Since the beginning of the 21st century, climate change has moved from being a minor, mostly scientific matter in the affairs of states, to being the most prominent issue in global environmental politics. It is now a major concern of governments, international organizations, industry, NGOs, and a growing number people around the world (Harris, 2011: 107). Climate change as a transnational issue has impacts on global issues of socio-economic nature, including poverty and inequality, economic development, population dynamics, energy production, resource management, consumption, production patterns, and food security. At the very heart of the response to climate change lays the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change (CPMR, 2015: 1).
Considering the severe impact of climate change, the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is going to be held in Paris from November 30 to December 11 in this year. The meeting is expected to be a key event in order to bring about a new long-term global regime on climate change (Munich RE, 2015: 2), aimed at achieving a new climate agreement that will apply to all countries from 2020 and establish tools for responding to the challenges. The 2015 COP is widely considered as an effort to bring together the current binding and non-binding international agreements on climate change into one single regime aiming at keeping warming within the limit of 2?C compared with the pre-industrial era (about 1850). The rationality of the COP21 can be analyzed considering the limitations and failures of previous COPs. Long gone are the days of Kyoto-style agreements seeking to bring all UNFCCC parties under a set of legally binding national targets. Since COP15 in Copenhagen (2009), where efforts to extend the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 resulted in definitive failure, the tone of climate negotiations has profoundly changed (Ujvari, 2015: 1).
However, the issues of climate change have been reshaping the global environmental breakdown demanding proper initiatives from the global communities. Over the last two decades, scientists have radically improved their understanding of the causes and consequences of global warming-the warming of the Earth as a consequence of greenhouse gases building up in the atmosphere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in 1988 to study climate change, has concluded with 'very high confidence that the global average net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming and the warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level' (IPCC, 2007: 30-37). Importantly for our understanding of the global politics of climate change, the problem is intimately connected to most economic activities, associated with industrial pollution and modern lifestyles, thereby connecting the environment to how people live and work. The driving force behind climate change is consumption. Nearly everything that people consume leads to the emission of greenhouse gases, whether directly, as with the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) for transportation, or indirectly, as when fossil fuels are burned to produce material goods that people consume by necessity or for pleasure. From 1992 to 2013, 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide/CO2 has been emitted by all states of the world in a sum burning fossil fuels. As the global average temperature is predicted to rise by 1.4 to 5.8?C from the last century to the ongoing century, with the highest increase more likely without additional mitigation policies among many ongoing adverse effects of climate change, the proportion of the earth affected by drought has increased, as has the frequency of extreme weather events, heavy precipitation, the incidence of intense tropical cyclones and floods, shortage of drinking water, heat waves, biodiversity loss, changes in salinity and currents, and declining frequency of cool days and nights (Harris, 2011: 108-114).
Considering the causes and devastating consequences of climate change, the upcoming COP21 is going to deal with several outstanding issues. First, a clear commitment must have to be set by the parties to the 2?C upper limit on global warming. Secondly, all government parties have to agree in achieving net-zero GHG emissions no later than 2070 as required to stay below the 2?C upper limit. Thirdly, each national government should agree to prepare and submit an illustrative and aspirational National Deep Decarbonisation Pathway (NDDP) to demonstrate how it intends to shift to a low-carbon energy system by 2050 and achieve near-zero net GHG emissions no later than 2070. Fourthly, the future international agreement will first of all have to be dealt with in a balanced way with attenuation - ie efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - and adapting societies to existing climate disruption. Before COP21, each country must publish its national contribution, presenting the efforts it intends to undertake. This is a new feature of these negotiations. Fifthly, another essential goal in Paris is to mobilize 100 billion dollars a year contributed by states, international organizations and the private sector from 2020. This commitment will enable developing countries to fight climate disruption while promoting fair and sustainable development.
Up to April 2015, the global economic giants have signalled what they are going to propose from their side separately for a greater success of the COP21. Under legal binding, EU will reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 per cent below the 1990 level by 2030 and at least 80 per cent by 2050. China is aiming at lowering carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60 per cent to 65 per cent from the 2005 level. Russia, however, has taken a major step backwards with regard to its previous commitments, offering to cut emissions to just 75 per cent of 1990 levels by 2030. The USA has committed to reduce CO2 emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent by 2025. Canada has recently followed suit by setting a 30 per cent reduction target below 2005 levels by 2030.
Even the global economic giants finally are coming to a point of consensus though there are still some considerable challenges to the grand success of the COP21. First, a key disagreement remains between China and the US over whether developing countries should benefit from differentiated treatment. Secondly, the global economic giants ie the USA, China, India, and Russia might not agree on the issue of less than 2?C carbon emissions, because if they reduce it, their economic and industrial growth might be reduced. Thirdly, major oil producing and exporting countries might not agree on the main aim of the COP21, rather they will support compensation for the affected parties. Because if the COP21 binds carbon emissions limit, then their export will be reduced drastically causing severe breakdown of their economy. Fourthly, the states which are under the fire of political instability and civil war might not be interested in the climate issues. But a recent study conducted by Solomon Hsiang, professor at University of California, is showing that, the Syrian civil war is a resultant of the severe drought from 2006 to 2011 along with 70 per cent reduction in annual rainfall in East Syria, causing serious food crisis. It compelled the rural people to migrate to the nearby cities and created a situation of unemployment, poverty and finally reaching the civil war in 2011.
Although expectation from the COP21 is very high, the pathway to achieve these goals might not be an easy one. Nevertheless, the COP21 is going to be a successful negotiation of climate regimes where issues, like Green Diplomacy Network, renewable energy growth policy, increasing tax rate on CO2 emissions, advocacy for using solar energy, investment in environment friendly programmes within the wider scale of global governance merging with the national as well as regional levels initiatives, will get considerable attention to parties. This COP21 is going to be a millstone for the affected LDCs where Bangladesh can place its own proposal and demand proper compensation highlighting the climate change issues ie biodiversity loss, threat to lower coastal areas, deforestation, increasing salinity and drought, flooding along with a huge number of climate refugees.
Abu Sufian Shamrat is a researcher, Bangladesh Centre for Political Studies (BCPS). E-mail: [email protected]