What next for climate change?

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Climate change is a major challenge in our time. Debate on this challenge has attracted international attention and high level Conference of Parties (COP) meetings have been held annually. This international political response to climate change began in 1992 when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted. UNFCCC serves as the legal framework binding countries to take action to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to avoid harmful anthropogenic interference with the climate system. UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994 and has been embraced by 197 parties.

To facilitate realization of UNFCCC, parties also developed the Kyoto Protocol which was adopted in December 1997, during COP 3 held in Kyoto, Japan. This protocol to the UNFCCC committed industrialized countries and countries in transition to a market economy to achieve emissions reduction targets. These countries, also referred to as Annex I parties under the UNFCCC, agreed to reduce their overall emissions of six green house gases (GHGs) by an average of 5% below 1990 levels in 2008-2012 (the first commitment period). However, specific targets varied from country to country. The Kyoto Protocol became operational in on 16 February 2005 and has been embraced by 192 parties. However, implementation of Kyoto protocol have faced some challenges since 2012 as many countries did not want to continue with legally binding commitments. Hence intense political negotiations have been going on with each country presenting her suited model interventions for addressing climate change, and these have been debated at length and some consensus framework has been been reached.

In December 2015, at COP 21 in Paris, France, parties agreed to the Paris Agreement that requires countries to assess their emissions and how to reduce them and to document the same as “Nationally Determined Contributions” (NDCs). The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016 and has been ratified by over 110 parties out of the 193 signatories as of 6 November 2016. The Paris Agreement demands that countries make their targets in NDCs ambitious and commit themselves to implement their interventions progressively over time. Countries are expected to report their contributions every five years and to register this with the UNFCCC Secretariat. The aggregate progress on mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation will be reviewed every five years in a global stocktake.

It must however be noted that the targets set in NDCs are not legally binding or obligatory. There is also no enforcement mechanism in place. Implementation of NDCs can hence be considered as more voluntary and the enforcement mechanism for those who do not comply as expected could be that of “name and shame” or “name and encourage”. There are no legally binding consequences if countries fail to meet their NDC commitments. No wonder we have seen many countries easily signing into the Paris Agreement as it doesn’t present major risks to the country in case of non-compliance. This arrangement is able to rope in all countries unlike the Kyoto Protocol that only demanded emission reductions from Annex 1 countries. Hence we expect that countries will engage in friendly discussions encouraging each other to cooperate for success of the Paris Agreement. However, the political statements so far have strongly indicated that countries are committed to the Paris Agreement and ensuring that global temperature rise does not exceed 1.5 degrees centigrade.

The world climate change negotiators and leaders have been meeting in Marrakesh Morocco for COP 22 between 7th – 18th November 2016. Being the first COP after coming into force of the Paris Agreement, this meeting is very significant as it sets pace on how to deal with climate change utilizing non-legally binding instruments. The uniqueness of the Paris Agreement is that it applies a “bottom up” approach and the total contributions from all countries will be assessed in 2023 to provide the global scenario of GHG reductions upon which further decisions will be made for inclusion in the 2nd NDC committments.

At the Marrakesh COP 22 meeting, leaders have stressed the need for enhanced investment in forestry, land use, land management, water management, agriculture, food security, oceans, greening of cities, and clean energy among others. All leaders including the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon reiterated the need for enhanced funding to developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

It is hence evident that the Paris Agreement is slowly getting contextualized within national and local levels. It is anticipated that the levels of GHGs will progressively reduce, and this will mark as an assurance that the global community could address any challenge if they all commit to individual contributions. Our success will be a pillar of hope for a safer planet and sustainability of present and future generations.

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