Wildlife Matters - Climate change – what Malaysia can do

SO 2015 is done with and most of us look forward towards a more optimistic and uplifting year. I wouldn't attribute 2015 as being particularly uplifting for environmental matters as a whole, but the year did end gracefully and positively with the signing of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Many thought a deal simply wouldn't be reached in Paris. After nearly 20 years of "negotiations" and many failed conferences, a new global deal on climate change didn't seem conceivable. But as we would have it, a new framework did indeed come into fruition; in text form to say the least, as the implementation stage only begins in 2020. There are still many issues that need to be fleshed in the coming months.

The entire agreement is contained in a 32-page document and this article does not attempt to analyse it in its entirety. Article 2 of the agreement contains a key provision in relation to global temperature rise. It states the objective as "holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impact of climate change".

This new threshold is indeed very ambitious (some have labelled it as being "aspirational") as the previous target was to prevent a 2°C rise in global temperature. The target now aims to limit warming to 1.5°C; meaning that very intense action will be needed to even begin to realise such a target.

Article 2 also maintains the difference between the level of responsibility assumed for climate change solutions between developed and developing countries. This issue has been a permanent fixture in all climate negotiations at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) level and Paris makes no attempt to rock the boat on this. Thus, the Paris Agreement continues with the differentiated positioning; meaning all parties are responsible but not equally responsible.

So make no mistake; the principle in no way absolves any nation from undertaking climate change commitments (the new politically correct term now being changed to "contributions"). Only that now, the targets for a particular nation will be set by that nation according to its national capabilities and circumstances aka "nationally determined contributions". Ahead of the Paris talks, parties were required to submit what is known as "Intended Nationally Determined Contribution" (INDC), containing initial emission reduction targets and viewed as "action plans" for the specific country. Malaysia did submit its INDC, but only just mind you, as it was submitted three days shy of the Paris talks. Phew! Alas!

So what has Malaysia pledged to do or shall I say in present climate change jargon, "contribute"? By 2030, Malaysia intends to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions intensity of GDP by 45% relative to the emissions intensity of GDP in 2005. However, only 35% of the emissions reduction efforts are unconditional. The remainder 10% is conditional on Malaysia receiving climate change monetary aid, capacity building and technology transfer from developed countries.

The target in itself is fair. My main issue with the INDC is that it simply lacks detail on the "means" of achieving this 45% target. The document is all but six pages and in my view, a rather nondescript document. Missing from the narrative are real strategies that seek to achieve the emission reduction targets. The INDC lists about 20-odd policies that appears to have "contributed" towards the INDC but in no measure elucidates the significant components of each policy that would contribute towards real emission reduction efforts. The heart and real value of the INDC lies in the mitigation of emission of greenhouse gases and efforts geared specifically towards them. The document, however, is sorely lacking on any specifics for greenhouse gas mitigation especially from a sector-based perspective. There was no formal review or assessment process of the individual INDCs set at the UNFCCC level. If one had in fact been instituted, our INDC simply wouldn't measure up in terms of details.

I think we can do better in articulating our blueprint towards achieving our stated emission targets. To be clear in our approach that leads us to 2030, we must set our post 2020 agenda within a very cohesive policy framework. The current policy framework/s for climate change is utterly fragmented with the National Climate Change Policy of 2009 being too obscure to offer any assistance towards climate-related action. It's time to start working on the details. To this end we must resolve to do the following:

» Formulate a cohesive and comprehensive policy framework that commensurates with international standards and Paris Agreement requirements

»Provide clear and strong effective measures towards the implementation of our INDC targets

» Provide details on reforms needed within the policy, regulatory and institutional realms that would support coordinated implementation of the climate change agenda

» Ensure all processes in designing and determining a more vigorous climate change national agenda is set at the highest transparent level.

The Paris Agreement stresses that in relation to the nationally contributed information there is necessity for "clarity, transparency and understanding". The aim for 2016, ahead of the next climate change summit in Morocco in November, is to produce a more meaningful document underscoring those crucial elements.

The Paris Agreement and the INDC for Malaysia can be accessed at http://unfccc.int/2860.php

Have a good 2016 everybody.

Preetha is an advocate and solicitor. She has spent many years in the environmental conservation arena. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com