By Dr. Annie Cheung


Agree to Agreement at COP21 in Paris
By Yuk-kuen Annie Cheung PhD, RPP

After the high hopes at Rio, the lukewarm reception at Kyoto, the climbing down at Johannesburg, and the abysmal Copenhagen, who could predict climate change, as a headline issue, could have the staying power we are witnessing now in Paris? A critical majority of world political leaders have convened in Paris to address and fight the climate change crisis, albeit from the perspectives of their own local experiences and capacities. The mood is one of collective security among nations large and small, as well as from across the spectrum of political stripes. As our global leaders give their speeches, and as journalists report the disastrous events and threats their countries are experiencing, the list of climate change impacts expands: severe droughts, wild fires, flooding, “microbursts”, land degradation, crops failure, food shortages, hunger, loss of livelihood, forced migration, poverty, disease, smog, health concerns … The snowball effects of climate change impacts are intricate and far reaching, and there is evidence everywhere.

At the Paris Climate Conference, political leaders have emphasized that the sustainability of our global commons depends on transformative change and action. From the perspectives of individual countries, some initiatives need to take place locally and some, extra-territorially. The common objectives are the target level of greenhouse gas emission, as well as technologies that are available for mitigation measures, clean energy alternatives and energy efficient mechanisms. These factors bear heavily on the financial capacities of individual countries. Some countries, regions and communities, however, have less time on their side. Those are the ones situated in low-lying areas and also the small island states. Many of these communities have already been badly affected by recent inclement weather episodes. The prospect of a rising sea-level due to effects of global warming, as climate experts have predicted, will bring greater humanitarian disaster and, almost certainly, political insecurity.
As climate change impacts are increasingly linked to incidents of humanitarian crises, population displacement and political upheavals, the vulnerable communities, sometimes rather remote and or isolated from major economies, should be given greater resources and more regular attention by authorities at the collective governance levels. The much-touted transition to low carbon economies, as mitigation to climate change, must include those communities and economies that might not possess the financial capacity to tackle the problems themselves. At the same time, there is a need for consistent funding for universities and institutions to support knowledge building (impartial, evidence based research), and innovations for climate change adaptation and management techniques.
Given the impetus to act now, there is a need to create a dedicated financial body with a mandate with global reach, devoted to climate change mitigation and adaptation financing. This would be an important compendium to any political agreement and contractual commitment that involves transformative measures and investment. Such financial assistance, in many cases, could be the a priori condition necessary for reaching a legally-binding agreement.
Creative talent in the financial world can be tapped, in the quest for such financial and institutional innovation. This innovative, globally conscious, finance and investment initiative, which can take the form of a public-private sector partnership, will contribute to meeting the goals reached in Paris. Crucially, the financing must go far beyond picking up the tab for the proceedings in Paris, and for its successor conferences. It is also distinct from the cap-and-trade system, which is effective in transforming economies powered by inefficient industries, but is limited in effectiveness when seeking to help vulnerable countries and communities directly by giving them the means to find and use alternative energy sources, to buy them time in evolving away from carbon-intensive industries, or (in extreme conditions) to offer a lifeline to communities which need to evacuate or relocate in emergency situations or in the face of impending crises caused by the disastrous results of climate change.
New institutions can often be a tough sell. I would argue that we are at the point when innovative thinking is needed, and the world is ready for new mechanisms to carry forward and implement the goals of an increasingly globally-minded populace. New fora can also shake out the cob-webs of old institutional biases and in-built barriers to change. This does not preclude harnessing existing architecture, such as the IMF*, to make the most of conditionality and country agreements to meet Paris objectives.
While the general mood for action is favourable, our global leaders still have the power to make or break the Paris Climate Conference. Among the many rousing speeches given by presidents and prime ministers, kings and princes, President Obama said “… it is within our power to do something about it.” Prime Minister Cameron asserted “…climate change action is do-able.” Prime Minister Trudeau echoed, “ … climate change is an opportunity to build a sustainable green economy rather than just a challenge.” But Prime Minister Modi of India offered a sobering dose of reality: “developed countries must meet their $100 billion a year climate finance pledge.” Nonetheless, the momentum is set for making the best of the situation for some positive and concrete outcomes. Should we be inclined to build on the popular push for real progress on climate change, we have an obligation to create the conditions to “agree to agreement” in Paris.

*The Green Fund proposal

About the author:
Dr. Y. Annie Cheung is the co-editor with Dr. David V.J. Bell of all 19 articles of Theme 1.45: Introduction to Sustainable Development, in the set of three print volumes “Knowledge for Sustainable Development — An Insight into the Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems” (EOLSS), UNESCO Publishing/EOLSS Publishers, Oxford, UK. EOLSS was published during the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Rio + 10) in Johannesburg, in September 2002. As well in this project, Dr. Cheung co-authored with Dr. Bell the opening article, “Introduction to Sustainable Development”. She also authored the article, “Moving Towards Sustainable Development: the Chinese Conundrum”. Link: Currently, Dr. Cheung is a Research Associate of the York Centre for Asian Research.

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