The ultimate objective of the Convention, and any related legal instruments that the Conference of Parties may adopt, is “to stabilize greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. It was further stated that such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.
The Fourth Assessment Report of IPCC (2007) illustrated that ”continued GHG emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century”.
It has been predicted that in the 21st century, average global temperatures could increase up to nearly 6 degrees centigrade (60C). To avoid catastrophic impacts due to climate change (with 50% probability), it is necessary to keep the temperature rise below 20C. To achieve a 20C target, industrialized countries will have to cut emissions as much as 30% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050 (UNDP/HDR 2008). Most countries vulnerable to climate change demand that industrialized countries reduce the 20C target to 1.50C in order for them to be within safety levels.
UNFCCC specifies that developed countries need to take the lead in addressing the climate change problem as they have a better capacity and have a historical responsibility. Therefore, the principle of taking ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ was included into the Convention, thereby making all countries responsible to address the climate problem at different scales. Also, the Convention requires developed country Parties to assist developing country Parties by way of financial resources and technology transfer taking into account the need for economic and social development and poverty eradication as overriding priorities of developing countries.
However, the trends of the negotiating strategies at the Conferences of the Parties (COPs) have significantly changed since COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. At COP15, it was expected that the Parties to UNFCCC would “seal the deal” and agree to a common position on ambitious emission reduction targets to fall in line with the IPCC’s predictions. However, the asymmetric interventions due to a lack of commitment to reduce GHG emissions by powerful economies resulted in an outcome that was far from what was expected. There was no legally-binding and meaningful action adopted, with firm commitments to fulfill the ultimate objective of the convention. Additionally, most of the delegates had complaints about deviating from the formally accepted UN negotiating process at COP15 to arrive at a consensus.
The COP16, which was held in Cancun in 2010, reflected another dimension of the international environmental negotiating process in contrast to the COP15. Initially, rebuilding trust was the key element during the negotiating processes of interim ad-hoc meetings held between COP15 and COP16. However, a significant change in the trend of the negotiating process was seen at COP16. It seemed that the focus was on resolving disagreements among countries by indirectly encouraging Parties either to be silent or neutral as a strategy to continue the UNFCCC process by accepting to establish the ‘Green Climate Fund’. The ‘Green Climate Fund’ was a positive outcome of COP16. Most Parties were sceptical about its effective implementation to achieve the desired outcome. Nevertheless, it was a strategic bargaining tool which was used to merge many disagreements which resulted in many provisions being kept open that was critical to achieve the objectives of the Convention. There were no legally-binding measures agreed upon and the future of the Kyoto Protocol was kept uncertain.
Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, in which the developed country Parties are under obligation to reduce emissions taking the lead, the Cancun Agreement required both developed and developing country Parties to share the commitments by declaring their voluntary reduction of emissions below business-as-usual scenarios. It was further decided that these reductions would be subject to international measurement and verification to secure financial and technical assistance. This means that the process would be difficult to begin with, in the absence of baseline data in most of the developing countries, especially for the agriculture and forestry sectors. Even though the Parties agreed to commit to a maximum temperature rise of 20C above pre-industrial level at COP16 to avoid dangerous impacts (with 50% probability), the pledges put forward by the Parties were grossly inadequate to fulfill this target. The final outcome of COP16 was basically the reaffirmation of the Copenhagen outcome in a different way.
Following intense debates at COP17 held in Durban, South Africa in 2011, a decision was taken to continue the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol up to 2020 subject to conditions, one of which is on a new legally binding agreement that would effectively replace the Kyoto Protocal. The Green Climate Fund proposed at COP 16 was further elaborated and adopted at COP17. However, there are many significant issues to be resolved to ensure good governance in the implementation mechanism of the Fund where developed country Parties should focus on assisting developing countries to address the issue of climate change within the framework of sustainable development and poverty alleviation rather than promoting profit- oriented businesses. It is also important that this Fund is made accessible to small developing countries with minimal bureaucracy.
In Sri Lanka, the National Climate Change Policy has been developed by the Ministry of Environment with a view to provide guidance and direction for all the stakeholders in the country to address the adverse impacts of climate change efficiently and effectively. The policy contains a vision, mission, goal and a set of guiding principles, followed by broad policy statements under Vulnerability, Adaptation, Mitigation, Sustainable Consumption and Production, Knowledge Management and General Statements. Needless to say, collaborative action at all levels is necessary to transform this policy into a meaningful set of actions to meet the challenges of climate change.
The goal of the National Climate Change Policy has been set as ‘Adaptation to and mitigation of climate change impacts within the framework of sustainable development’ with a mission of ‘Addressing climate change issues locally while engaging in the global context’, to secure ‘a future where climate change will have no adverse consequences on Sri Lanka’ which is the Vision of the policy. .
The citizens should be sensitive and attentive to be aware of and knowledgeable on the vulnerabilities of climate change on their lives and livelihoods. Citizens can demand such knowledge, and be involved in the development and implementation of adaptation strategies of the government and other partners, as climate change is happening and the global attempts at present are not adequate to sufficiently address the problem. At the same time, as responsible citizens, collective efforts should be made for mitigation activities as well to secure a sustainable future for the present and future generations. In this process, it is very important to be mindful of the multifaceted issues related to climate change and identify nationally appropriate and socially inclusive prudent choices with clear understanding of the expected outcomes. In this context, ‘Education, Awareness creation and Capacity building’; ‘Co-operation and Partnerships’; and ‘Creation of a climate change sensitive generation’; are basic prerequisites to create and manage knowledge, enabling the citizens to make right choices. The government, too, has the responsibility of being mindful of the consequences of climate change in planning and executing its development programmes.
It is necessary to adopt multiple approaches to enhance knowledge, skills and positive attitudes of different stakeholders at all levels to address multifaceted, current and emerging issues of climate change. To fulfill this objective ‘availability, accessibility, and sharing of climate change related information across all sectors at all levels’ are necessary. Encouraging strategic partnerships and sharing knowledge among partners to address the multifaceted issues of climate change will eventually create a dialogue within and among various citizens groups and individuals, whose contribution will be vital for the implementation of the national policy and enhance resilience to climate change in the country. Provisions have been included in the National Policy to facilitate citizens to play their role collectively to address the climate change challenges. Effective implementation of these provisions with monitoring and feedback systems is therefore critically important in this endeavour.
The country needs a skilled human resource base which can adequately provide environmental-friendly knowledge and technical facilities/services to support implementation of the National Policy. This is not currently available at required levels and quality. Provisions to develop such a skilled human resource base are already included in the National Policy and it is time for all stakeholders and citizens to join hands to implement these provisions and to achieve the objectives of the policy.
It is also necessary to take cognizance of technological advances being made in developed countries to harness inexhaustible renewable energy resources such as solar, thermal and wind energy systems which are expected to replace fossil fuels altogether in the foreseeable future. Sri Lanka has to accept the challenge of developing a mix of several sources of renewable energy available to the nation.