Thunder Clouds in the Horizon?
THE global climate change is expected to have possible devastating effects on lives, livelihood and economy in most countries. A Global Climate Change Agreement (GCCA) is to be signed in Paris in December 2015 and implemented from 2021 onwards. This will be an international agreement with the force of law. And here lies the problem for Bangladesh which needs to be clearly understood by policy makers.
In Geneva in February 2015, the members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) met and produced an official text for the consideration as GCCA. As the GCCA is going to be a legally binding international treaty the issue of legal cover must be sorted out by December 2015. The first meeting to discuss the Geneva text will be in next June in Bonn.
The Geneva text has two alternatives on legal cover. It refers to the Vienna Convention of 1969 on International Treaty and also provides an option for a stand alone agreement. Either may possibly foreclose at least for some time the door of the treaty to Bangladesh.
Provided the reference to the Vienna Convention stays, this will create some difficult problems. Non-signatories to the Vienna Convention include Bangladesh, India, South Africa, Norway and ironically France, the President of the upcoming Paris meeting. The USA has signed but not ratified it. As Bangladesh is not a signatory, with the Vienna Convention as the legal cover, a question obviously arises if Bangladesh can sign and ratify the GCCA. If it cannot, the country will be deprived of the global support under the GCCA for mitigation and adaptation and the associated finance and ancillary activities. The financial flow is expected to be at least US$100 bn per year globally from 2021 onwards.
The non-signing and non-ratification of the Vienna Convention by the above-listed countries may have national and global ramifications. The national implication has already been hinted at as the country may be deprived of various international financial and other support for it to avert the adverse impacts of climate change.
On the global implication first note that the US, the largest emitter till recently of greenhouse gases may wiggle itself out of the Paris agreement obligations behind the fig leaf of non-ratification. On the other hand both India and South Africa are major emitters among developing counties whose emissions are expected to rise even faster in the future. Also, India has already reportedly declared that it would not sign any legally binding treaty. The absence of USA, India and South Africa will thus be a mockery of the high global ambition for the climate treaty when the average global concentration of greenhouse gases has already crossed the 400 parts per million mark.
The Geneva text proposes an alternative legal framework. Some of its options however fly in the face of the letter and spirit of the UNFCCC. Let me just quote one of the options for membership. This is from para 215.5 Option 3 and reads as follows:
"A Party to the Convention to have a legally binding mitigation commitment in order to become a Party to this agreement."
If this option stays, countries which have no legally binding commitment under the Convention (such as LDCs including Bangladesh) cannot be members of the GCCA. Bangladesh first must commit a mandatory GHG reduction pledge to be a member of the GCCA and benefit from its operation including the flow of finance. This is a clear political commitment that Bangladesh has to decide whether or not to make. Such a commitment must not be made lightly or through executive order. The people must be consulted before making such a commitment.
So far the idea in climate change talks has been that while countries such as Bangladesh may commit for mitigation it has to be conditional upon receiving financial and technical support from the Convention or related bodies. A chicken and egg problem may arise here and must be resolved before which the GCCA may not be signed by Bangladesh.
There may be perfect solutions to the problem at hand. But we do not know what and the people have a right to know how things will be managed in such a case. If the non-signing of the Vienna Convention becomes a real hindrance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Law owe the nation an explanation about how they will keep Bangladesh's concerns alive in global climate change talks and allow it to attract resources for its climate change management in the years to come. If Vienna Convention is not an impediment, the Ministry of Environment and Forests has a lot of explaining to do regarding governance of the GCCA and membership issues. To begin with the delegation to the Bonn climate change talks in June must clearly oppose in the opening plenary any move to restrict membership of the GCCA. Further it should raise questions and make arguments for one or the other of the confusing governance options in the Geneva text.
For that matter there is the persistent reference to a Governing Body which has not even been formally proposed to be established in the text. Would the Governing Body be the present COP itself or would there be a separate body apart from COP? What would the relationship between them in the latter case be? Would it help or hinder the GCCA operations? Or, for that matter, would the UNFCCC be ultimately redundant and wither away? There are thus many legal matters to settle which may have domestic political implications as well as for international relations. The official delegation must have its brief ready accordingly.
The writer is Professorial Fellow, BIDS.