By Rajendra Shende
A few months ago, 12 young Thai boys and their football coach were rescued, weak but alive, from a flooded cave after being trapped for 18 days. Many wondered if this was a miracle.
Sadly, the six-day United Nations Special Climate Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, which concluded on September 9, could no replicate the daring rescue of weeks gone by to save the trapped the Paris Climate Agreement. Many delegates wondered if it was all about pronouncing promises, only to dodge them.
The Paris climate deal has been on the edge of a cliff since the day US President Donald Trump announced his plan to withdraw from it. Though numerous American political and business leaders, and foreign countries, have been preparing to circumvent the consequences of the US’s withdrawal, the deal now hangs in the balance.
The Paris Agreement, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), entered into force on November 4, 2016, less than a year after it was adopted by consensus in Paris on December 12, 2015. However, it is not yet operationalised because its modalities, procedures and guidelines are yet to be agreed upon by its 180 signatory countries. Indeed, in its current form, the Paris deal is just an agreement of intent.
What happened in Bangkok?
The ‘rules’, according to the timetable agreed in Paris, have to be ready no later than 2018. The Bangkok conference earlier this month was a late addition to the schedule after the dismal progress made at the annual meeting of the subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC in Bonn, Germany, in May this year. The Bangkok session was the last major negotiating meeting before the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, or COP24, in Poland in December, when the Paris Agreement will be in mission mode.
The exercise in Bangkok made some progress in planning but ended in stalemate in its objective of operationalising the climate deal. The Paris Agreement remains trapped in a maze of decision making on financing for mitigation and adaptation by developing countries, the deployment of market mechanisms, the periodicity of stocktaking and transparency, and the flexibility for developing countries in reporting. Formulating rules on the cyclic and iterative nature by enhancing the nationally determined contributions, previously seen as an innovation in international agreements, is now proving to be formidable.
It all boils down to this: new norms are being set of not keeping the promises made on global cooperation. Not walking the talk and smartly gyrating the agreed goals now appear to the the new normal in global diplomacy. And is being justified diplomatically and at times with arrogance.
Take for instance the issue of financing for mitigation and adaptation by developing countries. The ‘polluter to pay’ norm has been the anchor in multilateral environment agreements since the Rio Agreement in 1992, but it is now being flouted openly. The promise of providing ‘additional’ finance through the Green Climate Fund (GCF) , which was first proposed by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former US President Barack Obama in Copenhagen in 2009, is supposed to become fully operational in 2020. This means, developed countries must provide developing countries with $10 billion per year starting in 2012 and reach $100 billion per year from 2020 onwards to help pay for climate adaptation and mitigation.
What has happened to that promise?
As of today, the GCF has pledges of $10.4 billion, whereas the actual committed amount is only $3.5 billion. The GCF as an institution is in a chaotic state. Howard Bamswey, the head of the GCF abruptly resigned in July at the end of the meeting, where no projects were approved, after just two years in the job, due to “personal reasons”, while his deputy Paul Oquist did not even attend the meeting. “The GCF is meting down faster than the Antarctica,” one of the delegates in Bangkok said.
At the Bangkok conference, the developed countries have now smartly proposed to count all the finance provided through the private sector, philanthropy, FDI and the regular international development aid of 0.7% of GDP as part of the promised $100 billion. They also proposed a dilution of the financial reporting rules, thereby flouting the agreement of the provision of ‘additional climate financing’.
Not walking the full talk by the star performers has also resulted in an angry, and innovative, reaction from civil society.
The Global Climate Action Summit will be held in San Francisco from September 12-14 under leadership of California Governor Jerry Brown, under the theme ‘Take Ambition to the Next Level’. The summit, a star-studded international event, will showcase climate action at all levels and aim to inspire enhanced commitments from countries to realise the goals of the Paris Agreement. Indeed, California, the richest state in the US, has done more in setting and implementing policy on renewable energy and energy efficiency than any other country in the world. And its firebrand governor appears set to be a ‘climate gamechanger’. But he too has drawn some flak; in Bangkok, Brown was booed for his soft approach on oil drilling.
When state leaders meet in Poland in December, they will have to sort through the mess of the draft ‘rule book’ in an environment of diminishing trust.
By December, the greenhouse gases concentration, already at a level 42% higher than in 1992, would have risen to the ‘next level’. A rescue operation for the trapped Paris Agreement would be near impossible.
Rajendra Shende is Chairman of the TERRE Policy Centre and former Director of the United Nations Environment Programme.