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From New York to Paris, whither to climate pact?

From New York to Paris, whither to climate pact?
Last fall when the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fifth assessment report, its highest-ever confidence about the anthropological genesis of global climate change put doubt-mongers and climate-deniers out of business. With this, the scientific debate on whether climate change is happening and whether it is sourced to humans came to a close.

The next obvious step was to resolve the contradiction between the impending climate breakdown and business as usual, i.e., carbon-soaked growth mania. Mindful of this task and swayed by the scientific consensus, the United Nations secretary general Ban Ki Moon announced that fall to convene a world summit on global climate change in New York on September 23, 2014.

That September came and went, and so did world leaders who trekked to New York. True to the misgivings that the summit would be thin on heads of state and thick with their stand-ins, only 100 leaders bothered to show up. This symbolized unshared concern about a threat that is planet-wide in its destructive reach. Even if the summit had turned out to resemble Rio-I and Rio-II in terms of the line-up of world leaders, it would still stir little hope for its success beyond high-minded rhetoric at an expensive talkfest. There are many factors that drive this pessimism, two of which stand out for their stickiness: A binding agreement on emissions reduction, and financing climate adaptation.

Road to Paris Is Strewn With Cop-outs
Developed nations are evasive on a binding agreement on emissions reduction as they deem it risk to their already struggling economies. Developing nations, on the other hand, are elliptical on mandatory cutbacks as they burn with ambitions of their own to grow their economies. The U. N. -crafted slick phrase that captures this ‘to-bind or not-to-bind’ enigma is the ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ for enforcing emissions reduction.

This phrase, however, provides both developed and developing nations the needed alibi to go MIA(missing in action) on climate change. Seizing on ‘common’ responsibility – of both high and low-income countries – developed nations are insistent on ‘business as usual,’ and waiting on combating climate change until developing nations come along to join the fight in full force. Developing nations, for their part, find refuge in ‘differentiated’ responsibility – a responsibility that is proportionate to respective nations’ contribution to atmospheric carbon concentration, and their material riches to forgo carbon-intensive growth. In other words, a binding treaty must wait until developing nations catch up with the rest of the developed world to shoulder the burden of emissions reduction.

If this divide persists, it will strew the road to Paris, France -- where world leaders are to assemble again in 2015 in the hoped-for signing of a binding treaty on climate change to replace Kyoto protocol -- with big enough obstacles to shatter this dream. Even if Kyoto-II is miraculously born in the Paris summit, it will still not go into effect until 2020. What fuels this despondent view is the aborted 19th round of Conference of Parties (COP 19) talks on climate in Warsaw, Poland, which failed to yield even a semblance of consensus on a binding treaty on emissions reduction or, for that matter, financing climate adaptation. Some critics on the left dismiss those talks as an ode to ‘King Coal.’ Poland being a coal country itself proved an ominous site to host climate talks just a year before their finale in Paris. Contrary to the bureaucratese of ‘win-win’ situation, developed and developing nations seem locked up in a’lose-lose’ situation, although the guardians of capitalism – the IMF, World Bank, OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) and United Nations – have come to conclude that low-carbon economy ‘can be a boon to prosperity.’

Climate Finance Will Cost Less Than ‘Smoking Pot!’
The fate of financing climate adaptation is no different than that of a binding agreement on emissions reduction. Climate finance has been an important part of climate talks since the Copenhagen Conference in 2009, where developed nations made financial commitments to help less affluent nations in adapting to climate-induced disruptions. It was the first major outcome of such talks that are held each year in the run up to crafting a binding climate treaty in 2015. What adds urgency to climate finance is the occurrence of mega disasters that regularly visit upon the millions of most vulnerable of world citizens. The climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, on November 11-22, 2013, did broach this subject but without any tangible outcome.

At the Copenhagen Conference, developed countries initially committed $30 billion for 2010-12, and pledged to increase this commitment to $100 billion a year by 2020. Hopes for such commitments to materialize, however, were quickly dashed, as wealthy nations began to wriggle out of even a modest commitment of $30 billion spread over multiple years. This evasiveness further dampened any prospect for redeeming the grand pledge of $100 billion a year by 2020. It cannot be overstated that combating climate change will require more than just reducing emissions. Most important of all, it will need the ways and means to adapt to the fast changing climate, and its disproportionate impact on low-income countries.

Investing $100bn a year in ecological restoration, afforestation, agroforestry, and vegetation in degraded habitats will go a long way in building natural carbon sinks on the one hand, and blunting the impact of climate change in flood disasters and superstorms that have grown in intensity, on the other. Is $100bn a year too large an investment for the world to save the planet Earth? To put this amount in perspective, think about $400bn a year that is spent worldwide on narcotics. One may ask which is more dopey? Watching the planet choke on carbon and fry in ‘man-made’ warming, or smoking $400bn a year in narcotics for an illusion of pleasure?

By arrangement with Down To Earth
Tarique Niyazi

Tarique Niyazi

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