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The GCC and the Paris Climate Change talks

The GCC and the Paris Climate Change talks

December 1, 2015
Mohammed Abdelraouf
Mohammed Abdelraouf Non-Resident Fellow, Environment and Economy

Following the failure of the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference (CoP 15) to reach a deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, all countries have been negotiating for a new and acceptable agreement by 2015, to be implemented in 2020.

The outcome of these negotiations now depends on the political leaders who will meet in Paris for the (CoP 21) on 30 November till 11th December 2015 despite the security concerns after the recent terrorist attacks in the French capital that killed 129 and injured 350 people.

Around 50,000 participants, including 127 heads of state such as USA President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, are expected to travel to Paris climate talks which some environmentalists view as the last chance to strike a global agreement on combating climate change and its negative impacts. However, the shadow of the Paris attacks is likely to affect the negotiations both negatively and positively.

Impact of the terror attacks on climate talks

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

Following the recent terror attacks, however, many of the conference side events and festivities surrounding the conference are cancelled. In addition, a mass demonstration planned to take place on the eve of the conference on the streets of Paris was cancelled amid security fears following the terror attacks.

On the positive side, going ahead with COP 21 as planned sends out an important message that terror attacks are not going to act as a deterrent and will not stop global efforts to peruse a sustainable path for future generations.

In fact, the Paris talks can keep sustainable development on the right track and help realize Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) no. 7“take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. The SDGs were recently adopted by all UN members to fight poverty, inequality, as well as spread peace and prosperity.

Climate change and terrorism are more closely interlinked than most would imagine. The problems caused by climate change are likely to have significant social effects such as mass migration and, as a result, unrest and conflicts. The Syrian conflict provides a clear example. Climate change was the initial trigger for the conflict as Syria witnessed the worst drought recorded in the period between 2006 and 2011 as a result of which the soil deteriorated and farmers were forced to abandon their farms and villages and move towards cities, creating political and economic pressures and social instability leading to the outbreak of the civil war.

Thus one can easily say that the impact caused by climate change contributed to the economic and social conditions in Syria, which allowed Daesh/ISIS to grow. It provided the right environment for Daesh/ISIS to expand enough to become a global threat.

GCC Countries and the CC COP 21 Talks

With regard to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the region accounts for less than 2.4 percent 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 by the region.

Rising sea levels on the Red Sea, the Arabian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean and the consequent risk of salinization of soil and coastal groundwater aquifers pose a growing threat; besides, countries like Bahrain and Qatar may lose a large part of their coastal area to the sea. In addition, the capacity of the GCC countries to adapt to resolve these problems is relatively poor compared to developed countries.

In general, the ability of the developing countries to adapt in order to combat climate change problems is weak in comparison to developed countries. We can understand that from the risk equation, i.e. even if the environmental impact is weak, if the ability of the country to adapt is very weak too, the risk is very high for this country and vice versa.

At the same time, the region also faces a growing threat from Daesh/ISIS with its extremist ideology. The GCC countries are, therefore, in a very difficult situation threatened as they are by the impact of both climate change and terrorism.

The Paris climate talks are of particular importance for the GCC countries because of the issue of fossil fuels, which form the backbone of the Gulf economies. The industrial, energy, and agricultural sectors globally depend almost entirely on fossil fuels and generate a large proportion of greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, any actions taken in this regard may affect the demand for fossil fuels, the main source of carbon dioxide emissions, especially in the countries that adopt laws and policies to reduce emissions due to the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The Convention on Climate Change is a major challenge for countries that rely on fossil fuels as a main source of revenue.  This, in turn, will eventually severely impact the economies of the oil-rich Gulf countries.

Thus, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stresses the importance of climate mitigation policies that do not compromise the economic growth and prosperity in developing countries even as it opposes the setting of a date to end the use of fossil fuels. It lays emphasis on policies that help in the reduction of greenhouse gases without adversely affecting social development. This is why, in the past, Saudi Arabia has asked for financial assistance in exchange for its participation as a kind of compensation for the damage it will face. It is worth mentioning that, like Saudi Arabia, some developed countries too have sought to protect their main energy or income source: for example, the UK which took a number of measures to protect its coal industry.

The GCC needs to seek technology transfer and finance during the Paris climate talks. Owning environmentally friendly, clean, low emission technology in various sectors will smooth the transition towards a green and low-carbon economy that attracts new investment and creates new green jobs. In the long run, this would be a better and a sustainable option for the GCC economy than depending mainly on fossil fuels revenues.  The GCC should also seek to achieve a comprehensive binding treaty that provides clear targets that are respected by all parties to be based upon the acknowledged principle of the “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities”.

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

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