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Interview - Issue #8

COP26: An Existential Threat

An interview with Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad

Where the Leaves Fall contacted global changemakers for their thoughts and responses to this year’s COP26 - the UN Climate Change Conference. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad is an economist and development thinker and activist from Bangladesh. He is the chair of the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation, a Bangladeshi NGO dedicated to sustainable poverty reduction through employment generation, He was a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) team that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. You can read the edited interview that was published in the print edition of Where the Leaves Fall here.

Where the Leaves Fall What do you feel are the most pressing issues for COP26 to address and why?

Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad The topmost pressing need is to raise mitigation ambition sufficiently over the next 10 years, keeping in view the target of 1.5C global warming by end of this century compared to pre-first industrial revolution, in particular by the developed countries and large emitters among developing countries. But there is an inexplicable foot dragging, although it is recognised that climate change is a fast worsening existential threat to human society and the planet Earth itself.

Ensure $100bn annually in climate finance, without any further delay – in fact, it should have been delivered already with effect from 2020. Also, there are inordinate delays in approval of projects and release of funds by the Green Climate Fund (GCF) – two or three years and even more – while the problem needs to be addressed worsens fast. The whole process is cumbersome and appears as if designed not to approve projects so as not to provide funds sought. Again, GCF funding is now about 80% mitigation and 20% adaptation. But it has long been agreed that climate financing would be 50% adaptation and 50% mitigation.

Climate change induced displacement is rising rapidly in many countries, including in Bangladesh. This issue was not even included in the Paris Agreement. The issue was recognised in a COP decision. The Rulebook for the Paris Agreement implementation is still incomplete. Rules for implementing the very important Article 6 still need to be formulated.

‘They need to rise above their respective narrow national interests and take a global human-centred, science-based approach and act individually and collectively to save the earth and humanity from the looming climate change catastrophe.’

— Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad

WtLF What outcomes (and practical measures) would you like to see emerge from COP26?

Qazi COP26 needs to agree to raise mitigation ambition sufficiently with concrete numbers and details relating to how will that be accomplished, particularly by developed and large emitter developing countries, in order for the world to be on track for the 1.5C global warming target. It emerges from the latest IPCC report that the window of opportunity is already very narrow and narrowing further. Scientific findings are there to that effect, the politicians must do their job to save human society and the world.

A plan with concrete commitments from specific countries and international funding institutions needs to be drawn for the delivery of $100bn annually with immediate effect. All procedures must be straightened out for the GCF to complete project approval and release of funds to start within six months. At least 50% of all climate finance must go to adaptation activities. Most climate vulnerable countries must be prioritised. COP26 must take on board the issue of climate change induced displacement and develop a plan supported by funding facilities to rehabilitate them in country, regionally or internationally.

COP16, held in Cancun, Mexico, agreed to act in line with this proposal, but no progress has been achieved since then. This is indeed a climate justice issue. The Rulebook must be adopted in full, which means agreement on all the items in Article 6 [of the Paris Agreement] must be reached and that must be done in keeping the requirements for remaining on track for the 1.5C warming target.

WtLF How optimistic are you that COP26 will deliver positive change, and why?

Qazi The unprecedented level of global warming reached in July 2021, and fast-worsening climate change with severe impacts all around world as a result of precipitated ice melting in the Arctic and elsewhere, increasing harmful under-sea activities, increasing numbers of and more devastating wildfires in the US and Australia for example, more frequent and powerful cyclones, hurricanes, typhoons, long droughts with disastrous economic and social consequences, more frequent and widespread floods, river and coastal erosions displacing large numbers of people, severe adverse economic and social impacts and so on should be a strong enough reason for the leaders of all nations to collectively deliver appropriately on the issues suggested above and other pressing issues.

In reality, countries, particularly those that can make a difference, owing to their national narrow economic and political interests, have often refrained from making commitments. Also, when commitments were made, they often failed to deliver. Then there is this extreme frustration at COP15 in Copenhagen fresh in the memory, where we went with high hopes and got our fingers burnt. So I am very cautious. I expect some progress to be made. But it would appear to me that a breakthrough is very unlikely to happen. 

WtLF What do the world leaders, and everyone else, need to change on a personal level?

Qazi They need to understand that it’s clear from scientific findings that climate change is a fast worsening existential threat to humanity and even the planet Earth, and play their appropriate roles seriously in combatting climate change. Not much time left for dilly-dallying. They therefore need to act and act now - seriously and adequately on the basis of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. They need to rise above their respective narrow national interests and take a global human-centred, science-based approach and act individually and collectively to save the earth and humanity from the looming climate change catastrophe.

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