I sent New Year greetings to all my friends who are prominent members of the climate negotiating teams of their governments. It ran thus: “CO2operation and Not CO2nflicts! Let 2015 be year of Paris ProtoCO2l on Climate. Happy New Year!”
One of the friends from a large emerging economy immediately shot back: “Why do you want a ‘Paris Protocol’ and not simply a ‘Paris Agreement, with domestic legal force’? Why go down the Kyoto route again?”
My friend’s response clearly showed that, yes we ARE entering a brand New Year, but the climate debate will continue to be the old trudge and stark frustrating ramble. If each country has its climate commitments with weak and fragile commitments with so called “own domestic legal force”, where will be collective endeavour to save the planet which, according to latest assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is already undergoing a “pervasive, severe and irreversible impact? If Kyoto was crippling, Paris would be plodding. Where is the urgency to meet the targets of global cuts in emission with common but differentiated responsibility? Where is that race, ambition and acceleration to ensure that rise in temperature will be limited to two degrees Celsius?
Clamour and cutter, blare and buzz, humming and haggling are expected to be the mainstay of the environmental and social debate throughout this year.
The pre-decided end of the crippled and fatally failed Kyoto Protocol was December 31, 2012. It is now in Intensive Care with its life extended till end of 2015. Sadly, the extended Protocol is already disowned by nearly 40 countries, most of them developed. Climate negotiations can be best described not just as “failed to have met the goals” but even tossed around and “manipulated to change even the goalposts”.
It is, in fact, a Shakespearean tragedy that began with a global collective resolve to save the planet from the manmade deluge of greenhouse gases and then flawed, placed in a stressful heightened situation every year and then ended with a near-fatal conclusion. The only lifeline that still exists in this life-threatening drama is “optimism” expressed by the countries and international organizations through the statements like: “The world has made important decisions to move the climate agenda forward!” What that lifeline needs is not food of “paper decisions” but urgent supply of the oxygen of “action”.
The last negotiations on climate change recently ended in Lima when representatives of almost all countries — with the possible exception of small island countries — returned to their capitals with nationalistic and complacent feeling of “we-got-what-we-wanted”. No one thought for a moment about “what-our-planet-wanted” to limit the temperature to not more than two degrees Celsius. As per the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) report, to make the planet climate-safe, will need action to ensure that “total global greenhouse gas emissions need to shrink to net zero some time between 2080 and 2100” and there is urgent need to act on pledges already made by the countries on emissions cuts, which, in any case, are far less than what is needed for limiting the temperature rise by two degrees Celsius.
Lima is really a place where the delegates had the opportunity to reflect on the ancient history of Andean civilisations — nearly 10 of them starting from 18th century BC to 16th century AD. Many of them are researched, and said to have perished and finally vanished due to man-made intervention in nature, particularly diverting the water for irrigation. Today’s digital civilisation stands to perish as it continues to divert the carbon from earth to sky without respite. The greatest paradox is that the Lima climate conference has itself generated more such gases than a small country like Fiji emits annually, as per the report of Daily Mail and admitted by the UN.
On the day when I received the response from my negotiator friend, I received another email from a friend in Kenya, Lillian Beauttah, who runs an NGO. She referred to my recent opinion piece in the New York Times that had following statement: “To stabilise greenhouse gases and limit the earth’s temperature rise to two degrees Celsius, we need a third way to help communities, businesses and coalitions acting on their own agreements. We need the United Nations, with its multilateralism, to be a coordinator of all activities, to provide an early warning alarm to the growing dangers, to identify the gaps between action undertaken and action needed, to prevent conflicts and inspire all to act and act as of urgency.”
She went on to inform me that she would not wait for yet another UN meeting on climate change where there will be more wordy-debates than worthy-action. “I believe what is required is like you mentioned — a ‘third way’ to help communities, businesses and coalitions acting on their agreements. For this to happen, what would be first required is a large-scale launch platform for disruptive innovation to generate accelerated action. This is where I came up with the concept of an international tree-planting initiative to set the world record of five million trees planted in 10 minutes.”
She sounded like US President Barack Obama who, in 2008 when the financial crisis hit, put in trillions of dollars, almost overnight, to bail out the financial institutes. Beauttah is all set to bail out climate crisis in her own little way.
Twenty years after the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) entered into force and 15 years after Millennium Development Goals were agreed to, we are entering 2015 with complacency in over-supply and action in short supply. But Beauttah reminded me through her message that I may be wrong.
Rajendra Shende is an IIT alumni, chairman of TERRE Policy Centre, and former UNEF director.