Interview | ‘COP26 negotiations and outcomes matter a lot for Nepal’: Dr Poshendra Satyal

Nepal should also play a strategic role as an intermediary to facilitate climate and biodiversity discussions between India and China and others, not only for its own advantage but also for wider benefits regionally and globally.

NL Today

  • Read Time 7 min.

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, is taking place at Glasgow, a port city in Scotland, the UK, from October 31 to November 12. The COP26 is seen as the summit to both address what has and hasn’t been achieved since 2015, while also setting concrete plans to reach the Paris Agreement targets. Nepal Live Today recently caught up with Dr Poshendra Satyal, Policy Team Member of BirdLife International’s Global Secretariat in the UK, to discuss COP26 and its significance for Nepal.  

The COP26 is kicking off in Glasgow, Scotland tomorrow, what are the main agendas for discussions on the table?

While COP21 in 2015 that delivered the Paris Agreement was all about promises, COP26 in Glasgow has been touted as an event for delivery of bold and urgent climate action. The concern and agenda in COP26 are thus focused on accelerating climate action to meet the scale and urgency of the challenges—cutting emissions deeper and faster, adapting to climate impacts and scaling up finance for developing nations.

The event will start with a two-day World Leaders’ Summit in which country leaders and representatives will outline their climate ambitions on how to secure global net-zero by mid-century and keep 1.5°C alive. In the words of the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the host nation’s agenda for COP26 can be summarized as “coal, cash, cars and trees” i.e. phasing out of coal; collective finance for carbon finance; switching to electric vehicles and addressing deforestation and advancing forest restoration.

COP26 also has a central theme on collaboration (between governments, businesses, and civil society of different kinds – including Indigenous Peoples and local communities, youth, women). However, as we have seen in the past COP meetings, different parties and actors take different positions and perspectives on various aspects of climate policies. Thus, there are going to be a lot of heated debates and deliberations in the negotiations. We can only wait and see how negotiations and outcomes in the next two weeks unfold in terms of whether to what extent and how COP26 will set a decisive pathway for achieving net-zero and whether we are ready to take forward coordinated climate action for decades to come.

Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have been on the receiving end of the climate impact though they pollute far less than the richer countries. Is ‘Loss and Damage’ going to be a major agenda during the summit?

Climate change impacts are inequitably distributed as the people who contributed least to the problem are the ones to suffer the most. For example, while Nepal’s contribution to global carbon emissions is only about 0.02 percent, the country is already experiencing climate change impacts in the form of unpredictable and erratic rainfalls, increased cases of landslides, flooding, and glaciers melting. It is mostly the LDCs like Nepal, vulnerable nations, particularly the small island nations which will suffer more from climate change impacts in the future. In fact, as the recently-launched World Meteorological Organisation’s report highlighted, it is already happening: extreme weather and climate change impacts killed thousands of people, displaced millions in Asia in 2020, while also having a heavy toll on infrastructures and ecosystems.

LDCs have for years accused the richest nations, which were the first to start polluting the atmosphere, of failing to take a fair share of the burden. In fact, there are several ethical and judicial issues associated with mitigating and adapting to climate change. The richest countries such as from G7 and G20 groups have a moral responsibility to help the poorest and vulnerable nations and people. Yet, there is often a tendency from the developed countries to tone down the language of ‘loss and damage’ by couching it under ‘adaptation’. 

Climate change impacts are inequitably distributed as the people who contributed least to the problem are the ones to suffer the most.

LDCs have been calling for a balanced redistribution of finance (50/50) between mitigation and adaptation (of the pledged annual fund of 100 billion dollars a year, which remains unfulfilled so far and with dedicated extra finance for loss and damage. The practical support on loss and damage has been very slow. It remains to be seen whether and how COP26 will be able to make a progress and ensure that there is a fair share of loss and damage finance (not merely adaptation) that goes to the most vulnerable countries and communities already facing extreme impacts.

In the aftermath of the Paris Agreement, how likely is it that countries will be willing to lower the target of CO2 emissions to keep the 1.5°C limit of global temperature rise?

The Paris Agreement was aimed at limiting global warming to less than 2°C by this century, compared to temperature before the industrial revolution, with a more ambitious goal of staying below 1.5°C. However, various reports that have come out in the run-up to the Glasgow COP26 have suggested that we have not been able to meet the expectations and targets of the Paris Agreement.

The recent Emissions Gaps report by UNEP has shown the world is on course to warm around 2.7°C with huge disruptive impacts. Based on the periodic Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted by the countries, as this report has highlighted, we are only 7.5% off predicted 2030 emissions compared to previous commitments. The IPCC Physical Science basis report 2021 has also warned that we have missed the target and are already hitting the limit. Key messages from these reports are very clear: we need bold and urgent climate actions with the deep and fast curbing of emissions, and this is our last chance to save the planet and humanity.

How do you see the issue of nature, climate and people being presented in COP26?

Besides climate targets, we also have global efforts and initiatives on nature and people such as meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (by 2030), the Global Biodiversity Framework (currently under negotiation and to be finalized for implementation during the COP15 in Kunming, China) and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030). Because of the interrelated issues of climate, nature and people, various organizations like BirdLife have been advocating that net-zero and the carbon-neutral target is not enough, we also need to build an equitable and nature-positive future. This has been acknowledged by the formal COP26 program which has a Nature Day event on November 6.

The joint IPBES and IPCC report earlier has also highlighted that we urgently need demonstrable solutions which tackle the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and societal challenges together. Investing on nature also has a range of local and global benefits because ecosystems such as forests, wetlands, peatlands, grasslands together provide nature-based solutions to climate mitigation (absorbing one third of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere), support livelihoods, maintain biodiversity and help towards adaptation to climate change. Hence we need integrated agendas to address the interrelated crises of economic and political stability, climate and nature, aligning with achieving the climate targets of the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals, and targets of the Global Biodiversity Framework.

From adaptation and compensation, climate negotiations are complex in their nature. How can civil society from the Global South make their voices heard?

Global policy processes like the COP26 are indeed complex as there is a lot of politics and diversity of positions from a range of actors. In order to consolidate positions and have a collective voice, governments and civil society from the Global South have been already holding a number of preparatory meetings prior to COP26 – such as between the LDCs, African Group of Negotiators and Small Island Developing States as well as between different civil society groups – environmental I/NGOs, Indigenous Peoples and local communities, women, youth, minority groups and so on.

LDCs like Nepal, vulnerable nations, particularly the small island nations which will suffer more from climate change impacts in the future.

The civil society from the Global South should network and make strategic alliances with both like-minded organisations and governments (e.g. from LDCs and G77) on specific issues to amplify their voices, positions and priorities. For example, Indigenous peoples and local communities from the Global South have been advocating for their recognition and rights as leaders of biodiversity and climate actions and demanding their full and effective participation in all levels of decision-making processes and many civil society organisations have been supporting their advocacy.

For a country like Nepal that is sandwiched between China and India that together emit 35 percent of the CO2 emissions in the world, how important are COP26 negotiations?

For climate-vulnerable countries like Nepal COP26 negotiations and outcomes matter a lot – particularly in terms of climate finance, technology transfer and capacity strengthening. China and India are global players and are also important from climate mitigation aspects. The positions they take on certain issues such as on phasing out of coals and agreeing to the timelines for rapid reduction of emissions will also have impacts on global and regional cooperation for climate action. Besides China is hosting the COP15 on biodiversity and its leadership and position on biodiversity and climate is important in terms of developing next course of actions. Nepal should take up its country-specific priorities as well as regional issues such as of the Himalayas and Hindu Kush region with India and China as Nepal and Himalayas are one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Nepal should also play a strategic role as an intermediary to facilitate climate and biodiversity discussions between these countries and others, not only for its own advantage but also for wider benefits regionally and globally.

For millions of people in poor countries, Covid-19 has added new challenges in their livelihoods. What do you think needs to be done to deal with climate change in the so-called post Covid world?

The current, devastating pandemic has clearly brought into sharp focus how our mismanagement of nature is not only causing ecological breakdown and exacerbating climate change but also driving the emergence of zoonotic diseases. With the new challenges, it is again the poorest in the Global South who have been affected the most. In fact, in our recent research in Nepal, we found that Covid19 has negatively impacted the achievement of most Sustainable Development Goals in the short- to medium-term but it may also open up a narrow window for sustainable transformation.

In the post-Covid context, pandemic recovery plans must include steps to tackle climate change, biodiversity loss, and social inequality. It is not just about economic recovery and building back better, we need to focus for a green and just recovery towards achieving an equitable, climate-neutral and nature-positive future. The developed world had pledged 100 billion dollars per year for climate finance in 2009, which is now postponed to 2023. Integrated investment and blended finance, both from the public and private sectors will be crucial for mobilizing sustainable funding to civil society and governments in the Global South.

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