Our common future: dealing with climate change
The world has already crossed the one degree centigrade mark above pre-industrial levels, and if our energy consumption and growth patterns continue as usual we will cross the 1.5 centigrade mark around 2030
The global community is meeting in Bonn, Germany, this month as part of the annual climate talks, the Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This is the 23rd edition of these talks, which have been held annually since 1995. Two years back the talks were held in Paris and the world rejoiced as a global agreement on the issue was reached with the aim of keeping global temperature rise below two degree Centigrade as compared to pre-industrial levels. Although, the event is being held in Bonn, Germany, the small island state of Fiji is presiding over the conference. This means that countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change are in the spotlight as discussions move forward in terms of mitigating and adapting to climate change.
This year, the participating countries are engaged in what is called the Talanoa dialogue, a process which guides nations across the world assess and review their progress in terms of their commitments as well as identifying opportunities for action. Talanoa is a Fijian word for open and transparent discussions. Yet the discussions in Bonn have thus far been anything but open and transparent. Developing countries, especially those being increasingly affected by climate extremes are asking the developed countries to follow up their commitments as part of Kyoto Protocol with concrete actions especially in terms of emission reductions.
The Kyoto Protocol, the precursor to the Paris Agreement, is in effect until 2020 when the Paris Agreement will eventually take over. However, the developed countries have thus far been evasive and increasingly non-committal. Kyoto protocol is perceived as a lame duck agreement and developed countries are more than happy to muddle through. Moreover, the discussions around loss and damage as they pertain to financial burden on impacted countries have hit a road block as well.
Some NGOs have even threatened to take developed countries to court over their failure to combat climate change in a holistic manner. This situation has not been helped by the fact that the United States, one of the major contributors to climate change, has decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and furthermore, has sent negotiators to Bonn who are pushing fossil fuels as a panacea for our climate woes. This would be a tragic comedy of the highest order, if it wasn’t based on facts.
As it stands, the world has already crossed the one degree centigrade mark above pre-industrial levels, and if our energy consumption and growth patterns continue as usual we will cross the 1.5 centigrade mark around 2030.
We don’t need to look beyond the borders of our country to get a sense of how climate change is already impacting the world. Floods, droughts, melting of glacial lakes and changing rain patterns are some of the ways climate change is already manifesting itself. The recently released German Watch report lists Pakistan at No.7 in a list of countries most impacted by climate extremes. In fact, Pakistan finds itself at the top of such rankings virtually every year.
CPEC is being labelled a game changer for our economy. But what is not being discussed is how it will prove to be a game changer for our environment as well. The emphasis on coal power plants means that our emissions will continue to grow even as we continue to be victimised by the impacts of climate change
While Pakistan’s emissions are merely a fraction of that emitted by the industrialised nations of the world, we should be careful in terms of following the same development pathways. Technological progress in terms of solar and wind power and resultant lower prices means that we have a number of options in terms of resolving our energy crisis. Yet, political expediency has meant that we have hitched ourselves to a future tied to fossil fuels.
China Pakistan Economic Corridor is being labelled a game changer for our economy. But what is not being discussed is how it will prove to be a game changer for our environment as well. The emphasis on coal power plants means that our emissions will continue to grow even as we continue to be victimized by the impacts of climate change.
As a nation that is already being deeply impacted by a warming planet, we should aim to chart an alternative course. China has embraced renewable energy as part of its development agenda and is well on its way to meeting its target under the Paris Agreement. Future discussions with our Northern neighbour should emphasize technology transfer with respect to renewable energy as part of the CPEC. Moreover, Pakistan’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) should be revised in light of global developments in enhanced renewable energy opportunities. We have tools such as strategic environmental assessments (SEAs) available at our disposal to help us move in this direction. Yet, political will is key to any initiative in this regard.
Earlier this year the Government approved the Climate Change Act under which a Climate Change Authority would be created. However, this is only the latest in a long line of environment and climate related legislations to be adopted by Pakistan. In fact, the adoption of a legal framework has never been our shortcoming. What we lack is the political will that is essential to progress in this regard.
Moreover, it is also becoming increasingly clear that any progress vis-à-vis climate mitigation and adaptation will have to be indigenous to Pakistan. Even as we struggle with political shenanigans that have become part and parcel of our governance system, the onus falls on the top echelons of the elected leadership in terms of leading the way. Such leadership can serve as an impetus in bringing together the private sector, industry, civil society, local governments and academia to collectively address our development and environmental challenges. The alternative is a bleak future for the children of this country. Is this a burden that we can wilfully endure?
This article was originally published at:
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.