FIJI SET the stage for the fresh edition of the climate change conference on Monday, urging the world to commit itself to a 1.5 degree celsius limit on global warming, rather than a two-degree target, as it moves towards finalising the rule-book for the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement.
The two-week conference, an annual year-end affair, is being held under the shadow of the decision of the Donald Trump administration to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, a move that severely undermines the goals and objectives of that agreement. On the opening day of the conference, however, there were no overt references to the US decision, even though that was the big subject of discussion in informal conversations. The US is participating in the conference, since its withdrawal cannot become effective until 2020, but its delegation remained silent on the opening day.
India and other “like-minded developing countries” — a group of about 25 nations — made an early intervention on Monday in a fresh bid to force the developed countries to deliver on their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, the precursor to the Paris Agreement, which still has three years to go before expiring in 2020. Amendments made to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol in Doha in 2013 extended the mandate of developed countries to take targeted cuts to their greenhouse gas emissions till 2020. The earlier mandate was to make emission cuts between 2005 and 2012. The Doha amendments are yet to become operational because they haven’t been ratified by enough countries.
Ratification of the Doha amendments was not included in the agenda of the current conference, which India and some other countries objected to on Monday. They argued that the conference must decide on a deadline, possibly sometime next year, for every country to ratify the Doha amendments.
“The developed countries are trying to avoid their responsibilities under the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol is not yet dead. There is still plenty that can be done within Kyoto Protocol provided there is intention to do so. We will continue to press for early operationalisation of the Doha amendments so that we can see some action being taken in the pre-2020 period as well,” said an Indian delegate.
Fiji, the host and president of the conference, agreed to consider the suggestion by India and other countries, and appointed a facilitator to hold consultations and report back by the end of this week. Fiji, which, like many other small island nations, is facing the worst impact of rising sea levels as a result of climate change, insisted that countries should adopt a 1.5 degree target. The Paris Agreement wants the world to prevent the rise in global temperature beyond 2 degree celsius from pre-industrial levels, though it acknowledges that the effort to contain the temperature rise to within 1.5 degree celsius must not be abandoned.
“We must not fail our people. That means using the next two weeks and the year ahead to do everything we can to make the Paris Agreement work and to advance ambition and support for climate action before 2020. To meet our commitments in full, not back away from them. And to commit ourselves to the most ambitious target of the Paris Agreement. To cap the global average temperature at 1.5 degrees celsius over that of the pre-industrial age,” Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who is presiding over the conference, said in his opening remarks.
Small island countries are the most vocal in supporting the 1.5 degree target, threatened as their existence is by the rising seas. But it also means a far greater effort from the developed countries and big emitters in reducing their emissions. “By aiming for 1.5 degrees, we are setting ourselves a serious challenge. But it provides us with a mission. It engages our capacity for ingenuity, for organisation and sheer hard work. And who knows what we might achieve when humanity’s capacity to innovate is unleashed? What we do know is that if we don’t rise to this challenge, we will definitely fall short and expose our people to more risk. More destruction. More suffering,” he said.
Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), informed the conference that latest scientific assessments indicated that the world was actually moving towards a 3 to 5 degree celsius temperature rise, and urged the countries for more ambitious actions in the next few decades. He said a new report by WMO also showed that the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere had crossed 403 parts per million, the highest ever. Scientists believe that concentrations of 450 ppm would lead to catastrophic and irreversible damage to the earth.