Clouds and silver linings

  • Ratification of the Paris climate deal set the ball rolling—only to be confronted by short- and long-term challenges
- Navin Singh Khadka
Although the US has ratified the Paris agreement, Trump has expressed doubts over climate science in the past and has threatened to withdraw from the deal if he was elected

Nov 11, 2016-For many journalists covering the ongoing UN climate meet in Morocco, convincing their editors about its news value must have been a hard sell. “Yet another climate meet even after the world secured a global deal last year?” was the question most of them faced. 

If that was the perception in  the newsrooms, imagine what a layperson 

might have thought about this ‘yet another’ climate meet.

A lot, however, has happened between this year’s meeting and the summit in Paris last December when the global deal was signed with an aim to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius. Scientists say warming beyond that will cause dangerous climatic changes. With unexpectedly fast speed, countries ratified the Paris climate agreement, bringing forward its clock-on date by nearly three years. 

More than 100 of them have approved it already though only 55 countries accounting for 55 percent of the total global greenhouse emissions needed to ratify it for the agreement to enter into force. Many had thought that reaching the threshold of 55 countries would take some time because the deal was initially designed to be implemented in 2020. So, for many, the climate meetings until then would have hardly made any sense. 

But to everyone’s surprise, the deal was ratified by many countries earlier than expected and the agreement became international law last week.

Scaling up ambitions

So, all these events made a compelling case for the UN officials and climate activists across the world to call another meet, an “action meeting”. The meeting is supposed to prepare groundwork for a rule book that will help measure, account for and review countries’ carbon emission reductions. “Within a few short years—ideally no later than 2018—governments and parties will have completed the details of a rulebook. This will ensure transparency on all sides needed to accelerate climate action by making sure that everyone is involved in the effort and is delivering to the best of their abilities...” reads a joint statement by the UN climate convention Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa and Salaheddine Mezouar foreign minister of Morocco, host of the climate meet. 

The rule book became even more relevant when earlier this week the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released the Emission Gap report warning that the world was headed for carbon emissions above 25 percent safe levels by 2030. The report, made public the day before the Paris climate deal got into force on November 4, 2016, discloses that limiting emissions to 42 gigatonnes will help us keep global temperature rise below two degrees, but we will be emitting up to 56 metric tonnes. And that will cause temperature to rise between 2.9 to 3.4 degrees Celsius in this century. One gigatonne is roughly what the European Union’s transport sector including aviation emits in a year. 

The UNEP’s calculations are based on intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) countries offered to the UN before the Paris meet last year and it strongly recommends that all countries now need to scale up their ambitions.

Trump’s climate denial

Just when the UN climate convention secretariat was trying to build on that study and the “positive” developments over the Paris climate agreement, all eyes have now shifted to the US. The election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the world’s second largest carbon emitting country has suddenly thrown up questions about how international climate politics will move ahead now. Although the US has ratified the Paris agreement, Trump has expressed doubts over climate science in the past and has also threatened to withdraw from the deal if he was elected.

What his administration will actually do remains to be seen. And that will be something fast emerging economies like China and India—the traditional arch-rivals of developed worlds in climate negotiations—will be keenly waiting for and watching. Should the US do an about-turn and not cut down its emissions, analysts says, the fight against climate change is bound to be lost. 

On the flip side, there are also suggestions that China might cash in on the situation and become the global leader in embracing clean energy and benefit from a ‘renewable revolution’. 

Meanwhile, the issue of climate finance will remain to be a thorny issue. UN Framework Convention on Climate Change executive secretary Patricia Espinosa Cantellano chose to mention finance as the first agenda of the Morocco meet. “Finance to allow developing countries to green their economies and build resilience. Finance is flowing. It has to reach the level and have the predictability needed to catalyse low-emission and climate-resilient development,” she said underlying the key areas the meet will focus on.

Climate money

A few days before the Paris climate agreement entered into force, Australia and the UK, on behalf of developed countries, made public a roadmap saying that they were on track to provide developing countries $100 billion a year from 2020 as climate finance. The document said that $62 billion were already given in 2014,  $10 billion more from a year earlier.

One day later the bloc of fast emerging economies, Basic (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) called for “increased clarity and robust methodologies to account for and track developed countries climate finance.” 

The Least Developed Countries’ bloc, which Nepal is part of, has also spoken out along similar lines. Its chairman Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu said, “LDCs expectations for the roadmap was for it (the roadmap of developed countries) to be more detailed with information on annual quantitative targets, allocations between adaptation and mitigation with a view to achieve a balance between the two, instruments and channels to be used.” 

Oxfam, an INGO that also works in the field of climate change in poor countries, said only a fifth of the money to help countries fight climate change was going to the poorest countries. “The Climate Finance Shadow Report 2016 shows that of the $41 billion per year that rich countries reported to provide for climate funding, just $8.7 billion went towards the Least Developed Countries.”

So, in the near term it will be about money, while in the long run it will be about whether the world will actually see significant reductions in carbon emissions.

As someone said, “the Paris climate agreement is just the tunnel we managed to build, now it will all depend on the speed of the train that will travel through that tunnel to reach the destination.” 

 

Khadka is a BBC journalist based in London

Published: 11-11-2016 08:32

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