Global Governance and Climate Change

By Saran, Shyam | Global Governance, October-December 2009 | Go to article overview
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Global Governance and Climate Change


Saran, Shyam, Global Governance


Climate change has emerged as a defining challenge of our times. It is truly global in dimension and is not amenable to national or regional solutions. Unless a global and coordinated response emerges at the Copenhagen meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December 2009, we may soon be confronting an escalating crisis. Its success or failure will also determine the prospects for effective global governance because, in a globalized world, there already are and will be many more, cross-cutting issues that will require similar global action.

What will be the architecture required to mobilize, sustain, and make effective a coordinated and collaborative response to climate change? Fortunately, in this case, we do not start from scratch. We have the legal basis, approved by international consensus for such an architecture, in the UNFCCC, which emerged from the historic Rio conference of 1992. The UNFCCC has identified the nature of the challenge we face as humanity, its various dimensions such as mitigation and adaptation, and the balance of responsibilities and obligations of parties to the convention. The fundamental principle underlying global action on climate change is "common, but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities." It is based on the acknowledgment of historical responsibility; that is, climate change is taking place as a result of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that have been accumulating in the earth's atmosphere as a result of over two centuries of fossil fuel-based industrial activity in developed countries. This implies that the lead with respect to climate change action must be taken by developed countries. In addition, the principle recognizes common responsibilities, namely, that developing countries also have an obligation, and that is to pursue a path of ecologically sustainable development consistent with their goals of economic and social development and poverty eradication. And finally, there is the concept of respective capabilities; that is, a recognition of the diverse levels of economic development and incomes among the parties, and, hence, a differentiated contribution to the global effort. The above elements can be summed up in one word: equity. The architecture that we build to tackle climate change must be equitable.

Climate change manifests itself in two distinct, though interrelated phenomena: (1) adaptation and (2) mitigation. We need different tools to deal with them.

Adaptation is recognition of the fact that countries already have to cope with the consequences of climate change. Extreme climatic events are causing immense disruptions. Agriculture is being impacted in several parts of the world as a result of shorter, but warmer, growing seasons. Sea-level rise in some areas is causing coastal erosion as well as increased salinity in coastal plains. There is evidence of the melting of glaciers in several parts of the world, with severe consequences for water security. In India alone, it is estimated that as much as 2 percent to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) is currently being spent on adaptation programs. This figure is bound to rise because climate change will continue to take place even if, by some miracle, GHG emissions could be reduced to zero tomorrow. The impact is much more severe in the world's tropical zones--the Least Developed Countries and the Small Island Developing States. Therefore, what we need is a mechanism through which we can build up the coping capacities of developing countries, particularly those that are most vulnerable. This will require both financial resources and technology transfer.

An Adaptation Fund has already been created under the UNFCCC. It is currently receiving funds from a percentage (2 percent) of the proceeds of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). However, this is barely enough to finance a small number of adaptation projects in developing countries.

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