As the two-week UN summit on climate change prepares to draw to an end, much hangs in the balance. The 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) of the UN Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) is critical to realising the 2018 deadline to adopt a framework under which the Paris Agreement is to be fully implemented; including a global shift away from fossil fuels. Some 193 nations are convening in Poland towards this end. Yet it is Washington that stands accused of thwarting progress.
Semantics appear to be at the heart of the controversy. Back in October, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released an important report in which scientists argue that a 12-year window is all that the world has to ensure that global warming is kept at a maximum of 1.5C. Beyond this, an upward fluctuation of even half a degree risks increased flooding, drought, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions. This is not to mention the perils faced by those seeking to flee such environmental disasters. Nevertheless, at the COP24 a bloc of four oil-producing countries led by the US — and comprising Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait — is quibbling over calls to either “welcome” or “note” the IPCC recommendations.
The Trump administration is known for its aversion to multilateralism. Indeed, in a deeply controversial move it requested to withdraw from the Paris Agreement back in July 2017. This will not come into effect until 2020; the same year that the President is up for re-election. Thereby underscoring how politics is taking centre stage at the summit; a charge levelled by the Vanuatu Foreign minister as he warned that failure to reach consensus on a global rule book on climate change would result in the “annihilation” of Pacific and Indian Ocean states. Thus it becomes apparent that the worst offenders from the industrialised world when it comes to CO2 emissions have little will to protect the most vulnerable populations.
China remains a possible exception. Despite being labelled the largest polluter, Beijing has reaffirmed its commitment to implementing the Paris accord while keeping in mind the country’s national interests. And while this raises the spectrum of certain caveats — at least in the short-term, this affords China the advantage in its ongoing trade war with Washington; environmental concerns about the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) notwithstanding.
Elsewhere, the World Bank is all set to double funding for poor countries preparing for climate change; pledging $200 billion over a five-year period from 2021-2025. And while this is a positive development — much more needs to be known about terms and conditions. For global lending institutes are well-known for concluding deals that are not always in the best interest of developing countries. Though the Bank has confirmed that just $50bn will come from its own coffers. This question of providing financial assistance to the Global South as it adapts to climate change’s fallout remains an important one. Not least because the Industrialised North holds primary responsibility for the environmental degradation that prevails today; with parts of the Middle East joining the ranks later in the day. Thus it would be more appropriate for the conversation to turn towards reparations instead of donor funds.
Climate change is a reality that must be confronted in an equitable manner for all. It is on a par, as was noted at the CPO24, with colonialism and slavery. *
Published in Daily Times, December 13th 2018.