Sizing up climate negotiations

Published January 4, 2024
The writer is an Islamabad-based climate change and sustainable development expert.
The writer is an Islamabad-based climate change and sustainable development expert.

THE global climate year moves from one climate summit to the other. All 29 annual Conferences of the Parties, or COPs, have traditionally been held at the end of each calendar year, allowing countries to begin their follow-up climate actions in January.

Pakistan has always left COP participation and related decisions to just a few weeks before the COPs, relegating Pakistan’s global climate engagement to passivity and its decision-making to hurried afterthoughts. Thinking proactively, the climate ministry has now decided to set up a special cell to initiate year-long preparations for climate negotiations.

Would the establishment of a COP cell consign the federal ministry to spending all its time jockeying for participation in the COP? Or can this help align all national endeavours with the global discourse on building climate resilience and a low-carbon path to development? How can it help Pakistan map, track, and break its global climate isolation?

It is possible only if we realise that COPs have over the years become ever more complex. They have become the world’s largest knowledge marketplace, a grand assembly of a wide range of stakeholders and not just a lavish and boisterous jamboree. Actual negotiations under the convention on climate change are only a small part of the COPs.

The gathering is used to strike side deals, join or negotiate voluntary coalitions and partnerships for specific actions, forge alliances to protect or promote sectoral interests, scout evolving portfolios and priorities of key institutions and countries, and identify opportunities for investments, joint ventures, pilot projects, and trends in international climate financial and technology flows.

All this seemingly to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement and commitments made under periodically revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). The formal negotiations between the parties, countless side events organised at national and other pavilions typically focus on the unfinished agenda of previous COPs.

The success of the next COP in Baku, Azerbaijan, for example, will hinge on finalising at least seven unfinished agenda items from COP28: operationalising the Loss and Damage Fund (LDF), Article 6 of the Paris Agreement on carbon trading, Global Stocktake (GST), the New Collective Quantitative Goal (NCQG), Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), Mitigation Work Programme (MWP), and the Just Transition Work Programme (JTWP).

How can a COP cell help Pakistan map, track, and break its global climate isolation?

Let’s look at the first three more closely from Pakistan’s vantage point.

LDF: The LDF has been established, as Pakistan had demanded. But several key decisions still need to be made, particularly about the LDF’s financials. Would it rely primarily on the mandatory contributions from countries that have historical responsibility for global emissions or voluntary contributions by emergent economies like China and India? Or rich developing countries like the UAE and Singapore? Or can the LDF adopt innovative sources of financial base than rely only on donor countries?

There are several other unresolved questions of interest to Pakistan, such as will the fund disburse grants or give concessional loans, or both? There is a strong undercurrent for it to focus on 45 least developed countries and exclude, if agreed, other developing countries.

For Pakistan, a key pending decision is whether the fund is only for the least developed countries or whether it also applies to ‘particularly vulnerable’ developing countries? Should a separate window be created for emergencies triggered by climate disasters such as Pakistan’s 2022 floods?

Carbon trading: The agreements on Article 6.2 and 6.4 have remained inconclusive. These articles are related to carbon trading, markets, and pricing. The negotiations in relation to these articles were especially contentious, particularly with regard to oversight, transparency, methodological rigour, integrity, and risks of double counting in voluntary carbon markets.

These disagreements have implications for countries such as Pakistan that were planning to develop their VCMs. Indonesia and several other countries have imposed conditions on the export of carbon credits, and many others have put carbon trading on hold till the disagreements surrounding the implementation of these articles are resolved.

Some countries will, however, continue with cross-border cooperation under Article 6.2. Concurrently, the World Bank has announced leading the growth of high-integrity global carbon markets, initially with 15 countries. The list does not include Pakistan that has already implemented the REDD Plus project.

Pakistan and some other countries have begun to develop the entire ecosystem of carbon trading: carbon pricing initiatives, emissions trading systems, domestic carbon markets, and carbon taxes. Over two-thirds of the countries, however, are said to be planning to use carbon markets to meet their NDC commitments, showing greater confidence in the regulatory market rather than the VCMs.

GST: GST has shown powerfully how the gap between collective global action and the 1.5 degrees Celsius target of the Paris Agreement has widened. It has in milder diplomatic language, concealed the failure to provide the impetus for coordinated action or for explicitly aligning NDC revisions with the 1.5°C target. Baku will, therefore, provide another venue for the unfinished battle for the time-bound phasing down of fossil fuels, leading to their phasing out.

While GST has set an ambitious target of tripling renewables and doubling energy efficiency by 2030, it has not committed any finances for this energy transition. In fact, because of no clear financial commitments for NCQG, GGA, MWP, and JTWP have all remained incomplete. This has further weakened GST as it has related cross-referencing for them.

Finally, responding presumably to European Union’s carbon border adjustment mechanism that will steadily impose carbon taxes on trading partners like Pakistan, the GST has recorded that unilateral measures should not constitute a means of arbitrary discrimination or disguised restriction on international trade.

The COP cell will be immensely useful only if it works on the premise that most initiatives announced at the COP are negotiated during the year, just the way the launch of studies commissioned during the year is timed to influence COP decision-making.

It is perhaps not unfair to say that the unfinished agenda of COP28, that will be taken up in Baku in December, should be at the heart of the COP cell’s work. This can best be achieved through collaborative inter-ministerial initiatives.

The writer is an Islamabad-based climate change and sustainable development expert.

Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2024

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