Toward a new global climate change treaty: Liberia’s contributions and challenges

The threats and impacts of climate change on human existence are dire and have been increasing exponentially; writes Urias S. Goll.

At the United Nations Conference on the Environment convened in 1972 in Stockholm, Sweden, the world first recognized the deleterious effects of changes in our global climate system and more interestingly, the massive changes mother earth would undergo if this menace continues unabated. At the conclusion of the conference on the environment, world leaders made bold, sustainable and collective decisions to amass and harness resources at their disposal for climate change mitigation and adaptation programs.

Two decades later, the world met again in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) or Earth Summit to reinforce some of the agreements and commitments that were made to battle changes in climate systems as well as addressed the anthropogenic (human induced) causes of climate change.

As the evidence of climate variation became prevalent, the world could no longer wait, and therefore decided to establish the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) entrusted with the principal responsibility of working with all countries to address this global threat. Typically, the convention was established to bring together governments and 193 parties have since signed it. It is interesting to note two other conventions germinated from the Rio Summit: the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD).

While the UNFCC convention seeks to solicit bold and generic commitments from governments (which is political), it proposes, on the other hand, binding detailed agreements from governments though a protocol. The first Legally Binding Protocol from the convention on climate change (UNFCCC) was the Kyoto Protocol which describes government contributions in terms of emission reductions to meet the target level of Green House Gases (GHG) in the atmosphere required to stabilize global mean temperature below 2 degree Celsius. Another way to achieve this was by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents to 350 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere as the most dangerous GHG on our climate defense system.

Since its establishment, the UNFCC has been holding annual meetings or Conference of the Parties (COPs) to discuss and share experiences on the progress and challenges facing the world. This year, in Paris, the UNFCCC will host its 21st COP. At COP 3 (1997) in Kyoto, Japan, the world made tremendous progress in developing and agreeing to the first legally binding treaty on climate change to reduce GHG emissions. Enthusiasm flared around the globe especially from climate change proponents that mankind has agreed to take bold and strategic actions to safe the planet from another human “induced” disaster.  As parties offered their reduction commitments, the UNFCCC requested obviously, ratification of the protocol. Over 83 parties have signed the protocols but surprisingly, the US Senate refused to budge and sign even though few years later it (US) claims to have contributed significantly in emissions reducing targets far above some of its counterparts that ratified the protocol. Canada later left the protocol in 2012. 

As Kyoto phases out, the UNFCCC, failing to curb human-induced warming to below 2º Celsius (3.6º Fahrenheit), calls for a more ambitious and legally enforceable global agreement which sets our planet in line with this threshold. Sadly, current trajectory implies warming far beyond this limit, possibly 4-6º Celsius by the end of this century. The year 2014 was the hottest on instrument record, and we in Liberia can attest to the anecdotal evidence of extreme heat even approaching the raining season. Other governments are arguing that the reduction target required to achieve the below 2 degrees C mark is infeasible and economically impossible.

New mechanisms such as carbon offsetting and sequestration, including reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation and enhancement of carbon stock (REDD+) has been introduced over the last decade since the coming into force of the Kyoto Protocol. Some of these measures compliment the protocol while others are means to improve on the protocol for a new climate regime.

The road to a new legally binding agreement to replace Kyoto has been long, disputable, politically manipulative and scientifically discouraging. Despite all of these, Paris offers a glimpse of faint hope for a new agreement based on the unbiased science of climate change, available finance, and unstinted commitment from industrialized countries.

Liberia’s Contributions to the Global Fight Against Climate Change

Typically, least developed countries (LDCs) offer little in terms of finance and technology to address climate change. As a matter of fact, LDCs suffer the brunt of climate change impacts while their contributions are miniscule. Liberia has made tremendous progress in addressing climate change despite its minimum contribution to the problem. The remaining 43% of the Upper Guinea Forest presents a unique opportunity to sequester trillions of tons of carbon while concomitantly reducing and avoiding emissions from deforestation and degradation. A round up of Liberia’s key contribution includes the establishment of the National Climate Change Steering Committee (NCCSC) and its Secretariat (NCCS), which was originally hosted in the Office of the President of Liberia thus sending a strong message that the government was considering climate change as a critical national development challenge requiring high level support. Before that, the Government of Liberia, through the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and its key partners launched the development of the country’s strategy for adapting to climate change. The National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA) created in 2008, was in fulfillment of the UNFCCC requirements and articulates the government’s visions and strategy for improving its adaptive capacity to climate change. Initial funding for the NAPA was secured to enhance resilience in Agriculture, strengthen coastal defense in selected coastline cities, etc.

As mentioned supra, Liberia’s forest provides a humongous opportunity to be a key global contributor to climate change mitigation program. Taking lead on this, the government, with support from the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) developed a 3-year plan to test the country’s readiness for REDD+, an acronym for Reducing Emission from Deforestation and forest Degradation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. This program calls for the forest to remain standing while harnessing its ability to sequester carbon. As logging will be minimally conducted on a sustainable scale, the aim here is to increase the country’s capacity to capture trillions of tons of carbon in the atmosphere while receiving incentives for the services including financing, protection of key biodiversity, and promotion of alternative livelihood for fringe forest community dwellers. The Norwegian government has committed US$150 million for REDD+ related programs in Liberia while the FCPF initial US$3 million support to test REDD+ in Liberia has been reinforced with additional funding.

In 2012, Liberia was required through a global effort to report on its emission level under a system called “National Communication.” To date the country has submitted its first national communication and is preparing for its 2nd national communication. This document expresses the country’s emission profile from all sectors and helps to better inform global actions about Liberia’s contribution to the total GHG emission. On top of that, the government is also currently developing its climate change strategy and policy and anticipates a draft or finished product before the UNFCCC meeting at the end of the year.

As the World braces itself for a global treaty this year in Paris, the UNFCCC has introduced a new concept out of the latest COP20 (in Peru) called the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). This initiative seeks to engender a comprehensive list of emission reduction commitments from all governments and parties to the convention which could form the basis for negotiating a new treaty. Industrialized countries like the US and the European Union have submitted their INDCs along with other LDCs. The Government of Liberia team is currently assessing the different emissions from all sectors and weighing its options on what level of commitment can be offered towards this fight. This INDC should not be mistaken for the amount of carbon that can be captured under the REDD+ program. 

Challenges

Liberia faces an enormous challenge to build the required institutions and systems for carbon rights, including benefit-sharing mechanism, providing equity distribution to forest communities, access to financing, and availability of cutting-edged technology. Parallel to these are the lack of political support and national buy-in for climate change. Some may argue that political support must be eked out of public officials by technicians and climate change activists. Over the years, honestly, these proponents have tried to creat a humongous awareness on climate change and gradually we may just be getting there. Below this list of constraints/challenges is the fact that Liberia is always outnumbered by its counterparts at the COP negotiations. While countries like Nigeria, for instance, are taking over 25 delegates for negotiation, Liberia is represented by 4-5 persons. It becomes increasingly daunting to manage the simultaneous meetings that occur during the course of the COP. In spite of all these, Liberia is making all strides to contribute and participate in the fight against climate change.

Urias S. Goll is a trained environmental economist and a blogger and can be reached for comments via email uriasgoll@gmail.com 

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