I am attending COP19 in Warsaw, Poland as part of the environmental non-government group Project 90 by 2030’s youth delegation, and am hearing a lot of talk here about the gap between how much and how fast we need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to avoid dangerous climate change.
The sad fact that actual emissions continue to rise and not one country is on track with its efforts to keep global warming below 2°C.
The chances of keeping global temperature rise below 2°C this century are swiftly diminishing.
Science tells us all that a global temperature rise of above 2°C – and this is where the world is heading to right now – will result in temperature increases in the Southern African interior of up to 7°C!
This has the potential to turn life as we know it on this planet and especially our region into something mankind never have experienced before.
As Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) stated in her keynote address to the World Coal Summit today: “This is not science fiction – this is science fact”.
So much is at stake, for so many.
Times LIVE on Tuesday cited a UN report issued “from the sidelines at COP19” stating that a failure to close the gap would cost governments billions of dollars, and risk the lives and livelihoods of millions of people on the African continent and elsewhere. Africa would need R3,5 trillion a year to fight climate change.
All of this would be unnecessary, if only we could close the gap.
The COP process has had a turbulent start and a tremulous midway point, and the outcome is still something of a mystery.
In a common understanding, developed countries as well as developing countries have recognised that there is a gap between the commitments counties made in regards to mitigation reduction targets and the necessary target reductions required by science in order to evade what is termed as runaway climate change.
What is runaway climate change? Interestingly enough, there is no sole definition. However the elements are consistently and widely agreed upon.
In essence, runaway climate change could be defined as the increased acceleration of change in Earth’s climate systems, which result in the inability to respond to devastating climate events. These incidents are not necessarily limited to new climate events or disasters but can be the severity of already existing climatic phenomena.
The ability for a vulnerable region to respond to such occurrences is the very issue that underpins the COP19 negotiations.
As per the IPCC determination in the recent 5th Report, the fact is human activity contributes largely to the acceleration of climate change, and there has been a grim acknowledgement that the ability to adapt to extreme shifts in climate systems is limited.
Thus the need to mitigate future emissions urgently is necessary and fundamental.
To this end, developed countries have insisted that the mitigation gap should be addressed based on what they call Common but Differentiated Responsibility and Respective Capability, which includes the role of developing countries in addressing the present gap.
However, developing countries contend that developed countries need to take the lead, as stipulated in article 3.1 and 4.1 of the UNFCCC convention.
Developed countries still maintain that developing countries have a duty to respond by contributing to mitigation reduction efforts.
In order not to limit the discussion to one about which country essentially needs to take the lead, developing countries (Brazil) have also included a proposal of historical responsibility as a measure for determining the targets for emission reduction.
This applies to both the pre-2020 mitigation gap and the post-2020 regime. Developed countries are opposed to this proposal whole-heartedly, citing current socio-economic and development changes in the world.
Not only is the issue still open regarding who should undertakes further “binding” mitigation commitments in response to the mitigation gap, but there is still the question of quantifying emission reductions .
One cannot say there has been no development in addressing these challenges. Countries in their domestic capacity are doing a lot of great work to curb emissions but this is not enough.
We need the international community to play its part in closing the gap. And the message is clear as many youth delegates in COP19 are asking global leaders: “You have negotiated all my life. How much more time do you need?”
Happy Khambule, Project 90 by 2030