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18 July, 2017 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 17 July, 2017 09:20:02 PM
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International scenario related to climate change

Bangladesh, one of the most vulnerable countries with regard to the pernicious after-effects of climate change, has taken COP-22 with the required seriousness
Muhammad Zamir
International scenario related 
to climate change

There have been differing interpretations about the term climate change. Sociologists and environmentalists have at times disagreed with politicians and traders involved with energy over connotations and possible consequences that are expected to emerge through such activity.
Environmentalists assert that anthropogenic climate change is caused by human activity- as opposed to changes in climate that may have resulted as part of Earth’s natural processes. From this point of view, particularly in the context of environmental policy, the term climate change has become synonymous with anthropogenic global warming. This denotes that global warming will refer to surface temperature increases while climate change includes global warming and everything else that increasing greenhouse gas levels affect.
Over the last three decades, climate change incorporated in the title of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was used as a noun and has now become an issue rather than the technical description of changing weather. It has also resulted in serious scientific debate and alternative explanations with regard to factors that are leading to the increase in CO2 levels. Emissions from fossil fuel combustion, improper land use, ozone depletion, misuse in animal husbandry and deforestation have taken center-stage in terms of the role they play in affecting not only climate in general but also micro-climate zones in particular.
It is the evolving seriousness of the situation that led the world to convene the UN Convention on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1997 and adopt Agenda-21.

It may be recalled that the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference COP-21 or CMP-11 that was held in Paris in November-December, 2015had held out some hope for most countries including Bangladesh. On 12 December 2015, the participating countries agreed by consensus to reduce emissions as part of the method for reducing greenhouse gas. The participants agreed to reduce their carbon output ás soon as possible’and to do their best to keep global warming ‘to well below 2 degrees C’. The then French Foreign Minister Fabius described the plan as a “historic turning point” in the common goal of reducing global warming. This optimism was expressed despite significant sections of the Agreement being “promises” or aims and not firm commitments by some countries. This was interpreted as a “mixed-bag”.

Despite qualms about the future implementation of agreed postulates, it was generally agreed that success in this regard would greatly depend on Washington and Beijing being pro-active in fulfilment of expectations related to decarbonizing electricity production and containing fossil fuel energy production. France and Germany were held up as examples because of their wide use of renewable energy and wind energy.

Then came the COP-22 session in Marrakesh, Morocco in 2016 which was clearly emerging as the hottest year on record. Scientists pointed out that atmospheric CO-2 levels had surged to 400 parts per million in 2015, the highest in history. It was also noted that in 2016, a strong El Nino weather system was producing unusual hot and dry conditions in amny parts of the world (including Bangladesh) and sapping the ability of trees and other vegetation being able to absorb carbon dioxide.

In the midst of all these positive efforts came the US Presidential electoral process in 2016. This cast a shadow on the evolving paradigm of tackling the after-effects of growing carbon emissions. It started with Trump’s comment that global warming is a “hoax”. During the weeks leading to the election in November, 2016, he took another controversial step by threatening to ”cancel” the global pact by having US withdraw from the Paris Agreement, stopping financial support for the measures initiated in this regardby the United Nations and divertingh such US funding towards improving infrastructure within the United States. He also reiterated his intention to revive the struggling US coal industry.

Climate activists at that time, and particularly after he won the election, 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 that this process would take a total of four years and would only be effective near the end of Trump’s term in Office. They also warned the possibility of a repeat of the serious diplomatic backlash that had transpired after former President George W. Bush had taken the initiative against the Kyoto Protocol.

In the meantime observers have noted that the Global Carbon Budget 2016 launched during COP-22 aimed at aiding countries towards adaptation and mitigation efforts has not proved to be as successful as anticipated  due to lack of sufficient contribution by many countries despite previous promises. The BREXIT factor has also made the paradigm more complex. It may also be noted that many countries are not seriously adopting the necessary measures that need to be taken to go carbon negative.  Funds are also generally scarce related to implementation of projects pertaining to reforestation, carbon capture and storage, greater use of bio-gas and building of enbankments on the coast in climate-vulnerable countries.

In this context, Bangladesh, one of the most vulnerable countries with regard to the pernicious after-effects of climate change has taken COP-22 with the required seriousness. Some 109 out of 197 UN member states have so far ratified the Paris Agreement and it came into force on November4, 2016. It may be recalled that Bangladesh handed over on 21 September the ‘Instrument of Ratification’ of the Paris Agreement to the United Nations Secretary General.

Bangladesh on its own initiative has also created a Climate Change Trust Fund worth $ 400 million from its own financial resources. These measures have highlighted the commitment of our country in addressing climate change challenges.

The factors that were reiterated in the keynote speech delivered by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the high–level segment of COP-22 on 16 November, 2016included the need for collective action to tackle the problems associated with effective implementation of measures related to adaptation and 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 area of agriculture and water management. This, she pointed out would help to meet SDG goals.

Now let us review what has been happening in the United States. It has been controversial to say the least. The irresponsible approach on the part of the Trump Administration in its own way has been a catalyst in leading many nations towards re-thinking about reducing global warming and taking pre-emptive steps towards this end. In the last week of March 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order rolling back Obama-era rules aimed at curbing climate change. While doing so, Trump said that this would put an end to the "war on coal" and "job-killing regulations". The Energy Independence Executive Order suspended more than half a dozen measures enacted by his predecessor, and now his decision will boost fossil fuels. As expected, business groups who supported Trump during the election have praised the Trump administration's move.

Lately, the Arctic Council meeting and the Fairbanks Declaration and joint agreement announced last month also had its own connotations. The US hesitation with regard to climate change and global warming was patently present through the fact that the joint agreement by the Arctic Council mentioned the Paris accord only in a passing reference, noting the deal's entry into force and implementation, but it did not recommit its members to meet the pledges made. The environmental campaigners condemned it.

Nevertheless, despite all the criticism from different groups and activists, matters have come to a head with Trump making an official announcement on 1 June that the United States will withdraw from the landmark Paris climate agreement as it “loads costs on American people”. He also tried to justify this by stating that this was consistent with his decision to “put American workers first”. Mr Trump characterized the Paris agreement as a deal that aimed to hobble, disadvantage and impoverish the US. He also claimed the agreement would cost the US $3trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million jobs. Mr Trump has also indicated that he was open to another climate deal, saying he would "begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States". Through this decision the US has now aligned itself with two other countries who have also contoroversially stayed away from the Paris Accord- Nicaragua and Syria.

President Trump has taken a very different approach to the environment from Mr Obama who had argued that climate change was "real and cannot be ignored".Among the initiatives now rescinded is the Clean Power Plan, which required states to slash carbon emissions, to meet US commitments under the Paris accord. Trump’s supporters are saying that the Trump decision will create thousands of jobs in the liberated oil and gas industries. Mr Trump has not given a timescale for US withdrawal, but it could take up to four years.

As a result of this decision US payments to the UN Green Climate Fund, which helps developing countries cope with the effects of climate change, will stop.

The international response to this US decision has been one of great disappointment. They, including Canada, France, Japan, Germany, China, India and the EU have however reiterated their resolve and “highest political commitment” for implementation of the Paris Accord.  A United Nations spokesperson  said it was a "major disappointment for global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote global security".

Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.  He can be reached at muhammadzamir0@gmail.com

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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