UN conference on climate change and Sri Lanka

Thursday, 2 December 2010 01:42 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Almost one year ago, 193 members of the UN Climate Convention incorporated the Copenhagen Accord in the final decisions of their annual conference.

This week , the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC)  conference of the parties is  taking place in Cancun, Mexico. It is intended to advance talks towards a global climate deal that will chart the course for post 2012 when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires.

Developing countries favour an approach that would implement the second phase of the Kyoto protocol which allows them to opt out of emission reduction if they pose a threat to their development. Expectations on this meeting to deliver a comprehensive deal including emission reductions are low. According to observers, the best case scenario appears to be some agreement covering climate governance and agriculture that would include early planning on new institutional mechanisms and perhaps partial delivery of promised funds.

Adverse effects of climate change will be felt  the world over with the poorer nations suffering  most. Yet the biggest greenhouse gas emitters are the US and China. Conferences such as the UNFCC would be successful if the biggest contributors to climate change participate effectively. However the global financial crisis has changed the priorities of governments and climate change is no longer a major priority and in some cases it is considered a threat to national interest.

It was earlier felt that the Obama administration in the US would tackle climate change domestically and take the leadership in the ongoing conference. But the Republican gains in the November mid-term elections have hamstrung the Obama administration on this issue and the failure of the US Climate Bill marked a turning point in the talks. Even the inclusion of the border carbon adjustment mechanism such as a protective tariff was not enough to save the bill.

Many a politician in the world talk of global cooperation in climate change when they address international fora, but sing a different song for the domestic constituency where they are under pressure from the energy and carbon intensive industries in their countries to reduce the crusade on climate protection. This is because they fear such action would bring about additional costs in lowering emissions and further cripple their bottom line. The other top emitter, China also does not appear to want to give major concessions as it would mean high long term costs for some of their competitive economic sectors.

Although none expect this week’s conference to deliver results, some observers feel that low expectations may allow the conference to make progress on issues such as the terms for a climate fund meant to assist poor countries in adapting to the effects of climate change, forestry issues etc.

One of the important sectors that would be adversely affected by global climate change is the fisheries sector which is of particular importance to island economies such as Sri Lanka.

It could affect the fisheries trade in numerous ways. Developing countries tend to be more nutritionally and economically dependent on fish than the developed countries .Thus, this sector provides an important share of employment and export earnings. Although agriculture ,forestry and fresh water resources have been rather dominant in climate policy discussions, the effects of climate change on fisheries resources  and thus the implications for  the livelihoods of so many  in the developing countries have  not been highlighted as much as they should be.

Experts feel that the projected changes in fish population and eco systems due to climate change may be significant and will have an impact on the fisheries sector and economies which have heavy dependence on fisheries. The fisheries sector of developing countries, island nations in particular, will have an adverse trickledown effect in the economy. The fishermen will be directly affected while fish processors and those who provide inputs to processing, transporters etc will be affected by the reduction in fishing which in turn will affect employment, food security, export revenue and trade competitiveness. It would be beneficial to work closely with countries with similar problems and also work through friends such as China and India who are prominent at these talks to ensure that Sri Lanka’s interests are also taken into account at these meetings.

(Manel de Silva holds an Honours Degree in Political Science from the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya and has engaged in professional training in Commercial Diplomacy at ITC and GATT. She has served as a trade diplomat in several Sri Lankan Missions overseas and was the first female Head of the Department of Commerce as Director General of Commerce.)

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