Earthly matters: 2013 — Not a good year for the climate
The year 2013 was an important and worrying one when it comes to climate change, because the UN’s global body of scientists who collaborate on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told us clearly in a report that was released at the end of September that global warming today is the result of human activities.
The first part of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, which examines the physics of climate change, told us that: “It is extremely likely (95 per cent confidence) that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951-2010.”
The report noted that continued greenhouse gas emissions (mainly carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) would cause further changes to our climate system. According to the IPCC, extreme weather events like storms, floods and droughts are to become the “new normal”; and it is already happening. This summer heavy monsoon rains triggered major floods yet again in Pakistan. East Africa is currently suffering from the worst drought to hit the region in 60 years. Two months ago, Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines and this Christmas, half a million people in the US and Canada were without power due to a severe ice storm. The UK is currently bracing itself for more winter storms and floods.
It is evident today that our use of hydrocarbon fuels (oil, coal, gas) since the middle of the 18th century has cost us dearly. The greenhouse gases released by the burning of these fuels have been trapped in our atmosphere. They have formed a blanket around the planet, causing global average temperatures to rise. Scientists tell us the thicker the blanket, the higher the temperature rise. According to climate expert and retired Indian ambassador C. Dasgupta who spoke at an India-Pakistan dialogue on Energy and Climate Change held this month in Islamabad, “Irrespective of where they occur (greenhouse gases), the impacts are being felt all over the world”. Super storms like Hurricane Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan are indeed becoming the new norm.
“What the world needs is an international agreement to address the issue, under the unifying principle that those responsible should clear it up. In the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC (signed by over 192 countries of the world), you have the important principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibility,” he explained to an audience of students, journalists and climate specialists at the dialogue organised by the Heinrich Boll Foundation and the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI). But rich countries no longer want to shoulder the responsibility of having caused climate change in the first place through the industrial revolution. “While developing countries want enhanced implementation of existing commitments and agreements (Kyoto Protocol, etc), developed countries want new agreements in which responsibility will not figure.
“Pakistan and India share a common interest in that they both recognise the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibility, otherwise an unfair cost is shifted onto our shoulders which would be a major setback for us.” He called for India and Pakistan to cooperate closely during the global climate change negotiations, which have currently stalled. The UN Climate Change Conference 2013 was held in Warsaw in Poland this November and the outcome was not promising. The conference was supposed to provide a road map to a global agreement to be signed in 2015, but instead rich countries like Australia, Canada and Japan started back tracking out of their commitments (to cut carbon dioxide emissions). The $30 billion promised by rich countries as climate finance to help developing countries in Copenhagen are not exactly new and additional funds; and we are nowhere close to seeing the $100bn pledged by 2020. The mechanism of “loss and damage” introduced by developing countries to protect themselves from future climate related disasters was not welcomed by rich countries.
According to climate expert Harjeet Singh of Action Aid India who attended the Warsaw conference, “some countries were not allowing the discussions to happen and the US, Norway and the European Union were not engaging constructively; so the civil society members decided to walk out during the second week of the conference”. Around 800 people belonging to well known green organisations like WWF, Greenpeace and Oxfam walked out in protest, pointing out that with only two years to go, nothing was happening on the ground. “We want to bring the soul back to these negotiations, which are to continue in Peru in 2014 and France in 2015,” explained Harjeet. “We were not walking away, but walking out … in Poland nothing positive was happening so we decided to put pressure.”
Pakistani climate expert and retired ambassador, Shafqat Kakakhel, pointed out that “We need to resuscitate the spirit of Rio (the successful Earth Summit of 1992); we need to go back to the drawing board and restore the principles of Rio (when the UNFCCC was first signed) … the G-77 (group of developing countries of which India and Pakistan are both members) needs to negotiate a better deal”.
The future outlook does indeed look bleak for developing countries since the principle of equity has more or less been abandoned for now. According to sustainable development specialist Dr Tariq Banuri (who founded the SDPI), “we need to come together as a region and advance the issues at the global level. We need to participate in the global process with clear understanding of local realities”.