IT has taken the world 25 years of negotiations to reach the point where countries are now required to put words into actions. The Conference of Parties (COP) provides an international platform for bringing states together to build consensus on global climate agreements that would otherwise remain intractable.
The Paris Agreement was a feat of diplomatic success that brought 196 nations to agree on the Agenda of Solutions and became operational with the finalisation of the Rule Book. However, each COP is criticised for not finding solutions that are fair and equitable for carbon-neutral targets for all.
The three parallel activities at the COPs include negotiations by party delegates, side events for knowledge sharing and civil society marches. COP25 in Madrid was no exception to this standard format and response. The main outstanding agenda at COP25 was to reach agreement on the unresolved Article 6 that split nations into vanguard and laggard.
As part of the Paris Agreement countries had agreed to set up new global carbon market systems to de-carbonise economies. However, since the Paris Agreement fails to describe how systems will work or what rules will ensure real emission cuts, reaching an agreement continued to pose the biggest challenge at COP25.
South Asia must view climate change from a regional lens.
The discussions on Article 6 centre on bilateral and voluntary agreement to trade carbon units, creating the Sustainable Development Mechanism to replace the Clean Development Mechanism through a centralised governance system for countries and the private sector to trade emissions reduction anywhere in the world, and a framework for cooperation between countries to reduce emissions outside market mechanisms such as aid. Although these negotiations are technical they do tend to become politicised, making disagreements more pronounced and positions more entrenched. At best, a partial resolution will be cobbled to show progress narrowing down the agenda for discussion at COP26 in 2020. However, reaching an agreement on a common set of rules to govern transactions is critical to the integrity and success of the Paris Agreement as weak rules can camouflage emissions and, in fact, result in increased global emissions.
The other important item on the agenda at COP25 was on long-term finance. Developed countries opposed LTF discussions under UNFCCC post 2020. This effectively means that the commitment of $100 billion per annum by developed countries will no longer be mandated after 2020. As of now it is difficult to say what the new terms and conditions will be, but should there be a scaling down on commitments it will translate into less money available to developing states for adaptation and mitigation.
The emerging global scenario after years of negotiations doesn’t appear to be of ‘one humanity and shared responsibility’. Negotiations have produced commitments that are not legally binding and science has not been successful in making countries reduce emissions to keep pace with need. It is time to reconcile with some harsh realities.
As the resource base shrinks and populations grow, each country will put itself first, and exclusive agendas will find more traction with governments and citizens. Moreover, no one is ready to shift from capitalism and make the changes that are necessary to reduce production patterns and challenge corporate interests.
Civil society marches/strikes would be more effective if the thousands that congregate make a personal commitment to reduce demand. If enough people become vegetarians the emissions from livestock will go down. Similarly, if people refuse to buy products and commodities manufactured from carbon-intensive technologies, emissions will go down.
Industry responds to demand, and if demand goes down market forces will adjust accordingly. For Pakistan, the highlight at COP25 was the launching of the Ecosystem Restoration Fund by the adviser on climate change. This is the first such initiative by Pakistan at a COP.
Housed in the National Disaster Risk Management Fund and financed by the World Bank, the programme has five thematic areas that will build the ecological integrity through sustainable strategies. The secretary of the climate change ministry, CEO, NDRMF, Nadeem Ahmed and Ambassador Khayyam Akbar also attended the event.
All eyes are now on 2020 but the pathway to emissions reduction is through people and not the governments. The answers lie in action not words. If we want to save the planet then we must reduce our individual carbon footprint and the rest will follow. It is also time for South Asia to view climate change from a regional lens and work on collaborative strategies to build resilience. A regional COP before December 2020 will set the stage for a stronger ask for climate justice at COP26.
The writer is chief executive of the Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change.
Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2019