By Sugeeswara Senadhira/Ceylon Today
Colombo, December 14: Since signing of the Paris Agreement on 12 December 2015, Sri Lanka has made a steady contribution towards reducing global warming.
Sri Lanka was one of the 195 states that adopted the Paris Agreement, at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris. The then President Maithripala Sirisena, who signed the Agreement in Paris in 2015, submitted Sri Lanka’s instrument of ratification of the Paris Agreement at the UN General Assembly in New York on 21 September 2016.
The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016 after meeting the twin thresholds: (i) ratification by at least 55 states and, (ii) which were collectively responsible for 55 per cent of the world’s total GHG emissions.
As of 25 August 2017, 160 states had deposited their instruments of ratification. Later 3 countries –US, Nicaragua and Syria – withdrew.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa believes that Sri Lanka should revise the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) focus on achieving a net carbon zero status. Accounting for less than 1 per cent of the global emission of greenhouse gases (GHG), the Sri Lanka government provided substantial financing to increase forest coverage further to reach the target of 32 per cent by 2030.
Sri Lanka hopes to bring Sustainable Nitrogen Management to the South Asian Agenda. The Colombo Declaration aims at reducing Nitrogen waste up to 50 per cent by 2030. Sri Lanka will enhance the renewable energy mix to be 40 per cent of the total portfolio by 2030. A National Policy on mangroves was launched last September and it has been decided to ban the number of single use plastics from 2021.
Five years ago, 195 states comprising both developed and developing countries adopted the Paris Agreement for several reasons. The top reason was increasing evidence of global warming. 2016 was the hottest year on record since 1880 (when records began), and the third record year in a row.
Scientists have warned that if emissions continue to rise at the current rate, global warming will become catastrophic and irreversible.
“Developing low lying areas for flood retention, protecting river catchments, establishing urban forests and discouraging fossil fuels are but a few of our approaches for reducing pollution and mitigating climate change impacts,” President Gotabaya said.
The main objectives of the Paris Agreement are to hold the increase in average global temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, while “pursuing efforts” towards a higher standard – which is to limit the increase in average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, to increase the ability of countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change, foster climate resilience, and reduce GHG emissions in a manner that does not threaten food production and to provide financial resources to help countries to transition to low GHG emissions and climate-resilient development.
Gaps to be Filled
Although, the Paris Agreement was hailed by most, some experts pointed out the agreement left out some crucial areas.
They pointed out that the Paris Agreement does not explicitly state the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) or NDCs of states must include emissions reductions. This leaves room for states to avoid emissions reductions in their commitments.
Furthermore, the Paris Agreement does not mention easing the production and use of fossil fuels, or transitioning to clean or renewable energy. Activists have argued that this omission could delay the transition away from fossil fuels, which is imperative to achieving the goals of the Agreement.
Another complaint was that the Paris Agreement does not explicitly reiterate the agreement at COP15 in 2009, that developed states will mobilize USD 100 billion a year by 2020. It is only mentioned in related documents and the UNFCC climate finance webpage. Some commentators have highlighted that the Paris Agreement also fails to specifically address the effects of climate change on marginalized and vulnerable groups of people, including the poor and elderly.
Some have criticized the accord as costly and ineffective. For instance, conservatives think that the Paris Agreement will cost America jobs, slow economic growth, and only lead to a miniscule reduction in global temperature, provided every state party fulfills its contributions to the Agreement.
US withdrawal from Agreement
The biggest blow to implementation plans of Paris Agreement came when US President Donald Trump announced in June 2017 that the US will withdraw from the Agreement, and indicated that the US would seek to renegotiate the Paris Agreement or enter into a new climate change deal.
The maverick US President’s announcement of withdrawal caused widespread concern, especially since the US is one of the world’s largest GHG emitters, a key source of funding to achieve the Agreement’s objectives, and has been a global leader in climate change initiatives.
Specific concerns included, that Trump had reversed the Obama administration’s pledge of USD 3 billion to address climate change in developing countries. When Trump’s withdrawal came, the US had disbursed only USD 1 billion of that pledge money.
Furthermore, transfers of technological expertise are essential to achieving the aims of the Paris Agreement. The withdrawal of the US could mean minimal US support in terms of climate-smart technology transfers.
The US was only the third country to withdraw from the Agreement, the first two being Nicaragua and Syria out of the 197 member states of the UNFCCC. Nicaragua did not join the Agreement because it argues that the Agreement is not ambitious enough, and Syria was unable to join the agreement due to its longstanding internal conflict.
The 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement came at a time when there is hope that the gloom set in due to the US withdrawal would not last long. The US President-elect Joe Biden made a campaign promise that he will reenter the Agreement.
Biden is due to take oaths on January 20, 2021 and after the US is expected to provide a climate target that is updated from the Obama administration’s goal and announce a plan to reduce domestic emissions from the power and energy sector. This is very important as the US is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China, and is seen as key in the global effort to reduce the effects of climate change.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa warned the world leaders that it will not be long when the impact of climate change starts affecting our very existence.
“I hope that all countries will continue to assist climate financing and firmly ensure earth to remain a habitable planet for generations to come,” he concluded on a positive note.