Climate change is the defining threat of our time

From November 6-17, 2017, the world’s nations met in Bonn, Germany, for the 23rd annual “Conference of the Parties” (COP) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with the aim to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

From November 6-17, 2017, the world’s nations met in Bonn, Germany, for the 23rd annual “Conference of the Parties” (COP) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with the aim to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

It was concluded with the decision to convene a facilitative dialogue among Parties in 2018 to take stock of the collective efforts of Parties in relation to progress towards the long-term goal referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1, of the Paris Agreement and to inform the preparation of nationally determined contributions pursuant to Article 4, paragraph 8, of the Agreement.

It was the first UN climate conference since the US President announced he will extricate the USA from the deal, carefully crafted over many years and helped over the finish line by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.

After a decade of rapid growth, one can see a strong decrease in the growth rates of global carbon emissions over the past years, sending signals for a decarbonisation of the global energy system. The Climate Change Performance Index 2018 (CCPI) that was published at COP23 in Bonn, confirms these current developments in Greenhouse-Gas-Emissions (GHG), renewable energies and energy use for some countries but also still clearly shows a current general lack of ambitious targets and sufficient implementation for a Paris-compatible pathway.

It is quite important to appreciate that we see a strong commitment to the global climate targets of the Paris Agreement in international climate diplomacy. The countries now have to deliver specific measures breaking down their commitments to a sectoral level. Parties to the Agreement are under obligation to the implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), as set forth in Article 4 of the Paris Agreement. To refresh audience’s mind, all parties have the following obligations: “(1) preparing, communicating and maintaining nationally determined contributions (NDCs) every five years, (2) pursuing domestic mitigation measures with the aim to achieve those NDCs, (3) providing clear, transparent and understandable information on the NDCs, (4) accounting for anthropogenic emissions and removals, and (5) providing information, no less frequently than biennially, on a national inventory as well as on progress in implementing and achieving the NDCs”.

The preceding provision spells out the requirement that Parties shall deploy their best efforts in setting their national mitigation targets and in pursuing domestic measures to achieve them.

It is noteworthy that many countries, including Rwanda in particular, continue to show very positive developments regarding renewables and energy efficiency. Findings reveal encouraging growth in renewable energy, ever cheaper prices for solar and wind energy, and successes in saving energy in many countries. This was responsible for stabilising global energy CO2 emissions in the last three years. But progress is achieved much too slow for a fully renewable energy based world economy in a few decades, because growing oil and gas consumption is higher than the welcomed reduction in coal use.

Climate change is already significantly increasing the likelihood of extreme weather, from heatwaves to floods, fires, and drought. The intensity and frequency is incredibly enormous. But without sharp cuts to global carbon emissions, we can expect severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts for billions of people and the natural world. The landmark Paris agreement at COP21 in 2015 delivered the first truly global deal to tackle climate change, but national action needs to be significantly toughened to meet the goal of keeping global temperature rise to well below 2C, and 1.5C if possible.

To achieve positive impact, there’s a need to engage all actors—national, regional and local governments, philanthropists and investors and consumers—in the transformation to a low-emission economy. Such synergised efforts can see action everywhere, at all scales, at all levels, involving an ever-wider landscape of actors and institutions.

Like this column noted previously, solutions to climate change will enable us to meet many of the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. SDGs offer an ambitious and transformational vision for our common future till 2030. SDGs are universally applicable to all countries while taking into account the specifics of different national policies, priorities, and their capacities and levels of development.

The Paris agreement set out principles, but not the details, with one diplomat likening it to having a brilliant new smartphone but no operating system. The Bonn meeting was vital in building the rules that will enable the Paris deal to work.

Hasn’t Donald Trump pulling the US out of the Paris agreement scuppered hopes of progress? No.

As the world’s second biggest polluter and richest nation, the US is important. In fact, it has provoked an unparalleled wave of support for the treaty. The world, with or without the US, shores up the resolve on climate action, and that’s a wonderful attitude. On this point, UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said that “there is only one ambition that matters – to build a secure world of peace, prosperity, dignity and opportunity for all people on a healthy planet: sustainable and inclusive development.”

There’s a need to do more on five ambition action areas: emissions, adaptation, finance, partnerships and leadership.

The writer is a law expert.

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.