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Combating climate change

  • Published at 12:02 am November 27th, 2016
Combating climate change

The recently concluded COP22 session in Marrakech, Morocco was an example of international awareness of a problem faced by humanity across borders and the need to urgently address issues associated with the global warming process -- not only to reduce carbon emissions, but also adoption of measures that relate to mitigation of the evolving dynamics.

Meetings held on the sidelines of the conference also revealed some interesting aspects.

While 2016 is heading towards being the hottest year on record, global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels appear to have stayed almost flat for the third year in a row. Scientists are terming this as a “clear and unpredicted break” and a turning point in the world’s efforts to curb climate change.

Climatologists have suggested that fall in the use of coal in China, by far, the world’s largest carbon emitter, was probably the main reason for this slowdown.

This appears to conform to the theory that global carbon pollution usually slows when there is a downturn in the global economy and that in turn reduces the use of fossil fuels in factories and power plants.

This has, however, been challenged by Professor Le Quere, who has pointed out that the world economy has not really slowed down, but has been growing by as much as 3%. Consequently, according to him, this reduction can only be described as unprecedented.

Discussions during COP22 have revealed that the future will not be as easy as many are thinking.

Pilita Clark has mentioned that there has been a slight glow of optimism but the scenario remains dark in most parts of the developed and developing world. Records have indicated that US emissions fell by 2.6% in 2015 as coal use slumped.

It is being projected that this trend will continue this year.

However, emissions rose by a sharp 5% in India and also increased by 1.4% in the European Union (after a period of decline). Carbon pollution in China, which accounts for more than a quarter of global emissions, continued to grow at more than 5% till 2014 as it had done for the previous 10 years. This emission trend, however, changed slightly in 2015 with a fall by 0.7%. It is now expected that fresh Chinese measures might lead to another fall of around 0.5% this year.

Scientists have commented that atmospheric CO2 levels surged to 400 parts per million in 2015, the highest seen in at least the last 800,000 years.

Some during COP22 also remarked that carbon concentrations are expected to climb to new records in 2016 on the back of a strong El Nino weather system that produced unusual hot and dry conditions in many parts of the world (including Bangladesh), sapping the ability of trees and other vegetation to absorb carbon dioxide.

One recent international development has also cast a shadow on the evolving paradigm of tackling the after-effects of growing carbon emissions.

This revolves around the victory of Republican Donald Trump in the US presidential election. His views on this issue, many feel, might complicate matters.

One may recall, in this regard, Trump’s comment that global warming is a “hoax.”

He has also threatened to “cancel” the global pact by having US withdraw from the Paris Agreement, stop financial support for the measures initiated in this regard by the United Nations, and divert such funding towards improving infrastructure within the US.

He believes that such a step would help him create employment that he has promised as part of his election effort. He has also reiterated his intention to revive the struggling US coal industry.

The Global Carbon Budget 2016 launched during COP22 has noted that all countries need to take the matter of going carbon negative very seriously

Climate activists have, however, hinted that any withdrawal by the US from the ramifications of the Paris Agreement would have to be dealt with according to Article 28 of the agreement, and would take a total of four years to be effective. Such an attempt, it is believed, will also lead to a severe diplomatic backlash -- more serious than what transpired after former President George W Bush took the initiative against the Kyoto Protocol.

Ban Ki-moon, the departing UN secretary general has however tried to allay the fears by optimistically remarking that some of what Trump expressed in his electoral campaign was probably popular rhetoric and needed to be taken as such.

He has also hoped that Trump, after taking over the reins of power, “will understand the seriousness and urgency of addressing climate change.”

One can only hope that Trump does. As a businessman, he will also probably appreciate the potential of the US industry benefitting from various aspects of renewable energy.

In the meantime, the Global Carbon Budget 2016 launched during COP22 has noted that all countries need to take the matter of going carbon negative very seriously.

It has also been underlined that there should be greater emphasis on afforestation and reforestation, carbon capture, and storage. Carbon capture and storage to produce bio energy has, however, been questioned by many as it would require vast areas of empty land and that might not be possible in countries with small territory.

A comment made by the UNEP executive director also needs to be noted. He has remarked that we must not forget the growing number of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness, and conflict and that these affected people do not have legal protection under the UN 1951 Geneva Convention.

They, as has been mentioned, are a constant reminder of our failure to deliver.

The United Nations also needs to arrange urgent availability of requisite funding for tackling the negative effects of climate change in vulnerable nations.

This will require creation of an agreed road map regarding the $100 billion climate finance fund and common steps pertaining to the acceptance of projects.

Transparency in this regard would be essential to create accountability.

For developing countries like Bangladesh, already suffering from the after-effects of climate change, the financial assistance needs to be more in the form of grants rather than loans.

Bangladesh has continued to take measures with regard to climate change with great commitment. It may be recalled that we handed over on September 21 the “Instrument of Ratification” of the Paris Agreement to the UN secretary general. Some 109 out of 197 UN member states have, so far, ratified the Paris Agreement. It came into force on November 4.

Bangladesh, on its own initiative, has also created a Climate Change Trust Fund worth $400m from its own financial resources.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in the high level segment of COP22, correctly reiterated some important points.

They included the need for collective action to tackle problems associated with adaptation, mitigation, the resolution of the crisis being created through migration of climate change affected people, the need to ensure safe drinking water and sanitation through effective water governance, the creation of a new global fund to support research, innovation, and sharing advances in technology required to solve serious after-effects of climate change in the areas of agriculture and water management. This, she pointed out would help not only to meet SDG goals but facilitate disaster management.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance.

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