(This article seeks to review the major policies evolved by Pakistan and the institutions established by it to promote efforts toward mitigation and adaptation of climate change and mobilize financial resources to implement its climate programs and projects. It also offers some ideas on enhancing the success of its climate agenda in the short and longer terms. – Author)
Unless the deadly coronavirus pestilence continues to defy the all-out global efforts to contain its spread within the next few months, thousands of representatives of the international community will assemble in the Scottish city of Glasgow at the end of October for two weeks of intense discussions on stepping up concerted actions to ward off the looming climate crisis for which there can be no vaccine.
The Glasgow climate conference (officially known as the twenty sixth meeting of the parties of the international agreements on climate change or COP 26), hosted by Britain and jointly run with Italy was slated to take place in November 2020 but was put off for a whole year due to Covid -19.
COP 26 is being convened against a deeply sobering backdrop. The year 2020 was found to be the hottest year of the decade and it saw an increase in climate induced extreme events in all regions of the world. During this year, there were devastating wildfires in Australia, Siberia, the American West and South America and as many as thirty storms in the Atlantic, leading to a “hurricane season”. According to the latest climate report of the World Metrological Organization, global temperature had already risen to 1.2°C and there is a 20% possibility we might see an annual average above 1.5°C before 2024.
The special report of the Inter-governmental panel on climate change had warned that reaching the goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C enshrined in the Paris Agreement (2015) would require “rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society, especially in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities”.
The central message of the IPCC report was that “global net human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45%from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050” (Net Zero means any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air.).
The 2020 Emissions Gap report of the UN Environment Programme had stated: “Despite a brief dip in carbon dioxide emissions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is still headed for a catastrophic temperature rise in excess of 3°C this century—far beyond the Paris Agreement’s goals of 2°C and 1.5°C”.
The main objective of the Glasgow climate conference would be to secure commitments of carbon emission cuts matching the above warnings from the participating countries.
As a country that is vulnerable to all the negative impacts of climate change, Pakistan has an existential interest in the outcome of COP 26. How can Pakistan utilize the Glasgow meeting to secure greater appreciation of its vulnerability to climate change and increase support for its efforts toward the twin objectives of adapting its economy to the adverse effects of climate change and contributing to the global endeavor to reverse it?
The Road to Paris (COP 21, December 2015) from Rio de Janeiro (the UN Conference on Environment and Development- UNCED-, June 1992).
In a remarkable example of policy being defined by science, leaders of more than 195 states adopted an agreement—the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCC—in June 1992 at the conclusion of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, also called the Earth Summit). The agreement was culminated after more than a year and half long negotiations aimed at implementing the recommendations of the first assessment of the Inter- Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the prestigious assessment panel established by the UN in 1987 to investigate all aspects of climate change, including international cooperation to address the newly identified global threat.
The Climate Change Convention upheld the scientific consensus that the huge increase in heat-trapping Greenhouse Gases (GHG), especially carbon dioxide (CO2) released from burning of coal, gas and, later, oil for generating energy since the Industrial Revolution has upended the natural balance of the planetary climate. It also confirmed that although developing countries had not contributed to the historic buildup or new releases of carbon, they would likely bear the major brunt of the disruptions wrought by a heating planet such as high surface and ocean temperatures and extreme weather events like floods and droughts, coastal hurricanes, rapid melting of Ice and snow stored by the planetary glacial system, rising sea level and ocean acidification flooding coastal regions, tsunamis and life threatening heatwaves.
The Convention stated the obligation of developed countries to lead the efforts to restore climate stability as well as assist developing countries, through financial and technological support to cope with the negative effects of climate change. The UNFCC stressed that climate change, being a global threat, could only be addressed through concerted actions by the international community and instituted annual ministerial level meetings of countries that had ratified the Convention to consider cooperative measures for restoring climate stability. The Convention embraced the ‘principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’ (CBDR) in regard to actions to roll back climate change.
The third meeting of Parties (COP3) of the UNFCC, held in Kyoto (Japan) in December 1997, adopted an agreement called the Kyoto Protocol requiring the thirty–eight (38) developed countries identified in the Convention to reduce their carbon emissions by 5% compared to 1990 levels in an effort to mitigate global warming and its consequences. The United States Congress rejected the Protocol. The implementation of the Protocol was uneven because several rich countries reneged on their commitments.
The UNFCC and the Kyoto Protocol led to the establishment of scores of climate change research stations and advocacy forums to advance scientific research on all aspects of climate change, especially the drivers and impacts of climate change as well as mitigation efforts such as promoting better management of forests, energy efficiency and conservation and developing cleaner, non- fossil-based sources of energy. However, both developed and developing countries continued to spew growing amounts of carbon and other GHG due to their fossil fuel powered industrial development and energy intensive lifestyles.
In 2006, China replaced the United States as the largest emitter of CO2 although the US and other OECD countries continued to release huge quantities of CO2. Russia and a few developing countries in different regions also increased their GHG emissions, thanks to their rapid industrial and agricultural development.
Anticipating the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012—while climate change was getting worse—COP 13, held in Bali (Indonesia) in 2007, decided to initiate negotiations for a new agreement on sharper reduction in the ever-increasing global carbon emissions. Developed countries jointly demanded commitments by the fast-developing countries to curtail their carbon emissions in order to promote climate change mitigation. Developing countries initially resisted but eventually conceded whilst linking their emission cuts to financial and technological cooperation and support by the developed countries.
COP15, held in Copenhagen in December 2009, was expected to adopt a new climate agreement. Negotiations were plagued by evidently unbridgeable differences between the developed and developing nations. At the last minute, a group of world leaders, including President Obama and President Xie Jinping, jointly drafted a short 2-page document captioned the ‘Copenhagen Accord’, containing key elements of global climate action concerning Mitigation, Adaptation, Finance, Technology support, and Capacity Building. They were able to secure the support of a large number of developing and least developed countries for the Accord. However, the statement was turned down by the concluding plenary of the Conference.
Despite the formal rejection of the Copenhagen Accord, its major elements were elaborated during COP 16 and subsequent conferences which formally approved the arrangements, including the Green Climate Fund, the Adaptation Fund, the Technology Support Network, etc. The Paris Agreement adopted at COP21, held in Paris in December 2015, consolidated all the previous decisions and added new elements.
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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.