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A Throwback At The Paris Agreement On Climate Change

Green paddy fields in Manipur (TFM PHOTO)

Climate change process is considered in a long term time scale, say going beyond thirty and fifty years to millennia, and therefore the strategies to be adopted by the States need to look beyond the next three to five decades, and more.

By Salam Rajesh

Deliberations on climate change issues are heady and more than often goes beyond the realm of environment, transgressing to social, economic, politics and geopolitics discussions – all rolled into one on this complex topic.

There have been several forums globally on the subject matter in these past many years – Kyoto, Aichi, Copenhagen, Berlin, New Delhi, Paris, Glasgow, Kunming, and recently Montreal. Some meets were labeled as ‘failures’ while others are said to have achieved some agreement to a certain pace. The global climate summit at Paris in 2015 was viewed with mixed reactions, some criticizing it did not meet its set objectives, which negotiators have tried to rectify at the recent Kunming-Montreal biodiversity conference.

It is in this context that Azam Amini (Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran) and co-authors looks more closely at the agreements reached at the Paris Climate Summit in a recent study, “The Paris Agreement’s Approach Toward Climate Change Loss and Damage” (World Affairs, 2023), which is focused on the critical discussion on ‘Loss & Damage’ as affected by climate change processes globally.

It is generally accepted that due to the processes of both nature-based climate change and human-based climate change over periods of time, the natural and human environments have suffered extensive damages in terms of unprecedented changes in climate and weather conditions locally and regionally that affects the biodiversity – plants, animal lives – and wreaks havoc by inflicting wildfires, droughts, floods, land subsidence, ocean warming, glacial melts, and many more phenomena. This basically defines the term ‘Loss and Damage’ suffered as impacted by climate change processes.

The approach within the Paris Agreement for reaching an agreement on responsibility for climate change ‘Loss and Damage’ indicates the formation of an ‘unusual legal structure for responsibility’, writes the authors.

The Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015 by 196 States at the 21st meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The central goal of the Paris Agreement is “to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius”.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines (climate change) adaptation as “the process of adjustment to actual or the expected climate and its effects. In human systems, adaptation seeks to moderate or avoid harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In some natural systems, human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate and its effects”.

Azam Amini et al reflecting on this aspect says that, “It is expressed that adaptation to climate change is an activity that should be locally beneficial and, as a result, the obligation is upon the local authority that looks after adaptation measures, including the necessary financial resources”.

This pronouncement looks at the role of States in handling the mechanism in finding ways to come up with activities that aim at involving people at large towards adaptation strategies to meet climate change challenges. The strategy designed may go from ecosystem restoration to livelihood adaptation wherein the natural systems are restored to their near-natural condition to provide benefits from ecosystem services – the availability of water, food, and shelter, and the continuity of life itself.

Article 8 of the Paris Agreement introduces obligations upon the Parties to the Agreement “with respect to Loss and Damage associated with adverse impacts of climate change”.

According to Paragraph 52 of the Conference of the Parties’ decision, Article 8 is not a basis for liability or compensation, writes the authors, adding that the problem, therefore, is whether violation of obligations leads to a State responsibility.

Using a dogmatic method, the study contends that, “Recognizing the significance of averting, minimizing, and addressing Loss and Damage” means acceptance of responsibility for a breach of obligations. Although the means of seeking reparation would not be compensation, States are obliged to eliminate sources of damage and take precautionary measures to address loss and damage.

This then can be interpreted as increasing the responsibility of States to find ways and means on mitigating the negative impacts of climate change processes and thereto introducing mechanism of enabling people towards adaptation to the changes evident.

Climate change process is considered in a long term time scale, say going beyond thirty and fifty years to millennia, and therefore the strategies to be adopted by the States need to look beyond the next three to five decades, and more.

Look at the massive loss and damage that was caused by the Australian wildfires that ravaged much parts of the southern continent, killing millions of wildlife, damaging properties and destructing forest lands. So, what would be the context setting on ‘Loss and Damage’ as in this case, and whether it would be national or global responsibility on climate change impacts.

Digging further into the concern, the study analyses that, “the UNFCCC (1992) established ‘mitigation’ as the first pillar of climate change law, and ‘adaptation’ as the second. Pursuant to the negative impacts of climate change, Small Island States and other vulnerable States have, for many years, been seeking to address Loss and Damage (Parties Submission 2009) and have emphasized that Loss and Damage are different from adaptation”.

The reason for such an assertion was that ‘adaptation’ potentially focuses on restricting the implications of climate change and the costs of trying to avoid such negative impacts or averting them have been expended. Adaptation is a management and policy-making approach and deals with variability in a system due to reduced vulnerability against external drivers, forces, and stresses of the system, writes the authors.

The argument placed before the States is thus that apart from adaptation strategies, there has to be a specific policy of the States to address ‘Loss and Damage’ suffered by regions, and peoples, in a more holistic manner to rehabilitate and resettle people, and so for the wildlife, suffered by such processes direct and indirect related to climate change phenomena – considering both nature-based and human-based climate changes.

(The writer looks at environmental stories through the journalistic lens. He can be reached at [email protected])

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