ENVIRONMENT: The politics of a changing climate

Allen Mutyambizi and Padmore Paradzayi

In 2014, countries gathered in Lima, Peru and agreed to come up with climate change models and enact domestic laws to reduce emissions and submit their plans detailing their cuts by March 31 2015, in advance of the major summit on climate change in Paris, France by end of this year.
Greenhouse gas emissions have the same impact on the atmosphere whether they originate from Washington, Harare or Beijing
Greenhouse gas emissions have the same impact on the atmosphere whether they originate from Washington, Harare or Beijing

These plans will be treated as non-binding “national pledges” that can form the basis for a new global accord. By definition, climate change is a global challenge and requires a global solution. It is the long-term shift in weather patterns in a specific region or globally. This means that greenhouse gas emissions have the same impact on the atmosphere whether they originate in Washington, Harare or Beijing.

Consequently, action by one country to reduce emissions will do little to slow global warming unless other countries act as well. n this regard, the transboundary nature of the effects of climate change should be a motivating factor for comprehensive strategies based on intense co-operation which link climate change with the broad socio-economic and political development frameworks of member states.

Unfortunately, global climate change negotiations have been marred by hindrances since the launch of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 as a result of material and strategic interests and abatement costs associated with emissions reduction.

However, the Conference of Parties 20 held in Lima seems to have raised hopes for the global world as member states agreed to voluntarily cut emissions of GHG. But the question still remains whether States are submitting their “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” in good faith for a climate change deal to be reached by end of this year.

The Group of Least Developed Countries, a key partner in the long-running United Nations climate talks, indicated its willingness to agree a core demand of the industrialised world on cutting emissions of GHG. Whether its keenness to accept cuts will, in fact, hasten the birth of a new and comprehensive climate agreement will now depend largely on the good faith and commitment of the richer countries.

The response from the developed world seems to be encouraging. More than 34 countries, representing about 60 percent of global emissions to date have submitted climate action pledges to the UN as part of a bid to hammer out a global climate deal ahead of a meeting in Paris, France in December.

The EU, Norway, Mexico, and the US all filed contributions in time for a 31 March target date for countries ready to submit. Gabon became the first African country to submit on the 1st of April, and took some climate watchers by surprise.

Nevertheless, history have a tendency of repeating itself and in cognisant of the fact that States always participate in international negotiations when their interest are best served, it is important to note that the world risks repeating the same mistake made in Kyoto.

Here we are referring to the Kyoto Protocol which is one of the most important instruments in the history of climate change negotiations which saw one of the biggest contributors of GHG emissions rescinding on its commitment.

The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the UNFCC. The major feature of the protocol is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialised countries and the European community for reducing GHG emissions. he protocol was adopted at the third session of the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC (COP 3) in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan and entered into force on 16 February 2005.

The major distinction between the protocol and the convention is that while the convention encouraged industrialised countries to stabilise GHG emissions, the protocol commits them to do so. It is interesting to note that the US was one of the first countries to sign the UNFCCC and encouraged other countries to do so but rejected the Kyoto Protocol.

The reasons are obvious because the UNFCCC included a legally non-binding, voluntary pledge that the major industrialised nations would reduce their GHG emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000, and that all nations would undertake voluntary actions to measure, report, and limit GHG emissions.

The most controversial issues in the Kyoto Protocol that prompted the US to reject it were to do with developing country responsibilities, emissions trading and joint implementation, among others.

In terms of emissions trading, the question was to do with how much specifically, of a country’s obligation to reduce emissions can be met through purchasing credits from outside versus taking domestic action and the extent to which carbon sequestration by forests, soils and agricultural practices can be counted toward a country’s emissions reductions.

The US also wanted developing nations to have “meaningful participation” in commitments made in the protocol.

Non-Annex 1 countries resisted this move and argued that the Berlin Mandate – the terms of reference of the Kyoto negotiations clearly excluded them from new commitments. As a result the protocol was concluded without such commitments and the US rejected the protocol.

It is now imperative that when States meet in Paris, the goal should be to come up with a comprehensive agreement to limit temperature rise by 2 degrees Celsius, while at the same time addressing the above Kyoto controversial issues.

The hope is that as the numbers and commitments of each country are publicised, compared, and discussed, countries will be shamed by the spotlight into proposing and enacting stronger plans.

If the agreement is going to be successful, developed and developing countries now have a “common but differentiated responsibility” to address climate change.

This loaded phrase attempts to accommodate the demands of the US and other European countries who want every country, rich or poor, to step up and commit to fighting climate change, with the demands of China, India, and other developing countries, which argue that the developed world should take a greater share of responsibility for the climate crisis as they have been emitting more emissions over time and have more resources to deal with the challenges of mitigation and adaptation.

As part of the agreement, developed countries will provide financial support to “vulnerable” developing countries, up to US$100 billion a year by 2020.

Allen Mutyambizi and Padmore Paradzayi both hold MSc in International Relations degrees from the University of Zimbabwe.

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