NWU expert: There is merit in calling for a new climate deal

Belinda Bantham -- Wed, 06/21/2017 - 16:10

NWU expert: There is merit in calling for a new climate deal

US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord earlier in the month was greeted with global dismay. In fact, both the United Nations (UN) and former President Barack Obama labelled the decision as a major setback.

According to Dr Ilyayambwa Mwanawina, an expert in regional integration, international law, good governance and human rights at the North-West University’s (NWU’s) campus in Vanderbijlpark, there is merit in calling for a revised climate deal.

According to Dr Mwanawina his understanding – and subsequent agreement with the withdrawal, is based on several politico-legal factors and differs from Trump’s reasoning in this regard.

Weak international agreement

Dr Mwanawina is of the opinion that those concerned about the US withdrawing from the agreement, should reacquaint themselves with the nature of the Paris Accord. The main objective of the agreement is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development. It therefore requires countries to set goals to reduce carbon emissions, meet every five years and, monitor and report on their respective emissions levels and reductions. The foundations of this agreement are based on the hope that governments’ party to the agreement will be honest enough to prioritize the fight against climate change.

Paradoxically, other than the few instances of leaked emails, honesty is a scarce commodity in the world of global politics. We should also bear in mind that according to Article 2 & 3 of the Paris Accord, the targets and efforts that each country would have to meet are nationally determined and implemented taking into account the respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances. What this effectively means is that each party has a very wide discretion when selecting the type of measures they will implement to combat climate change as well as the financial sacrifices to be made. If a government feels, during its budgeting phase, that it would rather fund its health and education sector (rather than pledge millions towards reducing the effects of climate change), then such a decision would be respected within the context of the unique circumstances such a country may face.

There is effectively no institution that will determine if such measures are sufficient, therefore, it is highly possible to end up with a skewed pattern of commitment: were a country with very high greenhouse gas emissions makes the least effort to uphold the agreement opposed to a country with low greenhouse gas emissions that sacrifices resources in an effort to uphold the agreement.

Non-adversarial and non-punitive?

In Article 15, the agreement proposes that a there be a committee that will be expert-based, facilitative in nature and function in a manner that is transparent, non-adversarial and non-punitive. The words ‘non-adversarial’ and ‘non-punitive’ indicate the voluntary nature of the agreement. In a geo-political structure were each state has an obligation to preserve its own sovereignty, protect and promote its national interests, the apologetic nature of the Paris Agreement – according to me, lacks ambition. There are many United Nations instruments that are backed by the possibility of sanctions, but history has proven this to be an insufficient deterrent. In short: the Paris Agreement is weak, lacks an enforcement mechanism and does not clarify liability for climate change.

Who should pay for global warming?

If studied closely, there is a level of ambiguity to be found embedded in the Paris Agreement. Mitigating the effects of climate change will undoubtedly require large sums of money from participating governments. The reality is however that due to the different global financial abilities of each country, not every country will be able to effectively combat the adverse effects of climate change and still guarantee a good standard of well-being for its citizens.

The solution offered by the Paris Accord is to get developed countries to commit funds that will be facilitated through the agreement to the benefit of developing countries. This essentially translates into vested economies like the China and the US subsidizing the efforts of highly vulnerable regions in the emerging world such as Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia.

Dr Mwanawina argues that there is fairness in this arrangement since developing countries do not have a history of large emissions of greenhouse gases and thus have not contributed significantly to the causes of climate change. Data that indicates which countries contribute the most greenhouse gas emissions already exists. According to the World Resources Institute, China leads the pack, followed by the US, EU, India, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, Japan, Canada and Mexico.

“The language and approach of the Paris Accord are very apologetic in identifying countries that have had high greenhouse gas emissions for centuries and getting such countries to admit liability - not only morally but financially as well. If there is ever going to be another round of conferences to determine how we save planet earth, leaders should not shy away from crafting a binding and enforceable agreement that will take into account actual environmental damage, loss and liability,” says Dr Mwanawina.

* This piece was further refined and published by The Conversation: Africa Edition http://theconversation.com/why-calling-for-a-new-climate-deal-isnt-such-a-bad-idea-79220 

Dr Ilyayambwa Mwanawina.