained their plans on how to cut carbon emissions at home. Around 155 countries submitted their INDCs documents well in time. But there were some that missed the deadlines – including Pakistan, that submitted the document six weeks late.
Amazingly, the INDCs document submitted by Pakistan is a 350-word one-pager that hardly talks about any concrete plans to fight climate change and lacks baseline data and targets. There is no mention of timelines or milestones — something that makes the whole exercise questionable. It comprises general statements regarding the government’s intentions and resolve to meet this challenge effectively.
This half-hearted response to an international call of immense importance is being widely discussed within the country and abroad, and equated with the country’s alleged negligence towards the issue of climate change.
It is strange that despite having a comprehensive climate change policy and also an implementation plan, the country is shy of making any commitments.
Muhammad Arshad Rafiq, Chief Coordinator at LEAD Pakistan, a non-profit organisation working primarily on environment and development, is of the opinion that it would have been better not to submit a document than submitting this one-pager. He says, the purpose of calling INDCs from states is to know what exact challenges they face and what realistic targets they can set for themselves and ultimately achieve within the deadlines decided by them. “It is a bottom-up approach, totally different from the top-down approach, adopted in the past when states were given targets and asked to achieve them.”
Rafiq explains as states know their conditions and capacities better, it has been left to them to define their course of action. But in the case of Pakistan, he says, the said INDCs comprise generic statements that talk about intentions but not any clear-cut plans like cutting of carbon commissions to a certain level by a certain year. The reason why the country is not prepared for COP21 in his opinion is that there was no climate change minister for many months, and challenges in the wake of devolution of environment ministry to provinces are yet to be tackled.
The good news, according to him, is that the superior courts have ordered setting up of climate change commissions in provinces — something which he says will help put things in order. LEAD Pakistan has helped KP establish a commission and will soon be working with other provinces on similar plans, he discloses.
It is strange that despite having a comprehensive climate change policy and also an implementation plan, the country is shy of making any commitments. One reason, as shared by sources in the federal government, is that the top economic managers were reluctant to give any figures as they foresee a drastic increase in emissions during the execution of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.
Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri, Executive Director/Senior Research Fellow at the Islamabad-based Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), says though Pakistan is not in a strong position for the lack of a clear-cut plan it could still present its case strongly. He says Pakistan could have come up with a better INDC without fear as these are voluntary agreements and not legally binding.
The country, he suggests, should have focused on the fact that it has been a frontline state in the war on terror for the last 15 years and suffered irreparable loss of life, property and livelihood of its masses. Even today, military operations against terrorists are underway in the country. Therefore, it needs global support to overcome its challenges, including climate change and technological backwardness, as it is one of the 10 countries most affected by this phenomenon.
Suleri says Pakistan can demand financial assistance from the global Green Climate Fund (CGF) set up to “assist developing countries in adaptation and mitigation practices to counter climate change.” He says Pakistan, which hardly contributes 0.08 per cent to the global emissions, has all the right in the world to demand financial support from the developed world that is the major polluter. The country must also ask for clean technology transfer at affordable rates from the developed world to help reduce emissions, he says, continuing that it is quite unfair that these countries have achieved high levels of growth but imposed intellectual property rights on their inventions just to keep the developing countries where they are.
Suleri says even a big country like India which has promised to reduce emissions by 33 per cent in the next 15 years has made it conditional with receipt of global funds for this purpose. “Why can’t Pakistan?” he asks.
He is content with the appointment of Zahid Hamid as minister for climate change days ahead of COP21 and terms it a step in the right direction. “His appointment will help. He drafted the country’s environmental laws with Dr Pervez Hasan, the country’s leading environmental lawyer.”
Dr Adil Najam, Dean of Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, says, “In many ways I think the INDCs are less important. In some way, a distraction.”
The more important questions for him are: “Will we have a binding agreement? Will that agreement – and especially industrialised countries – take on real and binding commitments to take real action that will limit global climate change to 1.5 degrees or below. Not 2.5 or 3.5 but 1.5. Because if it doesn’t then life for vulnerable countries like Pakistan will become even more miserable.”
Meanwhile, PM Nawaz Sharif’s speech on Nov 30 at COP21 has assumed immense importance. He must convey to the world all that the hurriedly done one-pager failed to.
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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.