Climate clock is ticking…

The negotiations leading up to this year’s climate change conference have not been positive

Rina Saeed Khan November 26, 2018
The writer is an environmental journalist. She holds an MA in Environment and Development from SOAS in London

As the annual UN Climate Change Conference (COP24) nears in December this year, two important reports have come out to lend it an urgency never seen before. These global negotiations tend to be convoluted and tiresome, dragging on for days as parties quibble over the text that has to be agreed by more than 190 UN member countries to become implementable. But this year the scientists have hit the panic button: the science is clear and alarming — the latest special report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that the world has less than 12 years to get its act together in terms of drastic carbon emissions cuts to remain below the safeguard of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Or else we head towards “catastrophic” 3 or even 4 degrees of warming.

We are currently at 1 degree C of warming and look at the havoc wreaked by wildfires, floods and hurricanes this year. The world has little time left to take action and now the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Living Planet Report 2018 has just informed us that there has been an overall decline of 60% in population sizes of wildlife species between 1970 and 2014. As our new Climate Change Minister Malik Amin Aslam put it: “We are at the precipice.” Pakistan has, in fact, been identified as one of the “hotspot regions” that will suffer immensely. We are already facing a climate reality as one of the top 10 countries in the long-term index to suffer from climate-related disasters. Pakistan has signed the Paris Agreement, but it will only become operational in 2020. This year, its work plan will be finalised in Katowice in Poland at the climate conference that will take place Dec 2-15.

Pakistan will be sending a delegation headed by the Climate Change Minister to Katowice. Although we are not a big player at these negotiations given our negligible carbon emissions, Pakistan has produced a Nationally Determined Contributions document (the voluntary commitments at the heart of the Paris Agreement) and the current government is planning to shift to renewable energy like hydro and solar in addition to growing trees and protecting natural forests under the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami campaign. There is also a plan to introduce a large floodwaters management project to revive wetlands in addition to implementing a multi-million dollars Glacier Lake Outburst Flood project funded by the global Green Climate Fund.

The negotiations leading up to this year’s climate change conference have not been positive. Developed countries are not showing much concern yet for developing countries — the solidarity of the 1990s when the world came together for the Earth Summit is dissipating. The pressure, in fact, is now on fast-developing countries like India, China and Brazil to cut their emissions and the principle of ‘Common But Differentiated Responsibilities’ enshrined in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is fast disappearing. The Loss and Damage mechanism (whereby rich countries compensate developing countries for damages) has been sidelined and the promised 100 billion dollars in climate finance to help developing countries adapt to climate change is nowhere in sight. In fact, there is very little new money — just around six billion.

According to long-time climate expert Shafqat Kakakhel, “Pakistan has not been a significant player at these negotiations since 2012; our delegations have become smaller with less expertise. But we are a member of the Like Minded Group of developing countries whose interests are in harmony with ours and they will do the negotiating at the conference.” What Pakistan can do, however, is to make its presence felt by explaining its climate change challenge and showcasing what it is doing to address it. The most important task at hand is to ensure that the rulebook for the Paris Agreement becomes operational soon with fair and robust rules given that the clock is ticking.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 26th, 2018.

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