With ‘sustainability’ entering the millennium development goals agenda, and the global commitment on 2 degrees becoming a necessity, this piece looks at four trends that will potentially redefine the environment and climate realm.
A greater role for environmental governance
With the immediate need for an international commitment on reducing emissions to curb global increase in temperatures by 2 degrees, environmental governance will have a more prominent role to play in climate change negotiations. Environmental Governance involves two things: (a) the first is to introduce governance into the realm of the environment through institutional reforms. This is where the role of ‘climate leaders’ and policy-makers becomes relevant; (b) the second is to identify and incorporate environmental consciousness and sustainability into overall governance and across all human activity (economic, social and political). Recent reports from the New Climate Economy and the World Bank talk about the socio-economic consequences of environmental degradation, thus emphasizing the inter-disciplinary nature of the phenomenon. EG should be incorporated into all aspects of climate change, from climate science to policy governance.
Sub-national relevance of climate change
Cities, the pivots of economic activity, are also highly vulnerable to climatic impacts, contributing to nearly 60 percent of the overall carbon dioxide emissions. While national governments gain center stage in negotiating and forging commitments at international forums such as the COP, sub-national institutions will have a more critical role to play especially in bearing the consequences of climate change. In the short term, sub-national administrative entities have promoted more aggressive climate policies in comparison to national governments. According to the UNDP, 50 to 80 percent of adaptation and mitigation actions will be implemented at the sub-national level of administration . This is clearly evident in the partnerships that various local governments and municipalities are forging to organize a global network of sub-national institutions that can combat the more immediate and direct impacts of climate change. The challenge will be in integrating these sub-national networks into the global climate governance frameworks such as the COP as well as in making sub national networks more accessible to all stakeholders including, the community and elected representatives.
Financing the climate
Finance is perceived as a panacea for several development challenges and climate change is no exception. It is estimated that the world has to invest $5.7 trillion annually by 2020, to tackle climate change impacts. As INDCs are being finalized and country-groups are gathering to reach a global consensus on emissions, climate finance will play a crucial role in the negotiations and countries honoring their commitments. One of the expectations of the Government of India, from COP21 is “New, additional and predictable finances from developed and developing countries for mitigation, adaptation, technology transfer and capacity building”. This sentiment is echoed by most developing countries as a corner stone of the Common But Differentiated Responsibilities. Climate finance is gaining a significant role in fighting climate change, especially through multilateral-sponsored large funds such as the Green Climate Fund, Adaptation Fund, etc. This will also mean increased involvement of the private sector in financing adaptation and mitigation strategies. However, the key challenge will be in establishing and prioritizing the most effective (and inclusive) instruments in ensuring that the two degree commitment and the SDGs are honored.
Beyond adaptation and mitigation: Introducing Loss and damage
Moving beyond adaptation and mitigation, it is time to take note of Loss and Damage. At COP19 in Warsaw, the “Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage” was established. However, we are yet to have a globally acceptable definition on the idea of Loss and Damage as we begin to account for climate-related risks, globally. Currently, a working definition of the term refers to “negative effects of climate variability and climate change that people have not been able to cope with or adapt to” and include rapid onset events (such as extreme events like floods and cyclones) as well as slow onset events (like salinity intrusion and constant increase in temperatures). Hence, challenges will arise in constructing a locally relevant framework that can effectively identify and measure qualitative and quantitative factors that contribute to loss and damage. These factors should ideally include economic/non-economic and material/non-material characteristics mapped against environmental, socio-economic and spatial vulnerabilities.
COP21 is critical since a global climate deal will reshape the way we cooperate and collaborate to combat climate change. Expectations vary across different quarters of the environmental community. While there is broad consensus on the expected 2 degree rise and the need to tackle it, the challenge lies in constructing a commitment that is inclusive and equitable to all parties.