Paris conference must reach agreement on climate action

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The long-awaited climate change conference, COP 21, in Paris will go ahead from tomorrow, as planned, despite security concerns after the recent terrorist attacks in the French capital. About 50,000 participants, including 127 heads of state, are expected to travel to the conference, which some environmentalists view as the last chance to strike a global agreement on combating climate change.

Following the failure of the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference to reach a deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, all parties have been negotiating for a new and acceptable agreement by 2015, to be implemented in 2020. However, the shadow of the Paris attacks is likely to affect the negotiations both negatively and positively.

The main objective of the talks is to achieve a legal and binding agreement on climate and to maintain the global warming rate to less than two degrees Celsius. The meeting will also consider other issues such as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, funding for mitigation and adaptation, and technology transfer.

Many of the side events have been cancelled due to the attacks, and a mass demonstration planned to coincide with the conference is likely to be cancelled or scaled down. Going ahead with the conference itself, however, will send out an important message that terror attacks are not going to act as a deterrent.

It is hoped that the Paris meeting can help realise the United Nations’ sustainable development goal (SDG) 7, to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts". The SDGs recently adopted by all UN members also include commitments to fight poverty and inequality, as well as to spread peace and prosperity.

Climate change and terrorism are more closely linked than most would imagine. The problems caused by climate change are likely to have significant social effects such as mass migration which may result in unrest and conflicts.

The Syrian conflict provides a clear example. Climate change was an initial trigger for the conflict, as Syria witnessed its worst recorded drought in the period between 2006 and 2011. As a result of this, the soil deteriorated and many farmers were forced to abandon their farms and villages and move towards cities. This created political and economic pressures and social instability that helped lead to the outbreak of civil war.

It could be argued that climate change created the economic and social conditions in Syria that gave rise to ISIL and allowed it to grow.

With regard to the Gulf Cooperation Council, this region accounts for less than 2.4 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, global climate change will have a severe negative environmental impact on the region, which in turn will have implications for the economic and other development gains achieved here.

Rising sea levels in the Red Sea, the Arabian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, and the consequent risk of salinification of soil and coastal groundwater aquifers, pose a growing threat. Countries including Bahrain and Qatar may lose a large part of their coastal area to the sea if the water levels rise.

The Paris talks are of particular importance for the GCC countries because of the fossil fuels that currently form the backbone of the Gulf economies. The industrial, energy and agricultural sectors globally depend almost entirely on fossil fuels.

Any actions taken about climate change may affect the demand for fossil fuels especially in countries that adopt laws and policies to reduce emissions due to their implementation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

This, in turn, could eventually severely impact the economies of the oil-rich Gulf countries. The Convention on Climate Change is a major challenge for countries that rely on fossil fuels as a major source of revenue.

But it is important that the Gulf countries work together with the global community at the Paris talks to reach a globally binding treaty that will help to combat not only climate change but, indirectly, terrorism as well.