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Scholar Questions ‘Techie’ Approach to Dealing with Climate Change

Kishan Kumarsingh, lead negotiator for Trinidad and Tobago on climate change. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

PORT OF SPAIN, Mar 15 2019 (IPS) - Trinidad and Tobago unveiled its monitoring, reporting and verification system in mid-March with a flourish, with government authorities underscoring the launch of the Monitoring, Reporting, Verification as a milestone in that country’s efforts to reduce its emissions in line with its commitments under the 2016 Paris agreement. And even while acknowledging the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report that current efforts such as these globally are unlikely to protect the world from warming more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, Trinidad and Tobago’s lead negotiator at climate negotiations since 1998, Kishan Kumarsingh, remains upbeat that his country is on the right path. 

He told IPS the Paris agreement is the foundation for a world a transition thanks to the exercise of “political will” and national sovereignty.

“It all goes back to the function of political will,” he said. “Because the efficacy of international law is invariably a function of political will because it is underpinned by national sovereignty.” He said it was governments that would create an enabling environment for a carbon free world since it was these same governments, not private citizens, that negotiate climate agreements.

But Dr. Leon Sealey-Huggins, a senior teaching fellow in Global Sustainable Development at the University of Warwick and a self-proclaimed scholar activist, is of the view that that is where the problem lies for the Caribbean in its efforts to secure its future against climate change.

“Whether or not it’s even possible through the United Nations framework to achieve the kind of change needed for the Caribbean is questionable,” Sealey-Huggins told IPS.

“The global structures of decision-making such as the UN are born out of a legacy of imperialism and globalism,” he said, with its unequal power structures and wealth distribution that have contributed to the current difficulties the Caribbean faces with climate change and its inability to successfully defend itself against it.

As a consequence, Sealey-Huggins said, the solutions promoted at climate change negotiations tended to focus on funding for“more technical approaches” like MRV systems that do not allow for the kinds of “social, political and economic reorganisation” that could shift the climate agenda towards more meaningful transformation and innovative solutions.

Trinidad and Tobago’s new MRV system will focus on emissions from industry, transportation and power generation, enabling identification of the source and quantity of emissions, and helping with efforts to reduce emissions in these three sectors by 15 percent by 2030, a press release from that country’s Ministry of Planning and Development said.

But such solutions “limit other options in terms of what is funded”, limiting research on other potential solutions, said Sealey-Huggins, in spite of the evidence that the global trajectory on carbon emissions reductions is insufficient to achieve the Paris goals.

Nevertheless, Kumarsingh maintains there are signs of real progress, particularly since Copenhagen. He points to the launch of the Green Climate Fund which was agreed upon at Copenhagen, and the establishment of the Warsaw International Mechanism for dealing with the sticky question of loss and damage.

“The Green Climate Fund is one manifestation of advancement for provision of finances and support…to developing countries,” he said. “It is not a cut and dried issue that the interests of developing countries are locked out of negotiations, because they are negotiations by nature and even among the developed countries, among the developing countries there are varying interests.”

He said the issue of loss and damage has proved to be “challenging”. Besides this, however, “there is widespread acceptance that beyond adaptation there is the issue of permanent loss, permanent damage that needs to be addressed.”

But how these issues would be addressed remains to be determined since monetary compensation alone might not be sufficient to compensate for the loss.

“Would a monetary compensation for the loss of an island be adequate for the people themselves?…. these ideas are now being ventilated and discussed. But the cut and dried issue of compensation just won’t happen because of the historical nature of the negotiations themselves,” Kumarsingh told IPS.

He stressed that countries sit at the negotiating table with the intention uppermost in mind of protecting their own country’s interest, not that of another. And while developed countries had accepted they have a responsibility towards SIDS in terms of technology transfer and financing, he acknowledged that their delivery of such help could be increased.

“Of course more could be done to advance the multilateral cooperation to protect the planet as a whole from climate change because climate change is everybody’s business, particularly given the urgency and the accelerating rate of climate change we have seen in recent years,” Kumarsingh added.

Grenada’s former Ambassador to the UN Dessima Williams, who was chair of the Association of Small Island States from 2009 to 2012, told IPS that the effects of climate events on the region’s economic development was a cause for great concern and needed greater action.

“The issue of risk has to be broadened from beyond climate events” to factor in the increasing financial burdens these events are placing on countries that are already strapped with development debt, she said. Williams said the question of climate financing must be placed firmly on the climate agenda “in a meaningful way to impact debt reduction and share the burden in an equitable way.”

However, whether Caribbean SIDS do get their concerns over financing on the agenda “could very well be an issue of negotiating capacity and negotiating skills to actually get what [we] want,” Kumarsingh concluded.

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