Friday, 20 April 2012

National Climate Change Policy and the Role of Citizens in the Post-Durban Era

By L.Padmini Batuwitatge

The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) has confirmed that climate change is already occurring, mostly as a result of human activities. Many natural systems are being affected by regional climatic changes, particularly temperature increases, changes of rainfall patterns, and extended draughts, which are different from what we have been experiencing before.

As a response to climate change, the global community adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) twenty years ago on 9 May 1992. The Convention entered into force on 21st March 1994 and it now has 197 State Parties, making the Convention one of the most universally-supported/agreed Multilateral Environmental Conventions.  

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 (6
0C). 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.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most important anthropogenic GHG.  The largest share of CO2 emissions is due to fossil fuel combustion.  Energy generation, industry, forestry, agriculture, transport, residential and commercial buildings, and waste and waste water are considered the main anthropogenic activities that cause global GHG emissions. All these sectors are directly associated with the strategies used and are being used for human development. Today, climate change has been universally recognized as a fundamental human development challenge of the 21st century. 

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 2
0C 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.

The increasing attendance of the recent climate change conferences shows the increasing global attention to climate change talks and has become the centre of focus of the global community amidst multiple global crises.  The policy decisions taken by the international community at climate change talks have a tremendous bearing on the socio-economic conditions of all countries. Around 115 Heads of States attended the high-level segment of COP15 reflecting the highest political attention placed on the issue of climate change. More than 40,000 people representing governments, non-governmental organizations, inter-governmental organizations, faith-based organizations, media and UN agencies  have applied for accreditation for COP15 ( Therefore, it is an urgent necessity to look back at the full negotiating processes at previous COPs and related subsequent working groups  by all the countries, and identify the real deficiencies in the negotiating process and make collective efforts to resolve conflicting issues in the negotiating texts via collaboration to achieve the objectives of the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol, because the final decisions at COPs have a tremendous bearing on the survival of all the living beings in the planet earth including humans.

National Climate Change Policy of Sri Lanka and the Role of Citizens

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 Way Forward

To address the climate change problem, sustainable production as well as consumption strategies should be adhered to. Action should be taken to narrow the wide income differences of the rich and poor in the national development strategies as both over-use and under-use of resources make the development unsustainable and eventually create unlimited demands for resources for human development. Therefore it is necessary to avoid both affluence and abject poverty in the process of economic development.  “The Middle Path” is encouraged by our ancient culture and it is no way antagonistic to physical well-being. Adhering to sustainable lifestyles, focusing on simplicity and non-violence, leading to credible satisfaction of results is the key to achieve sustainable development worldwide. For that, it is necessary to move away from the perspectives that were designed and controlled based on the philosophies of ‘bigger-is-better’, ‘more-is-better’, ‘richer-is-better’ paradigms.

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.


The Author, Leela Padmini Batuwitage is a Chartered Civil Engineer with a Ph.D (The Netherlands) and with three Masters Degrees: Master of Engineering (Sri Lanka), Master of Science (Ireland), Master of Public Administration (Harvard University-USA) under the Edward S Mason Programme in Public Policy and Management – Mid Career Master of Public Administration (MPA). She has been actively involved in sustainable development issues for nearly 20 years in the Ministry of Environment and has extensive experience in: Development of National Environmental Policies and Strategies, International Environmental Policies, International Environmental Negotiations, Industrial Ecology and Green Design, and Natural Resources Economies in Developing Countries. She was the former Additional Secretary (Environment & Policy) of the Ministry of Environment in Sri Lanka and at present she is an Hon. Advisor to the Ministry of Environment. She represented Sri Lanka in various international conferences and working groups related to Environmental Management and Sustainable Development. At present, she serves as a Vice Chair of the Compliance Committee of the Basel Convention which is a subsidiary body of the Convention established for promoting the implementation of and compliance with the obligations set out under the Convention. She has published several papers on waste management, environment and development related policy interventions.  

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