Amid deep frustration of scientists and activists, the political economy of climate change has taken a new turn at the ever-widening gulf between science and politics as a depleted number of official delegates from around 200 countries struggled to reach a common ground at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP24, in Katowice, Poland.
They reached a face-saving last-minute weak consensus on December 16 after 30 hours beyond the scheduled deadline for negotiations, crafting the rulebook for implementing the Paris Agreement from 2020.
They adopted a truncated rulebook which contained only soft issues leaving the tougher ones for future UN parleys. Some of the core issues and decisions have been left hanging for the next two COPs—in Chile in December 2019, and then at the country chosen to host it in 2020, either UK or Italy.
COP24 barely averted disaster thanks to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' repeated interventions. But, as a long-time climate negotiator, I think the rulebook is a weak mechanism that lacks enforcement. It's a good thing that the UNSG has called a special climate summit in September next year to make a quantum leap forward in order to cut back on emissions.
Many scientists sounded warnings at COP24 at Katowice, a Polish coal city, that the decisions must be taken by 2020 to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Otherwise, the most vulnerable countries like Bangladesh and other Least Developed Countries and Small Island States who are already on ground zero would be at greater risk of adverse impacts—losing more than two percent of GDP by climate-induced migration and economic and non-economic losses going beyond adaptation.
As a long-time climate negotiator of the LDCs and G-77, I know that the next two years will be more difficult for climate negotiators as they will have to seize every opportunity to discuss and find solutions to the toughest issues which will require fighting tougher battles.
From my own experience as a negotiator on behalf of Bangladesh, I think COP24 once again showed that the multilateral system of global decision-making is still working despite increasing threat from fossil fuel interests and some politicians.
At UN, many of us know, most of the decisions are taken after long gruelling hours and exhausting work. It's always painstaking even at the best of times. Why? Because in any UN setting, decisions have to be taken on the basis of consensus among around 200 countries. At Katowice, about 11,000 delegates took two weeks to debate the latest scientific and proposed policy instruments. But when they agreed upon the rulebook after an extra time of 1.5 days, by then most delegates had already left leaving a few exhausted ones to witness the closing plenary. Credit should be given to those who helped whittle down some 2,500 areas of disagreement in the text.
As per the rulebook, on emission cutbacks, countries now need to report every two years on their progress along the Paris Agreement commitments for keeping temperature increase within 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius.
On the mitigation front, a few key anchors were set, but a lot deferred, such as deferral of guidance on features of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to 2024. Decisions regarding market mechanisms including Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) were deferred to COP25. Africa and LDCs wanted to participate without a heavy burden after having been able to set up CDM programme of activities in the last few years.
On the adaptation tax, discussions were on whether it would be based just on Article 6.4 or all mechanisms. Industrialised countries were against it, while Brazil, Africa and Alliance of Small Island States were in favour. Adaptation communication should be flexible—it is not to be used for country comparisons, not subject to review, and can be linked to adaptation reports under Article 13.
Little progress was made on finance. It was agreed that ex-ante communication (Article 9.5) shall be mandatory for industrialised countries, and voluntary for all others.
Historical divisions between developed and developing were not a major problem at Katowice. Past obstacles were overcome. Standards on transparency were agreed upon by China while developed countries, more specifically, Germany and Norway, pledged to provide over USD 100bn to help poorer countries adapt to the changing climate.
However, the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia pushed till the end to downplay scientific warnings about temperature rise beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius. Social implications of carbon tax or fossil fuel price hike also came up. Noted economists Nicholas Stern and Ottmar Edenhofer argued that the carbon tax was still an important instrument to nudge economies away from fossil fuels. But the transition has to be fair as well as fast, which means using the extra tax revenue for green infrastructure or redistributing it among poorer members of society who are often hardest hit by fuel tax rises, they observed.
Economic and investment decisions to be taken in the short run would be very important to help raise mitigation ambitions, scale up adaptation and look at economic and non-economic loss and damage induced by climatic changes. More specifically speaking, decisions to be taken on policy and investment fronts on power stations and infrastructure in the next two years will obviously determine whether greenhouse gases can be cut back by 45 percent as required by 2030 to give the 1.5 degrees Celsius target a chance.
Bangladesh and other LDCs led by new LDC Chair Bhutan, I earnestly hope, would leave no stone unturned to prepare this 48-nation group for the next two years; they should do their homework on the basis of the latest scientific facts. Bangladesh as a ground-zero country in terms of adverse climate change effects, without any fault of her own, should also require changing its narrative as a victim nation. It was one of the first countries to prepare a strategy and action plan, namely the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) in 2008 that was revised in 2009; it should now be updated in a participatory manner so that it can be implemented without further delay. The formulation of the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) should be started immediately following the NAP Roadmap prepared by a group of experts. Here, too, people's participation should be stressed upon.
Bangladesh also created the Climate Trust Fund from its own budgetary resources and the Climate Resilient Fund with support from development partners, mainly from the UK and a few others. Now it needs to raise the budgetary allocation to tackle climate change. What is also urgently required is to build the skills and capacity to prepare adaptation and mitigation programmes to access the Green Climate Fund, Adaptation Fund, LDC Fund and other global funds.
Quamrul Chowdhury is a climate, environment and sustainable development specialist, former Chair of UN Kyoto Protocol Joint Implementation Supervisory Committee and former member of the UN Adaptation Committee.