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Concerted global effort only way to reverse climate damage: Vivian

SINGAPORE — The focus for the ongoing Paris climate change talks should be on securing a global agreement that applies to all parties, said Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan today (Dec 4), adding that countries should subsequently step up efforts in addressing climate change, which he says presents a “clear and present danger” to mankind.

Concerted global effort only way to reverse climate damage: Vivian

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan speaks during an interview session on Dec 4, 2015. Photo: Jason Quah/TODAY

SINGAPORE — The focus for the ongoing Paris climate change talks should be on securing a global agreement that applies to all parties, said Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan today (Dec 4), adding that countries should subsequently step up efforts in addressing climate change, which he says presents a “clear and present danger” to mankind.

Speaking to reporters ahead of his trip to Paris to attend talks on a post-2020 global climate change regime (the existing Kyoto Protocol expires in 2020), Dr Balakrishnan said the only way to reverse the damage is through coordinated, concerted and effective global action.

“If we can get a system with universal participation (in Paris), we will be much, much better off than the Kyoto Protocol,” said Dr Balakrishnan, referring to the previous global climate accord signed in 1997.
“The key problem with the Kyoto Protocol is that it was high in ambition with a top-down formula imposed on the world. It didn’t work because it lacked sufficient participation.”

The United States Senate did not ratify the protocol, while other major developing country emitters such as China and India were not required to reduce emissions.

More than 180 countries have reportedly submitted their post-2020 pledges that collectively account for more than 90 per cent of all global emissions.

Negotiators aim to stop global temperatures from rising by more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels but studies have suggested that all the pledges taken together would still lead to a 2.7°C increase.

“We do not have the luxury of procrastinating any further ... This Paris meeting is going to be a make or break moment,” the minister said. He added that after the agreement has been finalised, monitoring, reporting and verification mechanisms will kick in to help the world improve its performance in addressing climate change. 

“Everyone’s efforts and results are available for the world to see. Importantly from the political perspective, for your own citizens to see,” he said

“Having a system of greater transparency will be a spur for governments to improve their levels of performance, hopefully even beyond what they have committed so far.” 

Dr Balakrishnan also touched on several key outstanding issues that could hamper a deal in Paris. He said that the intense debate on differentiation — referring to how countries are divided in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as Annex One developed countries and Non-Annex One developing countries, with the former expected to take on greater responsibilities — is ultimately “a fight about fairness”.

Developed countries hold the view that as the world is changing, developing countries are now producing more emissions and should take on more responsibilities. But developing countries argue that developed countries have historic responsibility for global warming.

Dr Balakrishnan noted that this is not a trivial issue and can derail negotiations. He said that the “solution is already obvious”, and the existing system of submitting post-2020 climate pledges (also known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs) is essentially a bottom-up exercise with all countries putting up their best efforts in good faith.

“Developed countries must not back down from prior commitments ... My message to developing countries is without getting into an argument about bifurcation (of developed and developing countries), the fact remains that we all can and should do more,” he said.

“I am hoping that with good sense and good faith, we will prevail and overcome this otherwise insolvable debate about differentiation.”

Questions have also been raised on whether the proposed system of INDCs will lead to a sufficient solution. Some parties, including small island-states facing climate change as an existential threat, have called for more ambition and urgency, while others want a more realistic approach and say more time is required to cut emissions and adjust to climate change.

Dr Balakrishnan said it is difficult to make precise estimates on how climate change has led to individual extreme weather events, therefore making the issue more complex.

“The lack of precision in our estimates make these arguments about ambition and how quickly we need to move difficult to resolve,” he said.

The minister said that another sticking point in the negotiations is funding promises made by developed countries to help developing countries cope with climate change. Even though developed countries have pledged to provide US$100 billion (S$139.7 billion) annually from 2020 onwards, some developing countries have asked for proof of the funding, with the exercise quickly becoming an issue of accounting.

“Fundamentally, it requires trust in each other,” he said.

The minister expressed optimism that the Paris talks would result in a new global agreement, predicting that there may be a more than 50 per cent chance of success. 

“The world will have to watch with bated breath whether we are able to collectively seize this opportunity to make a difference both for now and for the future,” he said.

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