For a change, we must act now on the climate crisis
The Adviser to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on Climate Change, Malik Amin Aslam said that the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP-24), according to the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change, was not only challenging but rather it was an opportunity for Pakistan to exhibit its achievements in climate change mitigation.
The conference kicked off on December 2 in Katowice, Poland and will end on December 14 where delegates from more than 197 countries are debating the future of this planet. Throughout this year, negotiations were stalled because developed countries objected to the list of issues to be discussed by developing nations. This has made the Katowice conference a challenge – one where both the developed and developing countries are at loggerheads, with climate finance continuing to be the biggest bone of contention between the two camps.
The Paris Agreement’s paragraph 5 from article 9 requires developed countries to provide quantitative and qualitative information, every two years, as to how much finance they will provide to developing nations in the future. This helps the latter plan effectively in terms of undertaking their climate-related action from non-domestic resources.
The other obstacle pertains to transparency in action. Under the Paris Agreement, each country sets its climate action targets domestically. But once they have been set, they have to report their performance periodically whereby they can be held accountable by others as part of what is called ‘the transparency regime’.
Developed countries have been pushing for the same levels of transparency to be imposed on all nations with the exception of Small Island States (SIS), and the least developed countries. However, developing countries, including Pakistan, insist that the Paris Agreement provides flexibility which allows countries to decide the level of transparency they can afford based on their capabilities which then gets enhanced with time as capacities improve. Developed countries, on the other hand, say that countries’ capacities to report in more detail should also be evaluated under the agreement.
Additionally, developed countries focus on transparency only in mitigation action – the reduction of greenhouse gases emissions. However, several developing countries want the transparency regime to be just as detailed when it comes to assessing how countries have delivered on climate finance, technology, and adaptation to climate change commitments.
The cardinal principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC) has found a place — though in a slightly diluted form — in the Paris Agreement. The rulebook to be prepared under the Paris Climate Change Accord is now required to operationalize this principle. However, developed nations have cleverly worked for the rules to focus on current national capabilities to act on climate change and not at how each country holds a differentiated responsibility for causing global warming historically. This ensures that the onus of actions is judged based on current emissions rather than the stock that each country has caused to accumulate in the atmosphere – putting a much higher degree of responsibility on countries like China and India.
Vulnerable countries like Pakistan, which are suffering from the adverse impacts of the climate crisis, wouldn’t be able to address the losses and damages without the much-required financial resources. So far, Islamabad is spending its own resources to cope with the climate crisis.
Dr. Mehreen Mujtaba
So, what does the Katowice conference hold for Pakistan?
The world’s best climate scientists have compiled an avalanche of new information on the advantages of restricting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as a result of which up to several hundred million fewer people would be exposed to climate-related risks, even as they are susceptible to poverty by 2050 (that is if warming is not limited to 1.5 instead of 2 degrees Celsius.)
As per the updated GHG Inventory, the total emission of GHGs in Pakistan is equal to 0.8 percent of the global GHG emissions. On a per capita basis, Pakistan with 2.06 Gt per capita GHG emissions stands at 135th place in the world ranking of countries based on their emissions. This is insignificant compared to several other countries of the same size and at the same level of development. However, many sectors, activities, and target groups are vulnerable to the threats of climate change in Pakistan, which has been ranked as the eighth most vulnerable country by the German Watch.
On December 5, the delegates were informed about the draft decision of the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) for loss and damage due to the impact of climate change. Negotiators from vulnerable countries such as Pakistan are too focused on two of the three tasks from the Paris Agreement, namely to avert, to minimize, and to address the issues on hand.
It is pertinent to note that in the case of Pakistan, while the Paris Agreement states that parties need to cooperate to avert and minimize loss and damage, the focus of the WIM is to address it. Vulnerable countries like Pakistan, which are suffering from the adverse impacts of the climate crisis, wouldn’t be able to address the losses and damages without the much-required financial resources. So far, Islamabad is spending its own resources to cope with the climate crisis.
In the prevailing international scenario, developed countries are retreating from their pledges made under Paris Agreement; US President Donald Trump is not only consistently refuting the scientific evidence of climate change, but also targeting the underlying principle of climate change negotiations. This has undermined the goals and intents of the agreement.
In view of this, it will be in the interest of developing countries — particularly highly-vulnerable countries such as Pakistan — to diversify their options in seeking both financial and technological support for climate change adaptation and mitigation, not only from developed countries but also by exploring avenues of support in the context of South-South cooperation.
Currently, Pakistan is spending 8 percent of its GDP on climate change reduction projects. Therefore, there is a dire need to focus on the right policy frameworks and devise bankable projects to tap into international finance for climate change projects.
During COP24, Pakistan has a huge window of opportunity to showcase its relentless efforts in mitigating climate change effects. Projects such as the Billion Tree Tsunami and Green Pakistan can be showcased to support Pakistan’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which are required under the Paris Climate Change Accord.
These by no means are the only actions that Pakistan has taken so far in the domain of climate change mitigation. It has initiated as well as completed a number of projects in the sectors of sustainable urban public transport such as the Metro Bus Lahore and Islamabad, the BRT Peshawar, and energy projects based on renewable and alternative sources that are directly contributing to reducing the GHGs emissions.
We have a limited time to reduce global warming and avoid widespread catastrophic changes. It is going to take immediate and drastic actions to reduce emissions by almost half if we want to keep the 1.5-degree warming limit in check without banking on vast amounts of negative emissions.
Time is of the essence; countries need to act now. The response is now in the hands of the governments, which need to muster a strong political will to address the problem since climate change is shaping the future of our civilization. The path is arduous and the clock is ticking very fast.
— Dr. Mehreen Mujtaba is a freelance consultant working in the areas of environment and health.