THE most talked about climate change summit in Copenhagen ended with a minimum agreement among the stakeholders. Most of the post-conference analyses by world leaders, academicians, journalists, and participants termed the final accord as disappointing, disastrous, chaotic, and insufficient to meet the future challenges. If we accept the IPCC predictions to be true for the next few decades, then the current way people lead their lives will have to change drastically.
At the current rate of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission, the temperature in the atmosphere will increase by up to 4 degrees Centigrade by the end of this century, which will mean a rise of 3 meters in the sea level. In order to arrest the upward-bound trend in the temperature and sea level rise, the concentration of CO2 will have to be reduced from the current 389 ppm to below 350 ppm.
The world observed the climate summit with much anticipation, with the expectation that everyone involved in policy making would realise the consequences of global warming and do the needful to ensure the stability of our planet for future generations.
Unfortunately, the world leaders did not live up to this responsibility.
The participants were broadly divided into three groups: (a) the American-led coalition of the major GHG emitters, that included China, India, Brazil, South Africa; (b) the European Union-led less emitters; and (c) the most vulnerable countries (MVCs) and the least developed countries (LDCs), that included Bangladesh, Maldives, and a few African countries.
It appears that, after much negotiation, the main GHG emitters resorted to the infamous philosophy of "divide and rule." The MVCs and LDCs could not stay united and caved in to the desires of the American-led coalition in compromise for a non-binding political accord -- not an agreement -- that promises to keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees Centigrade and to adopt voluntary measures to cut down on GHG emission.
In addition, compensation of $10 billion per year was committed for about 1 billion direct victims from the MVCs and LDCs for adaptation measures. This amount is insulting in view of the fact that each climate change victim is allocated a yearly sum of $10 dollars, which will not buy food for even one day! Yet, Bangladesh, threatened by submergence of 20% of the country and displacement of over 20 million people, accepted the accord and expressed satisfaction!
Although the final accord is a compromise document, and is the first step in the right direction, it cannot be considered to be a satisfactory achievement. Among many unresolved issues, resettlement and compensation for climate refugees remains the most unsettled aspect of the climate change debate. Bangladesh needs to continue to push for a reasonable settlement of this issue in the future. Even US President Barack Obama told the press that he understood why most people were disappointed about the final outcome of the climate summit.
As much as the summit was far from achieving the desired goals, it was not a complete failure. The main accomplishment was that all parties involved recognised that climate change was the greatest challenge of our time and agreed to do something about it. Some of the major GHG emitters, including the US, China, and India, agreed to voluntarily reduce their emission by as much as 25% as compared to 1995-levels.
The leading role of the EU and Japan in terms of their willingness to reduce GHG and provide assistance to MVCs and LDCs with adaptation funds and technology transfer is laudable. However, the championship award of the summit must go to Barack Obama for his role in achieving the final political accord, and, most importantly, for the paradigm shift in US public policy stands in relation to GHG emission. Up until now, the political atmosphere in the US was very much against any commitment to reduce GHG emission.
President Obama appears to understand the magnitude of the issue and is willing to do the work towards finding solutions that are in line with recommendations made by scientists. As long as he can garner the support of his political opponents and the corporate world, he will be able to lead the world out of this crisis and can truly earn the prestige he deserves for winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
As far as Bangladesh is concerned, we need to re-evaluate our strategy in the fight for justice against the consequences of climate change, which have been imposed upon us by the GHG emitters. Although, like all other MVCs and LDCs, Bangladesh did not gain much in terms of receiving financial compensation for mitigation or adaptation measures, it is now a well established fact that Bangladesh is the most affected country due to climate change and most of the GHG emitters should pay close attention to the needs of that country.
President Obama recognised this fact in his speeches. In preparation for COP 16, to be held in Mexico in 2010, and in her continued fight for climate justice in the future, Bangladesh needs to do the following:
-Form partnerships with other MVCs and LDCs and provide leadership on behalf of these countries in future negotiations;
-Not abandon her friends and partners from MVCs and LDCs for national gains;
-Invest in developing domestic capability in coping with consequences of climate change in terms of adaptation and mitigation measures;
-Adopt an ecological and open approach as opposed to the current cordon approach in all adaptation measures in coastal areas;
-Since Bangladesh is a small part of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna watershed and since water-related problems (such as drought in winter months and flooding in rainy season, salinity ingress due to reduced river flow from upstream regions, riverbank erosion and siltation of riverbeds due to unstable inflow in rivers) will be the main concerns in the future, Bangladesh needs to work with India and other co-riparian countries for achieving an integrated water resources management plan for all common rivers;
-Invest in research and development of sediment-capture technologies in coastal areas in order to accelerate coastal land reclamation process;
-Not build new polders or embankments in coastal areas as adaptation measures against sea level rise, because such measures will reduce vertical growth of land by reducing sediment deposition from natural tides and flooding in the coastal areas. Building of such polders will deprive the land from its natural coping mechanism against sea level rise, resulting in permanent water-logging that is currently occurring in Bhabadah in Jessore, and in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA;
-Adopt best management practices in all spheres, including domestic capacity building that will allow it to better cope with climate change.
Md. Khalequzzaman is Professor of Geology, Lock Haven University. E-mail: [email protected]