Has the climate crisis reached the point of no return?


Political le­adership from di­fferent corners of the world alongwith climate activists, economists and civil society members met in Madrid for two weeks of talks amid a growing sense of crisis. This meeting in Madrid signalled the start of a frantic 12 months of negotiations that will culminate in Glasgow with COP26 in November 2020.

This Conference of the Parties, or COP25, was due to be held in Chile but was cancelled by that government due to weeks of civil disturbances. Spain subsequently stepped in to host the event in Madrid. It has been estimated that nearly 29,000 persons attended the talks and shared their views in different functional formats. Environmentalists however noted with regret that although United States Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi attended the Conference with a Congressional delegation, reality was underlined through the absence of United States President Donald Trump in the meeting. United States participation was consequently seen as symbolic.

The seriousness of the existing situation pertaining to climate change, adaptation and mitigation measures was outlined through a comment made by UN Secretary General António Guterres- "the point of no return is no longer over the horizon". Speaking ahead of the meeting the Guterres also underlined that in view of the growing climate crisis the political leaders had to respond urgently. This was reiterated through the comment- "in the crucial 12 months ahead, it is essential that we secure more ambitious national commitments - particularly from the main emitters - to immediately start reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a pace consistent to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions".

This assumed particular importance because almost every country in the world has now signed and ratified the Paris climate agreement and under the terms of the pact they will all have to put new climate pledges on the table before the end of 2020.

The world has watched with concern the deleterious effects of climate change over the last two years. We have seen floods, landslides, drought and cyclones affecting countries in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, Australia and Asia. Hundreds have been killed and nearly 50 million people in different countries have been affected. This has resulted in destruction of infrastructure, communication network, habitation and also created severe food insecurity.

In this perspective, world attention was drawn to several important reports published about the effects of climate change before and during COP25. It was revealed in the Global Climate Risk Index (CRI) 2020 that analyzed data from 1999 to 2018 that Bangladesh is seventh among the 10 countriesworst hit by extreme weather. The Report apparently looked at four indicators- death toll, number of events, loss of property and loss of gross domestic product. According to this survey the total loss suffered between 1999 and 2018 amounted to around US Dollar 3.54 trillion.The Report also stated that Japan, the Philippines and Germany were the most affected countries last year followed by Madagascar, India and Sri Lanka.

In its own way the Report indicated that there is no longer any room for complacency because the intensity and frequency of climate events are becoming unpredictable. It was also clear that all nations need to concentrate on capacity building for the future. Discussion during the Conference led to one least common denominator- impacts from extreme weather events will hit the poorest countries hardest as they are particularlyvulnerable from different dimensions and also because they not only have a lower coping capacity but also they need more time to rebuild and recover.

The risk index was prepared by using the database of the NatCatSERVICE with the cooperation of the reinsurance company Munich Re and socioeconomic data available with the International Monetary Fund.

There was another interesting revelation from another source. The Global Carbon Project indicated that CO2 emissions were on course to rise 0.6 per cent this year- relatively slower than expected. However, global carbon emissions have been boosted by soaring natural gas use and this has hit record levels in 2019. This has happened despite a decline in coal consumption.

It was a Conference with significant denotations and connotations. Consequently, it was very important that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina could attend the meeting in Madrid and reiterate her concern and anxiety over the possible after-effects of the evolving climate variability dynamics. She was able to effectively convey to the participants the different dimensions of this issue and how Bangladesh, seriously affected by climate change, due to extraneous elements, was trying to overcome the growing challenges.

In this context she drew the attention of the world to some vital issues.

She asked the global community to take the responsibility for climate migrants as they would be forced to leave their homes and seek new places of habitation for no fault of their own. In this context she correctly mentioned -“as our people will be displaced for no fault of ours...we expect the international community to shoulder the responsibility of accommodating them and providing them with livelihood”. She also underlined that all funds to fight climate change must be replenished as per agreement, including the $100 billion annual contribution.

In this regard she also mentioned that the Paris Agreement recognises the special circumstances and needs of LDCs and “Particularly Vulnerable Countries” based on the principle of the “common but differentiated responsibility”, and this recognition must be adhered to in every delivery mechanism of the climate finance.

She also noted that Bangladesh, affirm believer of collective efforts and understanding to fight climate change believed that the UN is the most appropriate platform for this purpose. She drew the attention of the participants not only to the principle of “Loss and Damage” within this equation but also urged all to agree to this principle featuring prominently in all negotiations. She also mentioned that the Warsaw International Mechanism must be given a much stronger mandate to explore financing losses and damages through its review. Within this paradigm, she also warned that there was a limit to resilience and adaptation and every country needed to stop the increase of global temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius more than the pre-industrial level.

The Prime Minister also termed that climate change had now become an existential threat for climate vulnerable countries like Bangladesh which was fighting the battle on two fronts- firstly, mitigation measures to reduce and eventually reach zero emission in future and secondly, undertaking implementation of adaptation measures in areas where irreparable damage has taken place.

Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina pointed out was the largest delta in the world, and also the worst-affected country because of adverse impacts of climate change. It was also observed that-“up to 2050 from now, our annual GDP loss will be 2 percent and at this rate by 2100, the loss will be a staggering 9 percent.”

It was this scenario that had urged Bangladesh (the first LDC to do so) not only to establish a Climate Change Trust Fund by itself but also spend so far spent more than US Dollar 415 million from its own resources for mitigation and adaptation purposes. The Prime Minister then informed the participants that “we are set to spend as much as US Dollar 10 billion to make the country less vulnerable to natural disasters.”

This measure had been undertaken in Bangladesh because of a crucial factor. This measure had been adopted because when people become vulnerable, they are not left with any choice to survive other than resorting to actions that could endanger state, regional and global security. Their vulnerability, according to the Prime Minister made them easy prey for threats like radicalization.

She also drew the attention of the participants to the continuing presence of 1.1 million Rohingyas (who had fled persecution in Myanmar and sought refuge in Bangladesh) who were now causing environmental and social havoc in Cox’s Bazar, an environmentally critical area, with the loss of forest, hills, biodiversity and livelihood of locals. In this context Hasina urged the international community to initiate discussions on creation of an appropriate framework to address the needs of the people who became displaced due to climate change. She commented - “relocation and protection of displaced persons need due focus in global discourse to ensure their protection. We need to commence discussions on creation of an appropriate framework to address the needs of people displaced due to climate change”. Through this she drew world attention towards climate migrants.

Other participants also urged all nations to join their hands to combat climate change to secure the future of children. There was also general consensus that the vulnerable countries suffer the most due to their limited financial capacity to cope with the problem and also because of their specific geographical features. As a result they have to bear the brunt of the damage though they made negligible or no contribution to the menace.

Hasina correctly asserted that this constitutes a serious injustice and must be acknowledged as such by the global community. It was also suggested that there should be accountability for inaction by countries who are adding to the problem. This was mentioned in response to revelations that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases once again had reached new highs in 2018. This was apparently happening because major emitters were showing extreme reluctance on mitigation.

 

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information 

and good governance