Why ‘climate change’ just got real

Published: January 23, 2019
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The writer has worked on public sector reform for over a decade, with focus on climate change. She has been attending the annual UNFCCC conferences since 2010

The writer has worked on public sector reform for over a decade, with focus on climate change. She has been attending the annual UNFCCC conferences since 2010

In Katowice, Poland — where the annual climate change conference (COP24) was held in December 2018, there was a big but silent breakthrough. The biggest achievement of this year’s conference was the agreement of a global rulebook on implementing the Paris Agreement. These rules will, therefore, govern how the world is supposed to act collectively in attempting to keep global warming under 2oC globally.

Two small and seemingly insignificant elements of the rulebook are what will actually shift the game for countries like Pakistan. First, the agreement of a set of global reporting standards on the progress that countries make. Second, the agreement on a ‘facilitative’ compliance regime. Both of these decisions consequently raise the stakes for countries like Pakistan.

First, what is significant is that the reporting standards agreed upon will now be the same for all countries. This includes how countries will report on, measure and verify their emissions cutting efforts. The transparency that these reporting standards imply mean it will become harder for countries to wriggle out of their commitments. In short, this squeezes the space for those arguing that action on climate change is the responsibility of rich countries alone.

Second, the rulebook in principle has agreed to a compliance regime for countries that do not make enough progress. While in principle this is meant to be ‘facilitative in nature’, and ‘non-adversarial and non-punitive’, it would be naive to expect that in practice this will be the case, in particular as the urgency on climate change action continues to increase year on year.

Despite some of the negotiated concessions on reporting and compliance requirements for developing countries, bring the two changes together, and you can imagine a future where action on climate change becomes a powerful tool to shape the economic future of countries such as Pakistan. Two quick examples.

What if economic incentives become tied to action on climate change? Case in point. Our Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) plus status with the EU for exports is contingent upon compliance with international conventions such as human rights, labour laws, environment and climate change. Given the significance associated by the EU to climate change, the new reporting obligations agreed in the rulebook will also have a direct bearing on our GSP status.

What if borrowing from the multilateral development banks becomes tied to climate change action, and to changes in governance? Ten of them have already signed off an agreement jointly at the climate change conference in December to align their activities with the goals of the Paris Agreement. This is not imaginative thinking, because the world will need some form of leverage to ensure action, and therefore this a future worth preparing for.

In short, the climate change rulebook agreed upon in Poland makes climate change about much more than just climate change. It ties it in a potentially significant way to governance, trade and economic development. In some ways, this is a good thing, because it creates an incentive for action. However, it also means significant leverage for the developed countries in economic negotiations with countries such as Pakistan that we should be prepared for.

In Poland, Pakistan created significant leadership space in the climate change ecosystem, getting elected to the Vice-Presidentship of the International Climate Convention, and securing seats on five other technical committees. Within the country, it becomes important for us to gear up on implementing key aspects of our climate change strategy. Internationally, it implies that we use our leadership position to ensure that the way the compliance regime is shaped, secures both a future that is climate proof, but defends the economic interests of countries like Pakistan. 

Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd, 2019.

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