Climate talks: Inaction borders on criminal

THE recent climate talks in Madrid ended with a disgraceful whimper.

Outside of Europe, few serious commitments have emerged to meet the pledges made in Paris in 2015 — an exasperating outcome that reveals a lack of honest conviction to address an issue threatening the very survival of some countries in the foreseeable future, and every one of us in the not-much-longer term.

It is simply inexcusable that global fossil fuel emissions have risen four per cent since Paris, even as the decibel level of scientific sirens has risen sharply, imploring us to adopt “transformative change” in an “emergency response”.

Greenhouse gas emissions are increasing in many of the biggest emitter countries like the US, China and Japan, which is planning to export coal generators and build more coal-fired power plants — the only Group of Seven nation still doing so.

Incredibly, as this dawning, existential crisis becomes more visible on the horizon, we have tip-toed around the problem and the powerful economic interests behind it.

Could there be a better illustration than this, noted by a couple of COP25 observers?: “The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement ran 16 pages, but didn’t mention the words ‘fossil fuels’, ‘coal’, ‘oil’, or ‘gas’ once.

“It’s as if no one at Alcoholics Anonymous ever mentioned ‘whiskey, beer or wine’.

“Unlike the World Health Organisation, which bans tobacco lobbyists from taking part in negotiations about tobacco cessation efforts, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has no protections against industry corruption.”

Compounding the consequences of our negligence, in November seven eminent scientists, writing in the journal Nature, reported their conclusion that more than half the “tipping points” identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change decades ago have been activated, raising the spectre of abrupt and irreversible climate changes.

These include the thaw of Arctic permafrost and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, both massive reservoirs that now threaten to release billions of additional tonnes of carbon.

Inevitably, the greatest burdens of climate change will fall disproportionately on poor countries, i.e. those least responsible for the problem.

The Bahamas, for example, responsible for just 0.02 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, suffered 72 deaths and RM13.6 billion in losses as entire towns were blown away by Category 5 Hurricane Dorian, which stalled and parked over the country last August.

Not only are less fortunate countries typically the hardest-hit victims of extreme weather, they’re also the most vulnerable to creeping threats like rising sea levels and crippling droughts.

Like citizens of other island nations, Bahamians justifiably contend that North Americans, the Japanese, Saudi Arabians, Australians and others who built their economies by burning fossil fuels are morally obligated to help less developed, more vulnerable countries.

And yet in Madrid, only a relatively paltry sum was negotiated for climate-related losses.

Wealthier countries broadly agreed to study the issue, with the US most visibly anxious to exclude itself from chipping in, to indemnify itself from liability.

It and other wealthy countries reportedly prefer to provide disaster loss and damage money as charity on their own terms, unbound by any international rules.

Meanwhile, negotiators at Madrid’s marathon talks ended up postponing to 2020 a key decision on how to regulate global carbon markets, an area of concern that dominated COP25.

The Paris agreement allows countries to set rules for trading in carbon credits.

Ideally, wealthier countries would help developing countries pay for projects such as land restoration or conversion to cleaner fuels while adopting more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals at home.

But in the absence of proper rules, richer countries could simply buy a way to maintain their own emissions’ levels.

Malaysia must step up and fully meet its obligations, in the context of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, a 28-year-old principle in climate talks that our delegation in Madrid, led by Deputy Minister Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis of the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry, strongly endorsed, and rightly so.

Malaysia has been a strong advocate of this principle, first introduced during the negotiations at the Earth Summit in 1992.

As a moderate nation, we are in a powerful position to help broker more action but credibility demands we begin with “clean hands”.

In 2015, leaders pledged to limit global warming to “well below” 2.0 degrees Celsius, while trying to remain below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But, to quote the World Resources Institute: “The can-do spirit that birthed the Paris agreement feels like a distant memory today.”

The disconnect between the lack of progress on the Paris pledges, between the overwhelming scientific consensus and what’s being done, borders on criminal.

In October, more than 300 scientists from 20 nations called for peaceful, non-violent protests and direct action, “even if this goes beyond the bounds of the current law”.

And if that is what it takes to produce a change in course, it has my full endorsement too.

Source:Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid's Column @NST

Posted in Kolumnis, Utama on Dec 23, 2019




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