Why cutting on fossil fuels is

This past week, world leaders concluded their gathering at Katowice Climate Conference, better known as COP24, which sought to establish a rulebook to follow in the implementation of the Paris climate agreement targets.

It was a moment to ramp up implementation programme and ambition pre-2020 and beyond.

COP24 came after a succession of reports in which scientists made it abundantly clear that current efforts to avoid global warming catastrophe are not sufficient.

The major problem lies on heavy reliance on the high-polluting fossil fuels by wealthy nations.

Findings have unmistakably revealed that carbon pollution is on track to reach unprecedented levels that requires greater urgency in terms of action. However, wealthy nations seem not pulling enough their weight in the fight against climate change.

Addressing the world leaders at the conference, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, said they must take the threat of global warming as one of the greatest threats of our time.

During the conference, however, the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which are regarded as fossil-fuel loving states, downplayed the efforts of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in producing scientific reports, the latest of which was published in October assessing the feasibility and importance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Reflecting on the 70th anniversary of the adoption by the General Assembly, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), its drafters had little awareness of the right to clean environment.

As the world emerged from the darkness of the Second World War and as the scale of environmental degradation was not comparable to that of today, environmental considerations were not explicitly addressed in the Declaration that laid the foundation for the United Nations.

In the subsequent decades, governments and international institutions came to the progressive realisation that the effective enjoyment of human rights depends on a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.

Several key international human rights treaties recognise specific aspects of it, such as the right to education on environmental matters or the importance of environmental conditions to the exercise of the right to health.

Accelerating efforts to reach consensus on the commitments to the Paris Agreement is fundamental to the realization of the right to healthy and sustainable environment.

Most recently, the three reports were added to the long list of warnings signals with respect to climate change.

First is the special WHO report on impacts to health due to climate change.

Moreover, human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, have released sufficient quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to trap additional heat in the lower atmosphere and affect the global climate.

Obviously, climate change affects social and environmental determinants of health inter alia clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.

Scientifically, extreme high air temperatures contribute directly to deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, particularly among elderly people. Additionally, high temperatures raise the levels of the ozone and other pollutants in the air that exacerbate cardiovascular and respiratory disease.

Second, ‘the 2018 Global Status Report—Towards a Zero-Emission, Efficient and Resilient Buildings and Construction Sector’ highlights emissions from buildings and construction may have peaked in the past few years, with energy efficiency gains in areas such as heating, lighting and cooking and with more offices and homes being powered by cleaner forms of energy.

One of the ways to mitigate the prevalent environmental phenomenon is the entry into force of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. This needs to go hand in hand with efforts to achieve much higher levels of efficiency.

Third, scientists at NASA have detected the first signs that a series of glaciers in East Antarctica are shrinking, suggesting significant melting over the past decade and changes within the ocean.

All this results from increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is not good news that the world cannot afford to ignore. There must be boosting ambition when it comes to predictable and accessible financial flows for the economic transition towards a low-emission and climate-resilient world.

To sum up, the Climate Change Conference resolved to take the following climate actions as the way to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions: installation of solar photovoltaic systems, policies for reduction of air travel, upgrading of insulation and lighting systems in buildings, reduction of paper used at conferences, installation of efficient cooling systems, promotion of car-pooling schemes among employees, establishment of sustainable procurement policies, and enhanced collection and recycling of waste, among many others.

Though the Paris Agreement recognizes that countries have different realities, different capacities and different circumstances, all countries have a fundamental obligation to contribute towards climate stabilization. There must be a formula that balances the responsibilities of all countries.

The current, urgent and emerging needs related to extreme weather events make the developing countries more particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. However, developing countries must not take a back seat in respect of global action for climate change.  Cooperation between state and non-Party actors remains a major approach if the world is to meet the 1.5C goal of the Paris Agreement. 

The writer is a law expert.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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