Timmons Roberts is Ittleson Professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology at Brown University where he was the Director of Center for Environmental Studies from 2009 to 2012. Timmons was a James Martin 21st Century Professor at Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute during 2006-2007 and a Research Fellow at William and Mary's Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations from 2008 to 2009. His 1992 PhD was from Johns Hopkins University in Sociology Programme in Comparative International Development. Currently he is attending the 2nd Gobeshona Conference on Climate Change at Dhaka as the key-note speaker. Dhaka Tribune's Abu Bakar Siddique has recently caught up with him to discuss the Paris climate agreement.
What do you think about the future of the Paris Agreement?
The Paris Agreement was better than we feared it would be. Although it is not binding and there is no enforcement mechanism, it's more universal and more countries are participating. 190 countries agreed and more than 180 countries submitted their pledges to cut carbon emission as INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions), which are really important. On the other hand, the agreement is very weak on Climate Finance as there are no clear directions on how much funding will flow to developing countries. Even there are no directions on who will provide and how much will be provided.
For a long time, Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) have been demanding a balance between mitigation and adaptation. But unfortunately, this is absent in the Paris Agreement. What are your thoughts?
There is nothing about the balancing of finance. I do not know what is going to happen.
Bangladesh needs to concentrate on massive adaptation initiatives but the country does not have enough resources to take actions. If there is not adequate funding for adaptation, how will a country like Bangladesh survive?
I think two things are needed. Firstly, a new and innovative source of funding, which means we cannot expect the international governments to provide ODA or foreign assistance. We tried collaborating with them. But we do not know how much they will give as the numbers keep squeezing. The old funding channels are not really providing enough; that is a problem. We need innovative funding, which means imposing fuel tax on international shipping and aviation and carbon tax. This could be new money from international channels. And this money could be allocated to the countries by vulnerability.
The other thing is private finance, which could go from north to the developing countries through investments in solar and other energies. Although it will be investment from the private sector and ultimately they will pick money from the investment.
Will the private sector be willing to invest for adaptation? As far as I know, the private sector is more interested in mitigation.
I also think so. That is really a big problem for the developing as well as the climate vulnerable countries like Bangladesh.
Do you think the Paris Agreement took Climate Justice into consideration?
Of course not. In that sense, the agreement is not binding. It does not define the countries’ responsibilities for climate change or even flow of finance. If the agreement solved that issue, it would have been a real agreement considering climate justice. It does acknowledge climate justice and the texts say that we should care about Climate Justice.
Do you think that the Earth's temperature could be held between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century?
Yes, I think it is possible. If we really want to reduce the future catastrophic situation, it has to be made possible. For that, we have to focus on changing our existing energy systems.
What could be Bangladesh's role in this?
Bangladesh can focus on renewable energies like solar and wind. In addition to reducing carbon emission, life will be easier for people if technologies that avoid fossil fuel could be introduced. Although all these programmes fall under mitigation and Bangladesh does not have any obligation to do that. The country can adopt those gradually.
Bangladesh is already setting up large-scale coal-fired power plants to meet the growing demand for energy. What do you think about this?
It is obviously not a good idea. I believe the country will invest millions for setting those up. Avoiding the fossil fuel, it can easily do the same thing in a cleaner way which will ultimately bring double benefits. At the same time, I believe that Bangladesh has the right to develop itself which will require a lot of energy. Bangladesh is a good example to the world for its adaptation measures. This is a really difficult part.
What do you think about the “Loss and Damage” article in the Paris Agreement? Do you think it lost power by losing the “Compensation and Liability” provision?
It actually weakened the article. But the issue is coming in front. Loss and damage is coming with insurance mechanism which might be funded from the north.
As far as I know, insurance naturally covers premium. Will it be ideal to collect premium from the vulnerable community by applying insurance while they are not responsible for the cause?
I don’t know how the system works. It is only the very beginning and we do not know what will be the modalities. But it maybe highly subsidised insurance; for instance, crop insurance.
What do you think will be the future of the climate-induced displaced people?
I do not know. I was just thinking yesterday about one million people fleeing to Europe. It is a huge crisis. Same things are happening in Bangladesh. I visited the Bangladeshi coastal belt two days ago. Many people are being forced to leave and are getting scattered over different parts of the country. This all are happening as a result of depleting employment opportunities caused by salinity and other factors triggered by climate change. But nobody wants to leave their home. Proper actions are needed to stop the flow of displaced people as well as rehabilitate them.
What do you think about the Gobeshona Conference?
I am excited. It's good for Bangladesh as well as for the science of climate change. It is exciting for me and my research groups from Brown University. Bangladesh has already done a lot of good work in climate adaptation and the outcome of the research conference will help the country take more rational measures.