From Paris to Marrakesh

Published November 19, 2016

THE atmosphere in the elegant but traditional city of Marrakesh (Morocco) where the twenty-second session of the Conference of the Parties (COP22) signatory to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is under way, is very laid back. The only major shock has been the news of Donald Trump’s election as president of the US.

A well-known climate change denier, Trump once said in a tweet that “climate change is a hoax created by, and for, the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive”. For now, the negotiations carry on per routine with US Secretary of State John Kerry arriving to give an emotional farewell speech.

The Marrakesh COP is very different from the one in Paris last year, where frantic negotiations were held until literally the last day of the conference to make sure that everyone was on board the Paris Agreement. “The Paris Agreement gave everyone hope and optimism. It was a grand agreement. However, it was weak in specificity and action.

“Morocco is where the world will negotiate the nuts and bolts of the agreement. It is all about procedures, monitoring and reporting, finance flows, private sector engagement and delivery on the ground,” explained Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, the head of LEAD-Pakistan, an NGO based in Islamabad, who attended the first week of COP22.

Since it is the rainy season in Morocco in November, the days are quite cool. However, the fact remains that according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) it is very likely that 2016 will be the hottest year on record.

Preliminary data shows that global temperatures are approximately 1.2º C above pre-industrial levels, according to WMO’s assessment. The Paris Agreement aims to keep warming “well below” 2º C and to make efforts to keep it below 1.5º C. Already with just around 1 degree of warming we are witness to a significant impact on Pakistan, which now ranks seventh in this year’s Long-Term Climate Risk Index, brought out by Germanwatch, moving up from number 8 last year.

“Pakistan has been facing floods since 2010; in fact, there have been droughts in one place and floods in the other at the same time. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) doesn’t know what to do,” said Abid Suleri from the Sustainable Development Policy Institute.

Pakistan’s impact on climate change is minimal. We emit less than one per cent of total annual global greenhouse gas emissions, but this is all set to rise with the execution of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Pakistan’s plans outlined Zahid Hamid, the Minister for Climate Change, is heading a 20-member delegation to Marrakesh.

In his speech to the plenary, he pointed out that Pakistan had recently ratified the Paris Agreement and had also submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change its plan for curbing carbon emissions in the form of a newly revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) document. The document foresees a four-fold increase in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and seeks financial and technical assistance of $40 billion in order to bring down these emissions by 20pc.

The minister, who arrived in Morocco on Nov 14 for the high-level segment of COP22, highlighted the recent actions taken by his government, including the National Climate Change Policy, along with a framework for its implementation, and a National Disaster Risk Reduction Policy.

“Next week we will be introducing in parliament a ‘Pakistan climate change bill’, which will propose establishment of a high-level, policy-making climate change council, along with a climate change authority, to prepare and supervise implementation of adaptation and mitigation projects in various sectors,”

Pakistan has also developed a National Sustainable Development Strategy, and its National Assembly has passed a resolution adopting the SDGs agenda as its own national development agenda.

However, the fact does remain that despite all these policies, strategies and bills, there is still very little action on the ground when it comes to tackling climate change in Pakistan. The country needs to protect its people from floods, droughts, rise in sea level and other consequences on an urgent basis. We need to do more on adaptation and implementation must begin on an urgent basis. The Paris Agreement has been formally ratified by 110 countries. They account for 76pc of greenhouse gas emissions, including the United States with 18pc. This was done in record time and progress on the agreement was going well.

Now with Trump’s election no one knows for sure what the future holds for the agreement. In the halls and restaurants of the Marrakesh conference, people taking a break from the negotiations are mostly talking about the long shadow cast on the climate negotiations by Trump’s election.

At the colourful Pakistan pavilion, which is a big improvement upon the tiny booth that represented Pakistan in Paris, there is office space adorned with large pictures of Pakistan’s mountainous north. There are a few delegates from Pakistan’s Ministry for Climate Change relaxing in the office. “What will Trump do? It’s too early to tell. The US negotiators are carrying on as usual… but it will be a big disaster for the world if he pulls out of the Paris Agreement,” one official remarked.

Published in Dawn November 19th, 2016

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