WHEN OFFICIALS of several countries met over the weekend in Poland to agree on the modalities that would be used to implement the Paris Agreement on climate change, no one expected it to be an easy ride.
And true to the script, the conference of parties had to be extended over the weekend and decisions were deferred. But in the end, a common framework for reporting and reviewing progress was hammered out. Considering the turbulent global context, this is a huge step forward.
As a signatory to the agreement, Trinidad and Tobago has pledged to reduce cumulative greenhouse gas emissions by 15 per cent from industry, power generation and the transport sector by 2030. The agreement of a rulebook will largely help the monitoring of this by providing key definitions, even if the new measures do not outline any punitive measures and fall short of the ambitious reform that is needed.
In this regard, it is worrying that the Katowice talks failed to come to any definitive action in relation to the recent report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That report warned that urgent, transformational change is needed to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Some national pledges under the Paris Agreement are not enough to remain within a three-degree temperature limit, let alone 1.5. While the world is taking steps in the right direction things are not progressing fast enough.
On the other hand, there was agreement on how countries will report their greenhouse gas emissions and the steps they are taking to reduce them. Less developed countries also secured key assurances on getting monetary support to help cut emissions, adapt to sea-level rises, and pay for damages that have already happened. This is especially vital for island states in the Caribbean and elsewhere that have to bear the brunt of global warming.
All eyes now turn to the UN General Assembly summit in September 2019, where countries will have an opportunity to update, refresh or reaffirm positions.
US President Donald Trump has already signalled his intention to pull the United States, the world’s second largest carbon dioxide emitter, out of the accord. Trump has also started a trade war with China, the world’s largest emitter, and it was co-operation with China that formed the foundation of the Paris Agreement.
In reality, US withdrawal cannot happen before 2020 and the US has indicated it will abide by the accord in the interim.
Smarting from defeat in the House of Representatives in the US midterms, as well as increased pressure due to several ongoing investigations, next year’s summit could be an opportunity for Trump to soften his position. Or dig his heels in.
Convulsions in Europe over Brexit have also shaken the prospects of economic stability there. While the Paris Agreement has lived to see another day, 2019 could be a red-letter year.