This is no time for complacency

By Ismail Raushan Zahir

Ahead of the highly-anticipated United Nations climate change conference in Paris next month commentators have been touting “unprecedented political momentum” they say is building for an agreement.

For certain, the international community seems to have learned valuable lessons from the infamous Copenhagen talks in 2009. But, as a citizen of a country facing an existential threat from rising sea levels, it is important to ask: even with all the enthusiasm for a deal we are seeing, will it be bold enough to protect the most vulnerable?

Taking a realistic (not cynical) perspective, after the last round of talks Bonn, it’s not clear that we are.

The Structured Expert Dialogue Report that was released earlier this year clearly underscored the longstanding AOSIS position that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is essential to averting the worst impacts of climate change, including catastrophic sea level rise.

That being the case, it is evident that we need greater ambition — and fast — to get on track to meet this imperative.

According to Climate Action Tracker, at the moment 158 out of 196 parties to the convention have submitted their plans to cut emissions, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs. The INDCs cover around 89 percent of global emissions in 2010. However, this still leaves an emissions gap of 15 – 17 gigatons of COshort of what scientists say is needed to stay below 2 degrees of warming, to say nothing of the safer 1.5 degree threshold.

The countries that haven’t submitted their contributions should do so as soon as possible, but all parties need to look for ways to rapidly raise their ambition in earnest as well.

An aspect of the talks, which is often overlooked but holds much promise for doing precisely that is Workstream 2 of the ADP. The line of discussions originally championed by AOSIS, is now strongly supported by all parties.

The idea is to help shift the process from negotiations to implementation and expedite the deployment of climate solutions in the crucial period before the Paris Agreement comes into force. Already, there have been constructive “technical expert meetings” on renewable energy and energy efficiency, land use and forests, cities, and carbon capture programmes.

If we hope to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, particularly in vulnerable countries like mine, we need to scale up these approaches as quickly as possible.

Such efforts will give parties confidence that they can in fact make more ambitious commitments over the long-term and help them accelerate progress to a clean energy future, which is why we need a strong decision on Workstream 2 in Paris.

The road to Paris has stretched across years, even decades, and we have had our hopes raised only to have them let down before. To secure the future for generations to come, we have to accurately define the issues and implement appropriate solutions to address climate change. We have come a long way, and I’m encouraged by the newfound enthusiasm for the process. But, in the end, it is action not rhetoric that counts.

Ismail Raushan is Maldives’ climate change fellow. The AOSIS climate change fellowship  program is funded by the European Union to build capacity within small island nations. The fellows are based in their respective New York missions and attend all UNFCCC sessions following a specific issue in the negotiations.