Deal may not be good for vulnerable countries

Eminent climate change expert Dr Saleemul Huq, senior fellow at the International Institute of Environment and Development, expresses optimism about the COP21 climate conference but says much more remains to be done, in an exclusive interview with the Dhaka Tribune's Meer Saiful Islam

  • Dr Saleemul Huq 

Where will you place the Bangladesh case with respect to the expected agreement at COP21?

Saleemul: Bangladesh belongs to the group of vulnerable countries as well as the least developed countries groups. Our point of view is that if it’s not sufficient enough to tackle the problem, then we can’t say it’s a good agreement. It may be an okay agreement. So we are fighting to get a good agreement. And, the definition for a good agreement for us is one that first of all set a long term goal (LTG), which is commensurate with the problem. We believe that the LTG should be to limit temperature rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius. At the moment, the global agreed goal is 2 degrees.

In fact, it’s a group of leaders, including Bangladesh, who formed the Climate Vulnerable Forum highlighting concerns, issues and challenges faced by the countries vulnerable to the climate change impacts. They have issued a strong statement, pushing for the 1.5 degrees. This is the big push from vulnerable countries.

The other aspect whether it is a good agreement or not is how we are able to bring down temperatures. One good thing is that all countries are putting their plans forward to reduce emission, carrying out mitigation activities. More than 150 countries submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) – their plan for tackling climate change. If we add them all up, we still are far from the 2 degrees. We are just below 3 degrees (2.7 degrees), which is not good enough.

We know that we would not be able to reach at 2 degrees in Paris. So the next argument is – well, keep it at 2 degrees. But how do we move in the right direction? Paris must not be an end. It will be the beginning of moving in the right direction. So how frequently do we need to review the progress and change direction if it is needed? Some countries are arguing for 10 years and we are saying it is too long. It should be reviewed after every five years – one review after 2020. If the progress is not good enough, progress can be enhanced. Because, one of the things from the INDCs of the developing countries is that they give two plans – one is about how much we can do ourselves. Bangladesh can reduce 5% itself. Then how much can we do if we get finance and technology? We can do more if we get finance and technology. We said 15%. Let’s go for higher ambition with money and technology. And let’s review every five years to see how we were able to do, how much money and technology was given and how much the countries were able to do. And set higher ambition after five years, increase our ambition. Now it is 2.7 degrees and after five years we can say that we can actually do more.

We hope Paris will build a virtual cycle where they will find that they can do more in terms of mitigation and they will do more. Countries will go on a potentially carbon-free future, which is where we have to go in the long run.

What indications are there in the draft adopted in Bonn conference?

Saleemul: The 34-page draft text was adopted on broad consensus. Each of the issues, except Loss and Damage, has two options – one for the developed countries and the other for the developing countries.

The two main issues having broader differences are the L&D and displacement of vulnerable people. There is a positive indication in the draft that the agreement would come into reality.

There is also an indication to make permanent the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) which currently has a two-year tenure. The WIM has nine-point work programme, including L&D, displacement and migration. In Paris, we will demand for financing for L&D stepping aside from earlier stance of “polluters to pay.” We will also want separate committees to look after the issues of L&D and migration.

How do the civil society organisations want to see the outcome?

Saleemul: So far the target is to reduce the rise of temperature by 2 degrees within the year 2100, but it’s too high as far as the vulnerable countries are concerned. We would demand for setting the target at 1.5 degrees. The target would be reviewed in every 10 years as of the present text, but we want it to be reviewed every five years.

How do you see the strategy of France in their efforts to make the conference successful?

Saleemul: France has taken a different strategy this year – along with some other partners, it has decided to invite the heads of states to take part in the high-level segment before the real negotiation starts. It is expected that they will give directions to the negotiators in the segment. It’s because the leaders often cannot reach final decision as evident in the past negotiations. The initiative seemed to help make this event successful.

As part of the groundwork, the host country also invited ministers at a pre-COP meeting to give them heads up so they can prepare for playing critical role in the negotiation segment of “political horse-trading” in the second week.

The United States had raised an issue in Lima that a legally binding agreement would not be possible as the Congress is unlikely to ratify it. But legal experts found that the ratification is needed when a treaty is signed. We’re expecting here a legally binding agreement, which would not require ratification by the Congress.


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