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UN Climate Change Convention:

Palitha Kohona frustrated of the outcome in Cancun

Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nation Dr. Palitha Kohona who just attended the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Cancun, Mexico expressed disappointment of the outcome of deliberations at the venue. He says it ended with ‘some’ hope but ‘much’ frustration and ‘considerable’ visible disappointment.

He says “Although ambition had been diluted considerably in the lead up Cancun, in contrast to Copenhagen in 2009, there were still some who had hoped for an ambitious legal agreement that would be the spring-board from which to aggressively address the threat of climate change for the sake of future generations.”

However, Dr. Kohona struck an optimistic note saying “Now with those expectations largely unrealized, the world will look to next conference in Durban, South Africa in 2011 for the process to move to the next level.”

He described the finality as “The outcome at Cancun, could be said to be consistent with the moderate expectations of those who managed the Conference.”

Dr. Kohona was rather distressed when he said “Sadly, in international processes, it must be remembered that progress is measured in halting baby steps rather than in exuberant leaps. Important amongst the outcomes, was the clear affirmation by the parties that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and that all parties share a vision for long term cooperative action in order to achieve the objectives of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (the Convention) including through the achievement of a global goal on the basis of equity and in accordance with common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”

However the Sri Lanka envoy to the UN noted “One of the useful outcomes of Cancun was the agreement to establish a Green Climate Fund to finance measures undertaken by developing countries to address this “greatest of challenges of our time”.

This was a significant development, as up to now, there had been no agreement on a viable fund to facilitate actions to deal with the challenges faced by developing countries in confronting the threat of climate change.”

He went on to elaborate: “Developed country parties to the UNFCCC agreed to allocate 100 billion dollars per year to this fund by 2020 (Only 30 billion dollars will be made available for the period 2010-2012). By overwhelming agreement, this fund will be managed by a Trustee, which for the time being will be the World Bank.

Given the enormity of the problem, it has been asked whether this sum would be adequate for the purpose, particularly since it will be balanced between adaptation and mitigation, with funds for adaptation being prioritized for the most vulnerable developing countries.

The most vulnerable countries are identified as Small Island Developing States and Least Developed countries and they constitute almost one third of the membership of the United Nations. The 100 billion Fund will thus serve two categories. Importantly, the adaptation needs of many developing countries, not falling within the most vulnerable category, and whose situation may be as precarious, may not be met by it.

“Furthermore, some of them may be seeking to develop using the model followed by those developed countries that were most responsible for global warming. The yearning among the people in developing countries to imitate and acquire the creature comforts existing in the West (motor cars, air conditioning, heating, consumer disposables, etc.) is irrepressible.

It will be a serious mistake, as we seek to address the threat of climate change, not to give adequate consideration to the soaring, but potentially environmentally negative, aspirations of such developing countries also.

The funds necessary to meet the requirements of the developing world must be addressed squarely if the threat of climate change is to be properly addressed. It is a threat that respects no geographical borders. In comparison, we recall that when the global financial crisis threatened, the US alone very quickly mobilized US$ 700 billion dollars to fund a rescue package.

Europe raised similar amounts, and continues to do so to rescue ailing members of the Union. Does this suggest that the threat of climate change is less of a worry? A preponderance of scientists would disagree.”

Dr. Palitha Kohona described the handicap the developing nations face when it comes to technology transfer: “The need for technology transfer was also acknowledged at Cancun.

Technology transfer was recognized as an important tool in the rapid reduction of emissions and in the urgent need to adapt to the adverse impact of the climate change. Although perfect technologies might still evade us, what the world possesses today, if deployed strategically and widely, could contributes significantly to reduce GHG emissions that cause global warming.

“Unfortunately, most of this technology is with developed countries, private corporations and is costly. Unless effective mechanisms are developed to facilitate technology transfer, the developing economies could render nugatory all efforts to address the threat of climate change. We must get away from simple rhetoric.”

Dr. Kohona highlighted the obstacles developing nations confront in the area of emissions reduction.

“Although many had hoped for binding legal commitments with regard to emissions reduction, what ensued, to the disappointment of a large section of the participants, was a voluntary system.

Countries would pledge reduction targets and voluntarily report measures they have taken to reduce emissions, as well as the success that they have achieved. While the Cancun voluntary system would facilitate certain countries to make commitments without having to confront domestic legislative hurdles, it would be difficult to police. A voluntary system would also be more at the mercy of domestic legislatures.

“Nevertheless, such a system could provide the moral imperative for such countries to adopt helpful measures, such as developing motor car engines that consume less fossil fuels, etc. Domestic pressure groups would begin to assume a significantly enhanced role in this context, both positive and negative.

The tendency to engage in destructive legal arguments, including to stifle efforts of competitors to encourage environmentally helpful technological developments (e.g. wind turbines in China) may increase. The voluntary system adopted here has other precedents in the international arena.

The Montreal Protocol successfully achieved the almost total elimination of the use of ozone depleting substances through a voluntary system coupled with a proactive secretariat that provided assistance and the incentives of financial assistance (for funding “incremental costs”) and technology transfers. Whether one could rely on a purely voluntary system with regard to a threat as vast as climate change is a challenging question.

“Furthermore, developing countries who become party to the system will now be obliged to comply every two years through measurement, reporting and verification and international consultation and analysis mechanisms. In this respect one notes that there is already a considerable burden on countries, specifically on developing countries, with reporting obligations under numerous conventions.

“Even many developed countries have complained vociferously about their reporting obligations under multilateral agreements and have sought to rationalize their reporting obligations. The burden being imposed on developing countries could be far too onerous and they may require substantial assistance if they are to comply with this requirement.

If not, the system could simply become inoperable. A voluntary system may work better if the area of application is limited (e.g. as in the case of ozone depleting substances) and financial assistance, technology transfer and technical assistance is tied to the deal.”

He expressed frustration that the Cancun conference did not take a firm decision in regard to funding.

“The sources of funding for the mechanism that emerged from Cancun remains vague. Funding provided to developing country parties may come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources.

The world is only too aware of pledges made before the flashlights of media cameras in response to natural calamities which remain to be honored many years later. It would be important to ensure that any pledge made is specific and not subject to conditionality. Climate change related action should not be held hostage to political considerations.

“Additional funds may be sought from a variety of sources. For example, it may be possible to encourage multilateral financial institutions also to contribute to the Fund, again without additional conditionality. The same parties which made the commitments at Cancun are also party to those multilateral financial institutions.

Private charities, some of whom have recently attracted banner headlines with their massive contributions to worthy causes, may be encouraged to help the Fund. Their interest needs to be excited.

Major corporations may be another sector that could be mobilized. The concept of corporate social responsibility which is now well established (and is taught in business schools) could be the window through which the support of corporations could be attracted. Many could contribute with funds or with services.

There needs to be imaginative outreach. Countries themselves, in particular, developing countries could be encouraged to allocate a certain percentage of their budgets to climate change related activity, perhaps on the basis of matching funds from other sources. There are clear economic, social and electoral advantages in this. Communities could be encouraged to enhance their own contributions. It was one man’s effort to clean up Australia, Ian Kiernan, that is now being emulated around the world.

“All this needs dynamic and imaginative leadership. The UN with its many agencies, UNEP, UNDP, Climate Change Secretariat, Biological Diversity Secretariat, Basel Convention Secretariat, Ozone Secretariat, Global Partnerships, etc, etc, is the only organization (with some rationalization) that is equipped to provide this global leadership” the Sri Lankan envoy to the United States Dr. Palitha Kohona concluded. Asian Tribune

 

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