Needless to say, climate change is arguably the biggest threat that the dwellers of the earth are faced with in the 21st century and the failure of the international community to check the continued rise in temperature caused by the emission of greenhouse gases, can lead to catastrophic consequences.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was right on money when, in his address at Columbia University two months ago, he observed that making peace with nature was the defining task of the 21st century. Later speaking to the Climate Ambition Summit held online to mark five years since the signing of the Paris Agreement, he urged the world leaders to declare a state of climate emergency and focus on greener growth, observing “Commitments made in the Paris Agreement were far from enough to limit temperature rises to 1.5⁰C and if we do not change course we may be headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of more than 3⁰ this century”. It may be pointed out that under the Paris climate accord, signatories committed to limit temperature rises to “well below” 2.0⁰C above pre-industrial levels, and to try to restrain them to 1.5⁰C.
The remarks of the UN Secretary General indicate the severity of the problem and the concern about the consequences of not abiding by agreed measures to check the rise in temperature. The first ever international Agreement on restricting emissions of green, known as the Kyoto Protocol, was adopted on 11 December 1997. However owing to a complex ratification process, it entered into force on 16 February 2005. Currently, there are 192 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol operationalized the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change by committing industrialized countries and economies in transition to limit and reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions in accordance with agreed individual targets. Those targets were stipulated to be met in two phases. But regrettably the required cooperation from the participating countries did not come forth.
New Zealand, and Russia did participate in Kyoto’s first round but did not take on new targets in the second commitment period. Canada withdrew from the Protocol in 2012 and the USA did not ratify it at all. President Bush, while repudiating Kyoto in February 2001, said “I oppose the Kyoto Protocol because it exempts 80 percent of the world, including major population centers such as China . The Kyoto protocol is an unfair and ineffective means of addressing global climate change concerns”.
The second international agreement, known as the Paris Agreement, was signed on 12 December 2015 during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of the Parties. The Paris Agreement marked a historic turning point for global climate action, as the world leaders were able to evolve a consensus on its framework and goals. But regrettably President Donald Trump pulled out of the Agreement like he did in case of other international commitments by the USA.
There are still more than three weeks before the summit takes place and it would be appropriate for the USA to add Pakistan to the list of the participants. Pakistan surely can make a positive contribution to the deliberations of the summit by sharing its experience as an affected country as well as to the crystallization of a future approach in regards to tackling the challenge of climate change.
However it is gratifying to note that his successor Joe Biden, on the very first day of his Presidency, signed the instrument to bring the USA back into the Paris Agreement, realizing its significance. A statement issued on the occasion by the State Department said, “ The Paris Agreement is an unprecedented framework for global action. We know because we helped design it and make it a reality. Its purpose is both simple and expansive: to help us all avoid catastrophic planetary warming and to build resilience around the world to the impacts from climate change we already see. Now, as momentous as our joining the Agreement was in 2016— and as momentous as our rejoining is today— what we do in the coming weeks, months, and years is even more important.”
The major contributors to the GHG emissions are China 30 percent, the USA 15 percent, the EU 9 percent, India 7 percent, the Russian Federation 5 percent, Japan 4 percent, while 30 percent is the share of the rest of the world. As is evident the major responsibility lies on these countries to take effective measures to keep the temperatures below 1.5⁰C, while the rest of the countries also need to abide by the commitments under the Agreement.
In view of the urgency involved, President Biden has convened a Leaders Summit on Climate on 22-23 April. Forty countries have been invited to participate in this virtual interaction including India, Bangladesh, Antigua and Barbuda, Bhutan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jamaica, Kenya, Nigeria and Vietnam. Surprisingly Pakistan which is among the countries worst hit by the climate change, is contributing to shape global climate change discourse as the Vice President of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has not been invited.
Responding to the criticism for not having been invited to the summit, Pakistan has rightly come out with a strong statement asking for ‘inclusive cooperation’. The Foreign Office emphasized, “Climate change is one of the defining challenges of our times that can only be countered through inclusive, cooperative and forward-looking policies. Pakistan remains fully committed to play its due role in this fight. The government’s landmark initiatives like the Billion Tree Tsunami have won international acclaim, including from the World Economic Forum. Pakistan also co-chaired the multibillion-dollar Green Climate Fund, established to support climate actions in developing countries, last year.”
In view of the foregoing facts, the exclusion of Pakistan from the Summit is quite questionable. The global community, particularly the USA, needed to be reminded about the commitment and sincerity of purpose with which Pakistan was pursuing the objective of the international protocols on climate change. While one cannot but welcome the initiative taken by President Biden to convene the much needed climate summit to firm up a collective global response to this formidable challenge, one also feels bewildered by the unjustifiable omission of Pakistan from the moot. There are still more than three weeks before the summit takes place and it would be appropriate for the USA to add Pakistan to the list of the participants. Pakistan surely can make a positive contribution to the deliberations of the summit by sharing its experience as an affected country as well as to the crystallization of a future approach in regards to tackling the challenge of climate change.