Climate Change

COP27: We don’t need new pacts, implement current ones, says climate scientist Saleemul Huq

Part 2: The climate scientist talks about need for region and ecosystem-wise targets for adaptation

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Wednesday 09 November 2022

Photo: iStock

Photo: iStock

Globally acclaimed Bangladeshi-British climate scientist Saleemul Huq has followed all climate negotiations till now and has long supported agendas like adaptation and loss and damage. Jayanta Basu spoke to Professor Huq about critical climate issues expected to come up at the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change before the summit began. 

Jayanta Basu: The final agreed-upon document of COP26 at Glasgow, Scotland, had nine segments. The first was ‘science and urgency’. Do you think it will receive appropriate priority at COP27? 


Saleemul Huq: Now it is pretty evident to all, even an average politician, that climate change has started to impact everywhere. We see it daily on our televisions happening around the world — cyclones in India and Bangladesh, cyclones and floods in Pakistan and Nigeria and hurricanes in Florida. 

We do not need an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report to tell us that we are in real trouble; it has become an existential issue. We now need to set high priority to the actions, real actions on the ground and we don’t need to ink any new agreement for it. 

I’m hopeful that COP27 will give us momentum to revisit and re-emphasise the agreements we have already made and ensure that the countries, particularly the big emitters, implement them on the ground.

JB: A recent analysis of nationally determined contributions (NDC) said the countries are not doing enough. 

SH: They are not doing enough. Every country is mandated to provide their NDC, mitigation plan and plans for cutting existing emissions levels. 

Read more: ‘Europe will witness more extreme megadroughts in the years ahead’

The science, including the recent NDC report, clearly shows that the plans by countries are not good enough and need a lot of improvements. One good thing achieved in Glasgow was that countries can update the next emission cut plan every year instead of waiting to update it for five years. 

We had a few updates in recent months and hope to get a few more soon.  

JB: Where does the Glasgow-Sharm El-Sheikh work programme stand now on the adaptation front set up in the last COP?

SH: The problem is we do not have any defined global goal for adaptation, unlike mitigation. In Paris COP21, we agreed on the worldwide plan of keeping the temperature rise within 2 degrees Celsius, preferably within 1.5°C by the end of this century, compared to the pre-industrial era benchmark.

In the case of adaptation, you cannot have a globally set goal like mitigation; there is no equivalent to 1.5°C. 

The whole dynamics of adaptation are related to location and several other variables. Hence, it’s impossible to have a global adaptation goal; we are working on it and it pertains to Article 7 of the Paris Agreement. 

The Glasgow–Sharm El-Sheikh dialogue has a very short timeline — only two years — hence, all the scientists and negotiators must come together and discuss what a global goal can mean to try to agree on a decision.

A series of workshops have already happened, and more are in the pipeline, and after Sharm El-Sheikh, I hope we can come to an agreement.

JB: How do you think it will shape up?

SH: A unique target and one agreement may not work; we will require separate agreements. It may be different for mountains, deltas or drylands and likewise. So, we may have to develop a set of goals for diverse ecosystems.

JB: But adaptation finance is still a key issue.

Read more: Run-up to COP27: LDCs want clear process to bridge $100 billion fund gap, loss & damage finance structure

SH: Absolutely. Developed countries promised in Glasgow that they would double the amount of their adaptation finance value, the stock of which will be taken at Sharm El-Sheikh. 

I understand that they all are working on it; it is still unclear if it has doubled, but they are increasing the adaptation finance. 

But I am concerned about the quality of adaptation finance alongside quantity. Unfortunately, some of the already spent adaptation funds could have been more effective, with different reasons for ineffectiveness in different places. 

The IPCC working group-2 acknowledged the trend and furnished an overarching message that one key reason for the failure of adaptation projects has been a strong top-down process. 

Often international experts come flying with funds and dictate what to do to the local people and government, but it does not work. We are trying to engage in bottom-up consultations and then designing what to do. 

We have promoted the paradigm of ‘Locally Led Adaptation’ —when the funders come, they must listen to the local people and include them in the decision-making process. We are working on this plan, but it needs to be faster.  

JB: There are a lot of talks about renewable energy.

SH: All countries need to find out how fast they can reduce dependence and move to renewable fuels from fossil ones. The quicker a government can do this, the more swiftly it can go to the renewable energy pathway. 

Read more: Run-up to COP27: ‘John Kerry is scared of the floodgates of litigations on accepting loss and damage’

This change is required to happen in all countries. Despite some bad news, particularly the war between Russia and Ukraine, governments are going to renewable energy mode as if it is easier to install and cheaper now.

JB: Where do we stand on technology and the capacity-building front now?

SH: Perhaps a low-hanging fruit for us. There is a lot of scope for capacity building in the Global South and a huge opportunity exists for more south-to-south cooperation. We can do it ourselves and do not need to depend on Global North. 

This is part 2 of the interview. You can read the first part here.

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