6-12 December 2013 #684

Climactic change

The recent global climate conference delivered just enough to keep the process moving
Bhrikuti Rai in WARSAW

NOT ENOUGH: NGOs walked out of the UN Climate Talks in Warsaw last month to protest the lack of ambition and slow progress at the negotiations.
When delegates arrived in the Polish capital last month for talks to revive international negotiations on limiting carbon emissions to control global warming, news was coming in of a devastating super-typhoon in the Philippines.

The apocalyptic Typhoon Haiyan focused everyone’s mind on what the future has in store as the world warms. Industrialised countries and newly-emerging economies pump carbon into the atmosphere, which is spawning ever more devastating storms. Yet it is the poorest in the poor countries who suffer and die.

‘Climate justice’ was the theme in Warsaw, yet even the most heart-rending images of death and destruction on Leyte Island was not enough to make the rich countries compromise on a clause on paying for climate-related loss and damage. All they could muster was a vaguely-worded assurance to ‘look into the mechanisms’ for compensation. The last-minute wording, hammered out after a marathon 30-hour sitting, saved the climate talks from complete collapse and just about kept the process alive.

Known by the officious-sounding 19th Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the meeting failed to come up with the emission reduction commitments necessary to keep global temperatures from rising beyond an average 2°C by 2050, considered by many scientists as the tipping point beyond which climate warming will go out of control.

The Warsaw summit had been dubbed the ‘finance COP’ because it was expected that its delegates would agree on a strategy to channel money from rich to poor countries to help them adapt to the impacts of climate change. In 2009 inCopenhagen,developed nations had promised to raise $100 billion a year after 2020 from $10 billion a year in 2010-12, but did not set targets for 2013-19.

This time, industrialised countries could only muster $100 million for a climate adaptation fund that has almost dried up. That is bad news for coastal populations like the ones which were hit by Haiyan, or villages vulnerable to flash floods caused by glacial lakes in the Himalaya which ‘burst’ because of glaciers melting. They have no option but to adapt with their own meagre resources.

Most developing countries were disappointed with the level of compromise they had to agree to in the last few hours and said that they had at least wanted to see a commitment from the rich nations on emission targets. “We are disappointed because despite compromises, the meeting failed to address long-term finance for adaptation,”

Nepal’s Prakash Mathema who chairs the Least Developing Countries at the UN Climate Conference told Nepali Times. “Without a mid-term pathway, it will be difficult to see how the promised $20 billion will be managed starting from 2020.”

Although all countries for the first time agreed to make contributions in cutting greenhouse gas emissions to prevent temperature rising above the 2°C average, developed countries like Japan backtracked from their carbon goals for 2020 because of the shutdown of nuclear power plants after Fukushima and Australia scrapped its carbon tax. Economics seems to have taken precedence over ecology.

Nepal, like delegations from other developing nations, argued that it cannot sacrifice economic growth to save the global environment and demanded compensation to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Increasingly, however, that is looking like an excuse to not address pollution in its own backyard that may be contributing to the melting of the Himalaya.

Emerging economies like China and India have overtaken the rich countries in total greenhouse gas emissions and Nepal’s dependence on fossil fuel is also increasing at an alarming rate (see above box). Emissions cuts from wealthy nations alone aren’t going to be enough to keep global averages within limits.

The Warsaw meeting partially succeeded in laying the foundation for a legally binding agreement for the next conference in Parisin 2015 to limit greenhouse gas emissions. There is still a feeble hope, but it was clear in Warsaw that the world is running out of time.

Read also:

The right climate for change


Going clean

Nepal’s per capita carbon foot print is less than 1 ton per person per year, one of the lowest in the world. In comparison, the US is 17 tons/person/year and Qatar is 55 tons/person/year. Whatever Nepal does is not going to reduce global warming. But we need to switch to renewables, not just to do our bit to save the planet, but to save our economy. Nepal now imports Rs 93 billion worth of petroleum products a year from India, more than its total commodity exports of Rs 74 billion. This import is increasing due to demand for diesel for generators, which make up for the shortfall in electricity. An estimated 550MW of captive power is generated from private generators. Nepal needs to go green not to save the planet, but to save itself.

Future forests

After 20 years of negotiations, an agreement was finally hammered out in Warsaw to reward countries that prevent the destruction of their forests. Countries that have satellite monitoring and can show they protect the rights of forest peoples and biological diversity can now draw from climate funds for carbon they haven’t pumped into the atmosphere.

Deforestation eliminates carbon sinks and increases the concentration of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The agreement called REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) is backed by pledges of $280 million from the US, UK, and Norway and compensates countries that lose revenue from not exploiting their forests.

A quarter of all forests in Nepal are managed and protected by over 17,000 community forest user groups and REDD+ pilot projects have been conducted in Dolakha, Gorkha, and Chitwan. The government is preparing a REDD+ strategy which is expected to outline how Nepal can benefit from this scheme. But in the absence of adequate verification mechanisms, it may be some time yet before user groups get cash in hand from the climate fund.

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