Holding the next global climate change talks

A balloon in the shape of the Earth is pictured during a mass climate protest during the COP25 summit in Madrid, December 6, 2019. PHOTO: AFP/CRISTINA QUICLER

I had written in a previous column about the fact that the next Conference of Parties (COP26) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was to have been held in November 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland with the United Kingdom as COP26 President, had to be postponed to 2021 due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. I would now like to provide some ideas for the COP26 presidency as well for Bangladesh to consider undertaking, so that even though COP26 is postponed, it doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of momentum.

The first point is that despite the best of intentions, it is unlikely that COP26 will be held in early 2021 or even in the middle of the year, as the situation has to get back to normal not just in the UK but all around the world, from where the delegates will be flying into Glasgow. Hence, we need to be looking for ways to make progress by using virtual meetings as much as possible.

While using virtual meeting platforms as well as social media are proving quite effective in certain things, such as sharing information and campaigning, it is not a suitable format for decision-making across nearly 200 governments. Much of the way that the negotiations are conducted to get successful outcomes at every COP involves informal meetings on the side between some key delegates and countries to resolve a contentious issue, which can then be brought back to the plenary session for formal adoption.

The formal plenary sessions are only used for delegates from each country to make their statement without resolving their differences. The real negotiations take place in informal meetings where contentious issues get hammered out by contending parties. Without the opportunity for such informal meetings on the side, there is almost no likelihood of agreements being reached on major contentious issues. For the formal part of the negotiations, we will almost certainly have to wait for when the delegates from all countries are able to meet in Glasgow next year.

However, not everything needs to be put on hold until they do meet. Many issues related to the implementation of previous agreements and decisions need not be further negotiated, but can go straight into implementation without waiting for the COP. It should be mentioned that the Paris Agreement made in COP21 in 2015 in Paris has already given all countries the blueprint for taking actions on both mitigation as well as adaptation.

On mitigation, ambitions have to be enhanced to try to reach the agreed goal of keeping global temperatures below two degrees centigrade and if possible, under 1.5 degrees. While the latter target is getting out of reach with each passing day, it is still possible if all countries take appropriate actions to wean themselves off of fossil fuels, such as coal and petroleum. The current crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic is already slowing the use of such fossil fuels and ways to return to normal without these fuels have to be explored immediately.

The other part of the Paris Agreement on developing a global goal on adaptation can also be taken forward in practice at multiple levels—from vulnerable regions of the world like the Pacific Ocean, South Asia and Africa to the level of individual countries and, within each country, at the local level in the most vulnerable communities. The UNFCCC has already initiated the process for all countries to undertake National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and share their experiences with each other. This process does not have to wait for the COP but can be carried out at local and national levels, even under the current lockdown conditions.

In this context, it is good to note that Bangladesh is about to undertake the NAP for Bangladesh after a delayed start. We thus have another opportunity to develop an outstanding product based on our extensive experience in adaptation already.

Finally, we can also initiate the activities of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), which Bangladesh will chair for the next two years. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will be the chair of the CVF during COP26 and there is a great opportunity to discuss how the UK, as host of COP26, could collaborate with Bangladesh to enable vulnerable countries to get a high level platform at the COP. Perhaps a joint meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the opening day of the COP26 could be arranged.

It is interesting to recall that under the chairmanship of President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands, the CVF held their meeting as a virtual summit, rolling across the globe with different heads of state coming online in their own time zone for a couple of hours each. Some of the pre-COP26 meetings may choose to emulate this example if they wish.

The bottom line is that tackling climate change remains an important global issue, despite the current Covid-19 pandemic, and ways have to be found to tackle both at the same time using some out of the box thinking.

Originally this article was published on May 06, 2020 at Daily Star. The author Prof. Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).
Email: saleemul.huq@icccad.net