The Paris Agreement in a covid world

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In 2015 at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change (UNFCCC), world leaders adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding climate change agreement.

The Paris Agreement sets out a global framework to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.

It also aims to strengthen countries’ ability to deal with the impacts of climate change and support them in their efforts. Parties were expected to meet this year at the 26th Conference of Parties in Glasgow, Scotland to cement the Paris Agreement.

However, the global COVID-19 pandemic put paid to that and the conference has been postponed to 2021.

But the new coronavirus was not just a predictable crisis – it was predicted.

An array of official guidelines for pandemic preparedness and response, from the Wold Health Organisation and others, highlights just how seriously the threat was perceived.

Despite all the warnings and warning signs, here we are.

That said, the failure to prepare for and, initially, manage the COVID 19 crisis on a global scale is understandable.

The reasons for this include the low probability of a pandemic in any given year, competing risks and opportunities, and limited and uncertain data during those tense early days.

Yet though the path to controlling and subduing the new coronavirus is treacherous and full of hard choices, there are signs of hope.

Countries are starting to prove that it’s possible to flatten the curve and, in some cases, approach the prospect of elimination of the virus.

The application of humanity’s collective ingenuity will certainly pull us through – though not without tremendous hardship. However, what is most concerning about COVID/19 is not the virus itself, but rather that it may be a harbinger of things to come.

Climate change, a potential apocalypse of our own making, is set to become the worst crisis of our times.

If we fail to appreciate our collective vulnerability and responsibility to act accordingly, the consequences will shape human lives and civilisation for millennia.

There are clear connections between COVID-19 and the climate crisis.

For starters, climate change increases the likelihood of corona-type pandemics – through changes in the habitats of disease vectors, for example, or increased inter-species contact resulting from deforestation.

More importantly, climate change vastly increases the likelihood of cascading disasters.

In the case of COVID/19, health impacts won’t stop at infection itself, but will be amplified by broad economic and social fallout.

In the short-term, it exposes us to increased risks.

The year 2020 is a very important one in the climate agenda.

We are marking the fifth year since the Paris Agreement was adopted - and countries are now preparing to submit their positions, known as the National Determined Contributions (NDCs), by the end of this year.

The initial NDCs that countries put forward at the 2025 Paris Conference were insufficient to avoid the predicted temperature thresholds.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that large-scale, immediate transformation is needed. Greenhouse gas emissions must be slashed by almost half from recent levels by 2030 to avoid the most dangerous and costly consequences of climate change. The NDCs embody efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The Paris Agreement (Article 4, paragraph 2) requires each state to prepare, communicate, and maintain successive nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that it intends to achieve.

Namibia presented its NDC well before the Paris Conference in 2015.

In its NDC, Namibia committed to ambitious mitigation and adaptation targets.

The country is pursuing reduction of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by the 2030 horizon compared by about 89 percent.

The projected GHG emissions to be avoided by 2030 is of the order of 20,000Gg carbon dioxide equivalent, inclusive of sequestration in the agriculture, forestry and other land use sector in comparison to a business as usual approach.

Namibia’s NDC also includes an adaptation component outlining near and long-term visions, goals, and targets.

The revision of Namibia’s NDC presents an opportunity for the country to enhance opportunities in key sectors such as power, transport, forestry and climate-smart agriculture; as well as alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Recognisng that many developing countries - with the exception of SADC member states and small island nations that have contributed the least to climate change - could suffer the most from its consequences, the Paris Agreement includes a plan for developed countries-and others “in the position to do so” - to continue to provide financial resources to help developing countries mitigate and increase resilience to climate change. While developed nations are not legally bound to contribute a specific amount to the mitigation and adaptation efforts of developing countries, they are encouraged to provide financial support and are required to report on the financing the supply or will mobilise.

Dr Moses Amweelo has served as Minister of Works, Transport and Communication in the Republic of Namibia

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