As COP26 is postponed, countries will perhaps have more time and scope to devise plans and policies that are climate-friendly, as well as conducive to recovery from Covid-19 economic fallouts
The Conference of the Parties (COP) is organised every year, under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), ever since the first of its kind took place during March-April 1995, in Berlin, Germany.
The 25 COPs, to date, have been held in different countries. The climate negotiations, within the framework of COPs, eventually provided the opportunity for setting international goals for climate change actions, including setting a temperature limit, to help avoid irreversible damage to our planet.
These negotiations, further, provide pathways for climate change adaptation to ensure climate-resilient development, which is of particular interest to the vulnerable countries. COP is also the platform that helps enhance ambitions at national levels, vis-à-vis climate change mitigation, to make a conscientious move towards low carbon development.
New mechanisms related to mitigation and carbon pricing, along with instruments on financing mitigation and adaptation, are some of the key issues of such COPs. Among other things, the side events, networking, discussions and knowledge sharing sessions that are held in the margin of the conference share evidence-based findings of climate change impacts and different pathways to address them and also enhance knowledge of participants on new technologies and projects.
However, the COP26, which was scheduled to take place during 9-20 November in 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland, under the leadership of the UK government, has been postponed to November 1 to November 12, 2021.
For all practical purposes, given the coronavirus-led crisis, the decision to postpone the COP26, which would attract around 30,000 people including policymakers, experts, activists etc., is prudent and time-befitting.
Having said so, the postponement risks jeopardising climate actions.
On the one hand, the progress on mitigation and adaptation at the country levels after the COP25 could have been discussed at COP26. On the other, countries were supposed to submit their revised version of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to come forward with stronger emission reduction targets to meet the goals of the Paris deal.
Rejuvenated vision for mitigation is key, as the mitigation plans submitted by countries so far reportedly put the world on a pathway towards more than 3° C of warming, compared to the target of containing warming well below 2° C.
As the COP26 is now postponed to a later date, can we postpone our climate actions too? Of course not.
The back-to-back cyclones, Amphan and Nisarga, rather call for enhancing our adaptation capacity with better and more climate-resilient infrastructures. The powerful cyclone Amphan has severely affected the coastal zones of Bangladesh, killing around 15 people and damaging livelihoods and essential infrastructure.
Amphan has hit India hard as well. Following Amphan, another cyclone Nisarga struck India. Two back-to-back cyclones in any other time would have received serious attention but have remained to some extent under muted discussion, attributed to Covid-19. Yet, we need to shore up our capacities to adapt to the changed climatic conditions and climate-induced crises while building climate-resilient infrastructures.
Globally, the frequency and intensity of climate-induced disasters are on the rise. What is worse, climate change is disproportionately affecting poorer countries.
SIDR and AILA, two cyclones in 2007 and 2009, for instance, ravaged coastal areas of Bangladesh, forcing hundreds and thousands of people to migrate within the country for livelihoods, while others, who have stayed there, are still facing essential challenges, including water and health crisis.
Despite the efforts of an international organisation like GIZ and government agencies, such as DPHE and SREDA, in supporting the installation of solar-powered drinking water supply systems in the aftermath of AILA, access to safe water in coastal zones remains a formidable challenge.
And of course, other international and national agencies are currently working in coastal zones vis-à-vis the water and livelihood fronts. Amid such climate change impacts, do we need any further motivation to scale up our efforts for climate actions?
I have a feeling that Bangladesh can continue to carve out a leading place as a role model for adaptation among the nations of the world. Other vulnerable countries shall also follow suit in building climate resilience.
While the benefits of CO2 mitigations are global and long term, we can't wait for too long to increase our efforts.
Data before the corona pandemic demonstrated as to the extent the world was lagging behind the initiatives required to achieve Paris climate goals. Although there would be a huge dip in carbon emission this year due to corona-led juggernauts, the flipside is that carbon emission would rebound once economic activities accelerate.
We experienced the same following the oil crises of 1973 and 1979, the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and the global financial crisis of 2008. The economic recovery after the global financial crisis was, in fact, extraordinarily emission and energy-intensive.
This time, however, we can't do so. We must ensure that recovery from the coronavirus-induced crisis is not business-as-usual. As COP26 is postponed, countries would perhaps have more time and scope now to devise plans and policies that are climate-friendly as well as conducive to recovery from Covid-19 economic fallouts.
At the same time, we can't play down the need to alter the current lifestyles of people. If we systematically want to achieve low carbon development goal, we shall take lessons from the coronavirus induced change in lifestyles of people and design policies as such.
At the COP 26, in addition to discussions on the revised NDCs and related matters, it would have been necessary to agree on unresolved issues related to article VI of the Paris agreement to set out the modus operandi of market-based instruments and international exchange of carbon credits. Article VI was about to be finalised at COP25 but didn't happen at the final stage of the conference.
The developed nations should enhance their commitment to additional funding. What is even more important is to ensure scaling-up of mitigation and adaptation efforts, instead of undertaking small pilots in isolation.
We can't postpone our climate actions, both adaptation and mitigation, now, rather we should enhance our ambitions. Any failure to do so would eventually lead to an increased cost through delayed actions and put us in an existential crisis.
The author is an engineer and environmental economist; He is a Humboldt Scholar and currently working as a Senior Advisor in an International Development Cooperation Agency.