For anyone, like me, who has followed international negotiations on climate change from 1992 till the twenty fourth Conference of Parties (COP 24) to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) just concluded in Katowice, Poland, brings back memories of the path the international community has already traversed. The issues which were discussed and settled in 1992 came up again and remained unresolved at the end of the COP 24. The new generation of negotiators appeared to make modest progress, but it was a case of two steps forward and three steps back.
The triumphant journey of the developing world against environmental colonialism, flagged off by Indira Gandhi in Stockholm (1972) reached its zenith in Rio and continued till Kyoto, but suffered a great setback in Copenhagen. The downward trajectory since then led to the Paris Agreement, which has been characterised as a hoax not only by President Trump, but also by climate experts around the world. The COP 24 was preceded by a wake up call by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but at Katowice, the developed countries appeared oblivious of the impending danger and engaged in debates that reopened old disputes on principles and concepts.
The “success” of Katowice being celebrated is the fact that we now have a “rulebook” for the implementation of the Paris Agreement, but it is incomplete and does not show the way to keep global warming below 1-5 degrees or even 2 degrees Celsius. It gives countries a common framework for reporting and reviewing progress towards their climate targets, but it offers nothing to compel the countries to take concrete action. The national pledges adopted in Paris are still woefully inadequate to meet the 1.5℃ or 2℃ global warming goals of the Paris Agreement and Katowice did nothing to show a way out. The old debate about the correct science of anthropogenic Green House Gases emissions got resurrected when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report detailing the urgent need to accelerate climate policy. The parties were not even willing to welcome it as evidence of the impending disaster and take action. Eventually, the conference agreed to welcome only its “timely completion”, leaving its conclusions in doubt, forgetting that the UNFCC itself rose out of convincing scientific evidence in this regard. Instead of demanding that the national climate targets should be increased, the COP 24 simply reiterated the existing request in the Paris Agreement for countries to communicate and update their contributions by 2020.
A key element of the Paris Agreement is a five-yearly assessment of whether countries are collectively on track to meet the Paris Agreement’s goals to limit global warming.
The new rulebook affirms that this process will consider “ the best available science”. But it does not elaborate specifically on how these inputs will be used, and how the outcomes will prod countries to act.
In the present form, the rulebook will ensure that we know when the world falls behind on climate action, but will offer no prescription for corrective action. The countries are under no obligation to ensure their climate pledges are in line with the overall goals. A successful, ambitious and prescriptive five-yearly review process has not been devised in the rulebook.
Finance has been a crucial issue right from the beginning to fund the incremental cost involved in environment friendly development. There have been many funds proposed before and after the Rio Conference, including the “Planet Protection Fund” proposed by India. Rio raised hopes of a huge fund in the form of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), but it turned out to be a molehill rather than a mountain. The new rulebook defines what will constitute “climate finance” (CF) and how it will be reported and reviewed. Developed countries are now obliged to report every two years on what climate finance they plan to provide so that others in a position to provide funding can follow suit. But with a surfeit of eligible financial instruments, the situation is very complex. Still, proper reporting will help understand the scale of climate financing mobilised. But the world is far from achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement with regard to climate finance.
In 2015, developed countries pledged to deliver USD 100 billion a year from 2020. The agreed text of COP 24 says that developed countries “shall” and developing countries “should” report on any CF they provide, but the sought-after criteria-based common reporting format could not be agreed. As a result, imaginative accounting can cover a multitude of sins like multiple counting of the same money provided through different channels established since Rio. There are too many overlaps involving huge transaction costs, generating frustrations both at delivery and receiving ends.
Just weeks before the meeting in Katowice, the OECD published a report on CF, which shows that in 2017 their members have provided USD 56.7 billion as CF to developing countries, but it did not specify the methodologies of reaching this number. A Bangladeshi delegate to the COP 24 recalls that in Paris, when an OECD representative in a session on long-term finance mentioned that in 2014 they provided USD 62 billion as CF, the Indian delegate, based on his analysis, responded that only USD 2.2 billion could be regarded as credible CF. This wide gulf in numbers of claimed CF delivery and actual receipt shows no sign of bridging yet.
Katowice discussed once again the persistent demand of most vulnerable countries to have grants as CF mainly to enhance their adaptive capacity. Also the adaptation finance remains at one-fifth of total CF, though the pledge has been to maintain a balance in support between mitigation and adaptation. What is more frustrating is that the long-agreed principles of CF in Rio, such as “new and additional” CF has been totally diluted, with no signs of resuscitation.
However, there is some money flowing in to the Adaptation Fund, to the tune of USD 129 million, and some new pledges of replenishment to the Green Climate Fund, where Germany pledged an amount of USD 1.5 billion, followed by countries like France, Japan, Norway, Sweden, UK and others. It is expected that the EU will agree to fill the gap left by the withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement.
The “most unkindest cut of all” was that the US delegation, which is on the verge of leaving the Paris Agreement struck at the root of the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” by erasing the word “equity” from the draft rulebook Reopening this issue amounted to undoing the many hours of negotiations in different conferences, which led to the balanced formulation on respective responsibilities of developed and developing countries. Strangely, many countries, including the European Union did not object to erasing “equity” from the text.
I did not have to be in Katowice to sense the ‘deja vu’ in discussing scientific evidence, the need for appropriate funding and the respective responsibilities of developed and developing countries to mitigate climate change. Even after hearing the dire warnings of an impending catastrophe, the delegates engaged in debates heard many times before as though they had all the time in the world. The scientists have already refuted the theory that technology will find a way to sweep out GHG emissions from the atmosphere. Then the only hope for mankind is to believe, like Charles Dickens’ Micawber, that “something will turn up” to save mankind from the ravages of climate change.