As the world prepares for the largest climate summit of its kind, the secretary general of the United Nations has stepped forward with a strong appeal for world leaders to “look beyond national horizons and to put the common interest first”. Unfortunately, his own language describing that common interest was shrouded in ambiguity, revealing the large gaps that remain to be bridged. For instance, when talking about what he expects any binding agreement that emerges from the conference to contain, he steered away from referring to emissions targets, preferring to say only that any resultant accord must “provide clear rules of the road for strengthening global ambition”. This is a vague statement with which to lay out one’s expectations, and it points to the difficulties that lie ahead for the negotiators in Paris if they wish to avoid the pitfalls of the Rio de Janeiro accord in 1992, or the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. Both those agreements failed to reach their goals of cutting carbon emissions worldwide. Whether Paris succeeds where they failed remains to be seen but if, on the eve of the summit, the secretary general himself has a hard time referring to setting targets for cuts in emissions, one can only say that a lot of work remains to be done.
One big difference between Paris and the other two attempts in the past to reach a global accord on climate change is that this time countries have submitted their own climate action plans which detail their vision for cutting carbon emissions starting from 2020, when any accord reached in Paris is supposed to go into effect. As part of the process, Pakistan too has submitted a document; but it would be something of a stretch to call it a vision. Not only does the document fail to make any commitment to curtailing emissions, it also fails to provide the single-most rudimentary number around which any climate action plan needs to be built: emissions per capita. The document simply states that “Pakistan is committed to reduc[ing] its emissions after reaching peak levels to the extent possible subject to affordability, provision of international climate finance, transfer of technology and capacity building.”
In short, Pakistan appears to be going to Paris with an old proposition: give us the money and we will talk about emissions. It is easy to predict that this gambit will not work. International support for a climate action plan will not come if there is no commitment on emissions cuts in the future. As a front-line state in the growing climate emergency, Pakistan needs to do much more to measure its emissions and present targets for the future without compromising on its developmental goals. Business as usual — trading funds in return for compliance with international obligations — is a bad way to begin the journey down this road.
Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2015