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Pledges of Paris climate summit – Fahmida Khatun

By making a legally binding treaty for emission reductions and adaptation, countries can make the Paris climate summit a turning point where the real journey of tackling climate change begins. The world awaits that historic moment.

Published in The Daily Star on Monday, 23 November 2015.

MACRO MIRROR
Pledges of Paris climate summit

Dr Fahmida Khatun

fahmida-khatun-column-feat3Paris was preparing for November 30, not November 13. Both dates reflect threats of two different natures to the human civilisation. Both have similar origins. They are the creations of developed nations manifested in two different forms. But victims are innocent people in both cases. The horrific attacks in Paris have left the people of France and of the world shaken. World leaders vowed afresh to address the imminent and real danger of terrorism. Life, however, moves on. Amid grief and sorrow, Paris is set to host the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) during November 30 – December 11. The decision of the French government to ban protests and marches has, of course, upset activists joining the summit from all over the world in thousands.

Since the establishment of the UNFCCC in 1992, the Paris climate conference is going to be one of the most important events of the organisation as it will have to take a few crucial decisions on tackling climate change. Global negotiations on reducing emission levels by developed countries have seen very little progress so far as countries disagreed among themselves on the level of reduction. So the adoption of a climate agreement has remained a far-fetched objective. Paris negotiations will have to deliver two major outcomes: develop a strategy to limit global temperature to no more than 20C above pre-industrial levels, and discuss adaptation by countries affected by the impact of climate change.

Discussions on slowing down carbon emissions have all along been chaotic as bigger emitters have been unable to agree with one another. Many of them have expressed their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) plan for emission reduction. China, the US and India are responsible for 44 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. In November 2014, China, the biggest emitter, pledged to cap its carbon emission by 2030 or even earlier. The second largest emitter, the US, also committed to bring its emission down by 26 to 28 percent below that of the 2005 level by 2025. To achieve these commitments, China will make investments on clean energies, and the US has to double its efforts towards reducing carbon emission during the 2020-2025 timeframe. The European Union has pledged an emission reduction of 40 percent by 2030. India has announced that it will reduce emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35 percent, from the 2005 level, by 2030.

While developed and developing countries have to commit on emission reductions, least developed countries such as Bangladesh look forward to adaptation measures. In 2009, at the Copenhagen COP15, countries made commitments to mobilise $100 billion annually by 2020 to finance mitigation and adaptation to climate change. This was reinforced at COP16 in Cancun the following year. However, this is only a small fraction of actual requirements. India will need at least $2.5 trillion to meet its climate change actions between now and 2030. China will have to invest $315 to $630 billion for five years in its green sector. According to the Global Commission of the Economy and Climate Change (2014), during the next 15 years about $6 trillion will have to be spent globally on infrastructure. However, the landscape of climate finance looks rather grim as the progress in mobilising climate fund has been slow. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development indicates that during 2013-14, on average only $57 billion per annum was mobilised.

Understandably, a significant amount will be required by poor countries as they are the most vulnerable to climate change. Additionally, they are also engulfed with environmental problems such as pollution and resource degradation which make their development unsustainable. These countries will need resources for adapting to the impact of climate change. And the cost of adaptation to the impact of climate change on these countries could be huge. Worse, these costs will multiply a few hundred times if adaptation measures are delayed. Estimates show that the cost of adaptation can be as high as $400 billion per year within a span of 20 to 30 years. In case of South Asia, total cost for adaptation may range from $10 to about $8 billion annually.

In the end, the success of Paris climate summit lies in the agreement on funding. A major concern is whether these funds will be new and additional and whether they will be easily accessible to poor countries. There are also worries regarding commitment and actual disbursement of funds. Moreover, climate funds are structurally biased towards mitigation than adaptation which is a need of the poor and vulnerable countries. While pledges on cutting down emission remain largely unfulfilled, the allocation pattern of climate fund is clearly a reflection of uneven distribution pattern of climate change related resources. Commitments are lacking also in case of transfer and diffusion of technology which is one of the pillars of the UNFCCC. While the issue of technology transfer is being negotiated at the World Trade Organisation under Article 66.2 of the agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights, promises at the COP21 should be reinvigorated.

By making a legally binding treaty for emission reductions and adaptation, countries can make the Paris climate summit a turning point where the real journey of tackling climate change begins. The world awaits that historic moment.

The writer is Research Director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, currently a Visiting Scholar at the Centre for Study of Science, Technology & Policy, India. 

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