Opinion

The deluge is upon us

S. Gopikrishna Warrier | Updated on March 09, 2018

Death by water…Climate change can cause frequent extreme weather events.

While river Elbe overflowed, negotiators at Bonn haggled over how the agenda should be structured.



The news reports and images coming from Germany in the last fortnight were ironic. In the city of Bonn negotiators fought over the agenda of an international climate change meeting, as floods affected other parts of the country when river Elbe overflowed its banks due to heavy rains.

The floods were without precedent in the recent decades, and so was the fact that one stream of discussions at Bonn — the meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — passed without the negotiators transacting any business.

They argued about procedure, on how the agenda for the meeting should be structured.

In recent years, scientific research and media narratives have started to link extreme weather events such as floods and droughts to climate change.

The linkage to individual events is still tenuous but the larger understanding has evolved to a point to safely believe that the changing climate can result in more frequent extreme weather events.

So while the flood rendered thousands homeless in the Saxony region, across the country oblivious negotiators haggled over propriety.

However, only one stream of the discussions at Bonn was infructuous.

The two other streams — related to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) — delivered good results.

Meetings such as the one in Bonn, which are held between the annual Conference of Parties (CoPs) to the Climate Change Convention, are the platforms through which negotiators, technocrats and scientists build upon the decisions taken by heads of states and environment ministers.

Emission reduction

And this period is important since the negotiations are transiting between the Kyoto Protocol for greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction and the next such instrument that the international community could decide upon.

There are two timeline-based targets — develop an emission reduction agreement by 2015 and raise the ambition for emissions reduction by 2020.

These two are results of the discussions at the CoP held in Durban, South Africa, in December 2011, where ADP was launched “to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all parties.”

The ADP is mandated to complete this process by 2015, so that the new instrument enters into force by 2020. In addition, the ADP has to take action to strengthen the decision taken at the earlier CoP at Cancun, Mexico, in 2010, to increase the parties’ ambition on emission reduction to limit the global average temperature rise to 2 degrees centigrade.

According to the submission made by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) during the Bonn meetings, the current greenhouse gas emissions are 10 per cent above the 2020 target level and the current pledges are not sufficient to stay within the 2° C limit for temperature increase.

Carbon capture tech

As with the previous climate change meetings, even at Bonn different countries and blocs had different views on this collective challenge.

India, speaking on behalf of the BASIC bloc (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), said that the work on ADP has to be guided by the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the 2013-15 review.

There should be a meaningful operationalisation of the green carbon fund and the technology transfer mechanism. The European Union’s position reflected the current economic situation in the continent, and called for mitigation action that would reflect the evolving economic realities and development opportunities. The Alliance of Small Island States, most at risk from the rising sea level from a hotter world, wanted to limit rising global temperatures to below 1.5° C. It wanted experts to assess impact and risks at various levels of warming.

Is a transition to a green economy possible? Yes, said the International Labour Organisation, though it would need a range of training for the work force to make this possible. More important, there would be net employment gains in the process. The energy think-tank, Sustainable Energy for All, asked the countries to increase investment to enable energy access by all and double the share of renewable energy by 2030.

The Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum noted that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a cost-competitive and safe technology that can help parties meet their emission reduction targets.

CCS envisages capturing carbon dioxide from point sources, such as power plants, and storing it for the long term in natural storage sites such as geological formations.

Another facet of carbon sequestration, discussions on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) achieved good progress at Bonn. Three draft decisions were finalised and recommended for adoption in the next CoP.

With regard to climate change and agriculture, participating countries decided that the focus will be on adaptation, while promoting sustainable development and food security. India, the Philippines and Argentina had argued that a focus on mitigation of emissions from the agricultural sector could impact adversely on the food security of developing countries.

Unfinished agenda

The discussions that were to have been completed as part of the SBI were on national communications, nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing countries, Kyoto Protocol’s flexibility mechanisms, national adaptation plans, finance, technology, capacity building and response measures.

These did not happen because the Russian Federation, Belarus and Ukraine proposed a new item on the agenda related to decision making by the CoP.

The Chair and many other countries wanted to continue with the discussions based on the provisional agenda. Since the three countries opposed this, and the matter had to be decided by consensus and not by vote, there were no discussions on SBI at Bonn.

The unfinished agenda moves to the next CoP, to be held at Warsaw in Poland from November 11 to 22, 2013.

The Central European floods of the recent weeks also affected Warsaw. The flood marks would have disappeared by the time the CoP is held in November, but public memory about the extreme weather event may still be fresh.

It is up to the negotiators to show resolve that they mean business in tackling climate change so that extreme weather events do not become more frequent.

(The author is regional environment manager with Panos South Asia. Views are personal)

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Published on June 21, 2013
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