CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE VITAL FOR ASIA

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Painting by Lakshmi Shree, India

Asian countries have an important stake in this year’s climate change negotiations and, as a result, a critical part to play in the negotiations.

Climate change is hitting the Asian continent already and big global decisions will be made this year. An agreement to cut greenhouse gases emissions will hopefully exceed what the Kyoto agreement previously negotiated.

The negotiations over the rest of the year will culminate in the new Copenhagen Agreement in Denmark in December 2009 at the 15th conference of the parties (COP 15) on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The main focus, agreed just over a year ago at the 13th conference of the parties in Bali, Indonesia, consist of four building blocks, of which two – “Mitigation” and “Adaptation” – are considered major.

The former denotes actions by the major emitting countries to reduce their emissions and to prevent that future dangerous climate change. The latter seeks to ensure that countries vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change are duly assisted with technology and funding to cope. The other two building blocks include technology transfers for both mitigation and adaptation and innovative financing for mitigation and adaptation.

The most immediate concern for Asia is the issue of Adaptation and funding for it. Estimates of global adaptation funding range from tens to hundreds of billions of dollars a year. These funds will need to come from “new and additional” sources not from previously rolled out development assistance.

A number of proposals to raise such significant sums for adaptation already exist, including a proposal by Bangladesh and formally adopted by the least developed countries (LDC) group at the Poznan meeting to charge an “adaptation levy” on all international air passengers. Estimates put the total figure at more than $10 billion a year.

Even if the LDC proposal ultimately falls over, at least it gives the group a strong card to play against other countries. They will need to assure funding in the tens of billions of dollars for adaptation to be acceptable to the LDC group, as well as other vulnerable countries and Africa group.

Asian countries need to use their strong presence within the LDC Group to build bridges and establish a common negotiating position with these other groups of most vulnerable countries, and the African group.

The focus on adaptation, however, should not distract us from also paying attention to the other major building block, mitigation, and formulating a clear strategy on the issue.

At the moment the strategy of countries like Bangladesh, together with the LDC group, is to call for a target temperature rise of “well below two degrees centigrade”. While not avoiding some damage, this will enable the world to survive climate change. Such an ambitious global temperature target is still far from certain as it will require very strong mitigation actions to be undertaken first by the developed countries and then also by some of the major developing countries.

Published in China Daily, 17 March 2009

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Mainland Asia has a common source of water – the Tibetan glacier