Seeking climate consensus

The Paris Agreement machine, and its moving parts, are now a serious business

Photo by: Greg Demarque/Executive

The Paris Agreement, adopted in early 2016, aims to reduce the global man-made emissions that are trapping heat in the atmosphere, causing a cascade of extreme weather events due to variations in temperature. The agreement sought to keep the increase in global average temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius, while attempting to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Global temperature increase will alter climatic conditions differently in every part of the globe. In Lebanon, climate change will mean less snow, more droughts, desertification, reduced agricultural productivity, less precipitation, and the re-emergence of certain infectious diseases. Some of these climatic events are already being witnessed: flash floods interrupting commutes, and hail as large as golf balls breaking windows like a scene from The Day After Tomorrow. To ensure preparedness for these extreme events, the Paris Agreement also mandates fast adaptation in order to increase the resilience of communities. For Lebanon, this translates into cultivating resilient crops and improving infrastructure to absorb high levels of precipitation and increase protection in the event of sea-level rise.

What does the fight against climate change look like today, three years after the Paris Agreement was adopted? The global system to lower emissions is composed of bottom-up national targets, called nationally determined contributions (NDCs), submitted by every country around the world. The aggregate effort of these targets is supposed to achieve the Paris Agreement temperature goal. The legal-bindingness of the NDC kicks in with the ratification of the Paris Agreement; 184 out of 197 countries have ratified, which shows a strong global movement. However, 13 countries are still behind, and Lebanon is one of them.

More commitment needed

For now, however, the NDCs, which were submitted in 2015, will not—if met—achieve the goal of the agreement. Instead, the sum of all NDCs fails to meet the temperature goal, keeping the world on track toward dangerous climate change. The  solution to this gap is an ambitious update of the targets by 2020, a notion very much present at the 24th Conference of Parties (COP 24), which included representatives from each involved country and took place in Katowice, Poland in December 2018. Political dialogues revolved around a call for action to step up and contribute to the solution more seriously, which is likely to remain the main topic of discussion until 2020.

The two snowy weeks in Poland also involved the conclusion of a three year-long mandate to deliver the Paris Rulebook. If the Paris Agreement was a machine, the rulebook would constitute its operating instructions. Consensus was reached for all countries to periodically and transparently communicate NDCs, report on their progress using the same set of guidelines, provide information on support, and establish a mechanism for review. This is designed to improve the accuracy and understanding of the NDCs’ cumulative impact, which will give the clear signal for countries to further reduce their emissions.

Where does Lebanon stand in all this? For now, it is on track. Lebanon submitted its NDC in September 2015 after a group effort from line ministries. The government pledged to unconditionally reduce its emissions by 15 percent by 2030, as well as generating 15 percent of the power and heat demand via renewable energy sources, and reducing the power demand by 3 percent through energy efficiency measures. Regarding adaptation actions, Lebanon aims to increase the resilience of forests and crops by preventing forest fires and establishing an early-warning system for pests and climatic conditions. Moreover, as a water-stressed country, Lebanon’s NDC prioritizes water management. An inter-ministerial committee responsible for the follow-up of the NDC’s implementation, linkages, and needs has been formed and will start its work in 2019. When it comes to reporting information related to climate efforts and impacts, Lebanon has regularly submitted the required information. One part of the rulebook adopted in Katowice updated the reporting guidelines by which countries must abide, and will come into effect in 2024. The Ministry of Environment is preparing itself for the new guidelines with upcoming projects that are heavily focused on data, and its role in improving decision and policy making. Moreover, the government signaled its NDC update by 2020 in then-Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s speech to the Virtual Summit of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, of which Lebanon is a member, in November 2018. The work toward making Lebanon’s NDC more ambitious has been initiated and will conclude by 2020. Taking this process one step further, the Ministry of Environment is drafting Lebanon’s 2050 low emission development strategy, to direct institutions and the private sector toward low carbon solutions in the long-term.

Lebanon will heavily depend upon international finance to implement its NDC and build sustainable and resilient infrastructure, institutions, and economy. Climate change solutions are day-to-day solutions: clean electrification, efficient transport, readiness to disasters, and resilient agriculture. Strong financial support promises from donors are not quite there, but even so, Lebanon still has a long way to go to absorb the upcoming support in order to implement its NDC by 2030. Since Parliament received the Paris Agreement ratification file in August 2016, it took two years to get the approval of three committees, and it is still not on the general assembly’s agenda to this day. The failure to ratify swiftly will get in the way of receiving support and could halt climate coordination and planning. 

A concentrated effort

Fighting climate change in Lebanon requires the prioritization of climate issues, and for the links to sustainable development to be visible to the country’s  leadership. Only once it is realized  at a high level that climate change is a multiplier of Lebanon’s challenges—be it geopolitical, economic, or environmental—will it be successfully mainstreamed in decision making. Lebanese institutions are requesting international finance, but climate support is becoming contingent on capacity retention in the Lebanese administration, swift implementation, and willingness to legally and institutionally reform. Moreover, the investment risk for renewable energies is still too high for the private sector to engage with on its own. The bottom line is that Lebanon needs to be ready to absorb the received support in an efficient and transparent way.

The implementation issue holds true for many countries; abiding by the Paris Agreement and its rulebook can only succeed with real, tangible emissions reduction and adaptation to the inevitable impacts. There are some promising signs, for example, the price drop for renewable energy technologies has facilitated market penetration, and the clean energy share is growing. Unfortunately, the solutions are still developing disproportionately to the increase in the global level of emissions—which in 2018 was at an all time high. 

We face a deadline before climate change becomes irreversible, and with each scientific report published, that deadline is getting closer. The infrastructure is there: a multilateral agreement, country pledges, and a deadline. However, the climate change problem can only be truly solved with strong political will from every signatory state.

Mary Awad Menassa is a project assistant/transparency expert in the climate change unit at UNDP Lebanon