With eight more days before COP21,
I had a chance to get some precious insights from Mr.Richard Corlett
about the coming COP21 and Malaysia…..
Mr. Richard is the Lead Author for the Asia chapter of the Working Group 2
contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Enjoy the read, people.
Every climate conference is billed as the “Last chance to save the world!”, but they never are. A single meeting is not enough to save the world, and a single failure – like COP-15 in Copenhagen – is not necessarily a disaster. However, success at COP-21 in Paris really is crucial, not just because every delay makes future solutions more difficult, but because for the first time – and possibly the last – all the major players are in agreement on what needs doing. Things could still go very, very wrong in Paris, but they could also, potentially, go very, very right. Most countries have submitted ‘INDCs’ setting out what they intend to do and, while some of these are too vague or too conditional to be useful, the major players – China, the USA and the EU – have all promised substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, as have many of the other significant emitters.
COP-21 is supposed to agree on cuts that will keep global warming below the dangerous threshold of 2oC. If you add up all the INDCs we won’t achieve this, even if every country keeps to its promises, with 2.7-3.0oC more likely. Moreover, the 2oC target is already too high to save coral reefs and prevent a substantial rise in sea-level, as well as a lot of other less predictable, but no less unwanted, consequences. However, even 3oC is a great deal better than the 4-6oC warming that will occur if we do nothing. Moreover, the major players have agreed on the need to review the targets every 5 years. I think this is as good as we could realistically expect from Paris.
The INDCs – Intended Nationally Determined Contributions – are voluntary and, despite calls to make the Paris agreement legally enforceable, there is no practical way to do this. Will the USA invade Canada if it continues to exploit its huge tar sand deposits? No, it won’t. So, even if world leaders reach an agreement in Paris, the ‘enforcement’ will have to come from each country’s own citizens. Only Americans can hold the next US president to an agreement that Obama signs and only Indians can make sure that India meets its targets. As global economic power shifts to Asia it will be Asians – particularly Asian youth – who must ensure that Asia does not repeat the environmental mistakes of the industrial revolution in Europe, or indeed, the more recent industrialization of China. Apart from China, the key Asian players are India, which cannot follow China’s coal-fueled road to development, and Indonesia, with massive carbon stores in forests and peat, and even more in coal, which must not end up in the atmosphere.
Malaysia is one of the very few middle-income countries that has not submitted an INDC, and joins a sad list that includes some tiny oil states (e.g. Brunei), as well as countries too poor (Nepal, Nicaragua), isolated (North Korea), or unstable (Libya, Yemen, South Sudan) to make a meaningful commitment. The absence of a clear, international commitment to reduce emissions makes it harder for Malaysians to hold their government to account, but Malaysia’s currently substantial emissions from industry and deforestation, and its ambitions for first-world status, make it essential that they do so. It is not too late for Malaysia to submit an INDC to the UN and, assuming the 5-year review period is agreed in Paris, the government needs to plan for 2020. Obvious emission-reduction targets are zero deforestation, particularly in Malaysian Borneo, and protection of the vast areas of logged and degraded forests so that they absorb carbon as they recover. For urban areas and industry, energy efficiency is a priority, plus a rapid increase in the proportion of electricity from renewable sources. These actions all have co-benefits for biodiversity and for people, so it is not just about carbon. Raising awareness is also important, but it needs to be linked to hard scientific information. Malaysians need to understand the risks they face, from warming and the less predictable changes in rainfall patterns, and how global cuts in emissions will reduce these risks. It is time for Malaysia to join the rest of the world in stopping climate change.