A short-sighted approach

19 Nov 2018


The writer is chief executive of the Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change.
The writer is chief executive of the Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change.

THE Paris Agreement in 2015 at the 21st Conference of Parties, or COP21, was a watershed moment in global efforts to combat climate change. As one of the signatories to the agreement and the Agenda of Solutions, which will apply from 2020, Pakistan submitted its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the UNFCCC that outlines its pledges and plans for climate action.

Additionally, Pakistan has adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals and become a member of the Open Government Partnership which calls for co-creation of policies and frameworks at local, provincial and national levels by government and civil society, using participatory and inclusive approaches to build resilience and reduce vulnerability. This places a responsibility on Pakistan to support global action on climate change and, at the same time, balance development needs with mitigation and adaptation strategies to implement policies and frameworks at the national and international levels.

There are two reasons why a strong presence at COP24 in Katowice, Poland, next month is important. Firstly, it is expected that the Paris Rule — a framework of operating procedures for countries to fulfil their obligations under the treaty — will be finalised at the event. Secondly, there is a new urgency to respond to a call for action based on the findings of 91 scientists in the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These show that Plan A as envisaged in the Paris Agreement is not a viable option any longer and a Plan B needs to be developed. 

Pakistan must play a more proactive role in global climate change efforts.

The report has created alarm in many circles because it states in unambiguous terms that the two-degree Celsius increase in temperature is no longer a safe option. According to the document, the temperature range must remain below the 1.5°C threshold to avoid catastrophic events including famine, disease and displacement resulting from sea-level rise, drought and hydro-meteorological phenomena. To maintain the status quo, emissions must decrease 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030. Furthermore, the report also cautions that reducing emissions is not enough in itself to prevent global warming. There is also an urgent need to suck up one trillion metric tonnes of carbon that has accumulated in the biosphere.

Given Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change, it is very important for the country to attend all post-Paris Agreement meetings to ensure that its concerns are included in the deliberations and the Paris Rule Book. The deadline for finalising implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement is only a month away.

A three-week long facilitative dialogue was held in Bonn in May this year. Meetings were held again in Bangkok to meet the December deadline to prepare a summary text with a set of proposed options from different countries on the modalities that may serve as a basis for streamlining negotiations at COP24.

These meetings are an opportunity to be part of the negotiation process. Unfortunately the Ministry of Climate Change did not send any representative to attend either of these two important meetings.

Furthermore, as part of its austerity drive, the government has decided to send only a two- to three-member delegation to COP24. While austerity measures are a commendable initiative, there are times when the value of representation outweighs savings, especially when the expenditure is not huge. There are usually several parallel sessions in progress spread over a two-week long period with intense negotiations and lengthy debates. Sending a two-member team effectively translates into losing out on an opportunity to represent the country’s stance.

One can argue that as Pakistan’s position is aligned with the Group of 77 and the Like Minded Developing Countries, it really does not make a difference if its representatives are present at the sessions. If Pakistan wants to simply jump on the bandwagon then this approach is fine, but if it wants to put the country on the climate map and use this opportunity to play an assertive role in flagging South Asian concerns, then it needs to send a strong team to COP24.

Other South Asian countries like Bangladesh make use of their civil society participants as support agents by including them as overflow delegates. Pakistan, however, does not use this available and free-of-cost resource to assist its delegation. There are civil society organisations that have attended COPs for many years but despite their experience and competence, their services are never utilised. Other civil society actors who have attended COPs at their own expense include former government officials but they too are not made part of the government delegation.

The COP is an opportunity for knowledge sharing and learning beyond negotiations. Climate finance is an important part of negotiations; it is critical for accessing financial windows for adaptation and mitigation programmes and provides an opportunity to enhance skills and stay current with new developments. The mere fact that Pakistan has demanded $40 billion as abatement cost for mitigation and $7bn to $14bn per annum as adaptation support cost in its conditional NDC emphasises the enormity of the challenge it faces. To compound matters, a recent World Bank report projects several hotspots in South Asia where 800 million people will be at risk by 2050 with six districts in Pakistan falling within its ambit.

Given these developments, forfeiting opportunities to assert Pakistan’s position as a proactive participant in order to save a small sum of money is not advisable. Pakistan needs to constitute a strong team, including relevant stakeholders from the provincial governments, since the main task of adaptation and mitigation falls on sub-national governments.

As we transition into the age of climate change, it is more important than ever before to leverage every opportunity to protect our interests by highlighting our strengths and stressing our vulnerabilities at the COP negotiations. Failure to act assertively will come at a cost much higher than paying for the participation of a few extra delegates.

The writer is chief executive of the Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change.


Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2018