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Short-term Goals Key to Achieving Global Warming Target


By Omesa Samwel

An ambitious, robust and binding global climate deal; that is what the European leaders are calling for following the flood of Syrian refugees into Europe.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates the number of migrants in the European Union’s at 350,000 in August 2015, the largest refugee crisis since World War II. However, experts warn that the tide of desperation is insignificant compared to the flood of environmental refugees that could be created by unchecked climate change.

With less than 100 days left to the UN climate change conference (COP21) in Paris this December, the number of those who doubt that the conference will produce a climate treaty is minimal. But that is seldom an issue of concern. Whether or not the deal in Paris will shape climate justice and limit global warming to below 2°C and propel countries to settle on a common goal of reaching a zero carbon emission by 2050 should be the key issue of concern.

The COP21 assembly is expected to adopt a climate treaty with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.

In Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President’s words, the EU “will not sign just any deal” at the UN climate talks in December but would rather include a strong global emissions reduction target of at least 60% by 2050.

However, analysts believe that unless the UN climate talks agree to make sharper short term goals, we may risk soaring over the 2 degree mark.

Kenya, just like many other sub-Saharan Africa countries, is bearing the brunt of the prolific impacts of climate change. Kenya’s geographic location makes it prone to cyclical droughts and floods.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), global climate change is expected to make such types of cyclical climate-driven events increase in intensity and frequency.

The country’s economy highly depends on climate sensitive sectors such as energy, agriculture that is mainly rain-fed, tourism, water and health. Droughts and floods which are the main climate hazards contribute to economic losses estimated at 3% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

As stipulated in its Intended Nationally Dependent Contribution (INDC), Kenya seeks to abate its Greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by the year 2030 in line with its sustainable development agenda.

In order to make climate targets more ambitious over time and catch up with the pace of climate change, Kenya and other countries need to come up with shorter term five-yearly review and improve process to complement the emission cuts to be agreed upon in Paris later this year.

If commitments are not increased, the world could be facing a swathe of potential crises such as the one for Syrian refugees. Formal negotiations have been held ahead of COP21 in Paris, but while most countries support long-term goals, short-term commitments have seemed to be far less popular.

A concession in Paris with short-term goals of say five-yearly cycles could sound imperfect without concrete longer-term goals. Even though this could enhance greenhouse gas reduction and climate protection in the next 15 years, it could still lack prospect beyond 2030.

An agreement with ambitious long-term goals but no compelling short-term measures on the other hand would allow nations to dawdle in their carbon emission reductions and many will fail to catch up after 2030.

We need to redefine Kenya’s carbon emission targets and decarbonize the economy as a part of the transformational agenda if we have to hit the below 2 degrees mark. There is great need to engage in practices such as sustainable land use via efficient and climate smart agriculture, carbon sequestration in forests, expansion of renewable energy and embracing of resource efficient advanced technologies to achieve this target.

Clean energy will mean reduction of overreliance on wood fuels. Low carbon and efficient transportation mechanisms, enhancement of efficiency in energy and resources across different sectors and expanding clean energy mechanisms such as geothermal, solar and wind will provide a sustainable alternative to carbon emitting fossil fuels.

With innovative plans and actions such as these, Kenya will definitely be at the forefront in achieving the zero carbon emission targets by 2050 and keeping global warming at below 2 degrees. There is a great need of a concerted effort at the UN talks in December to ensure that the current levels of emission reductions are not locked in until 2030, opening up a window for increased action in 2025.

Ramping up of a greater policy action needs to be encouraged as part of the Paris agreement for us phase out carbon emissions completely. Countries such as Costa Rica have already achieved a milestone by being 100% decarbonized. Kenya can also do it. Let’s take up the challenge.

The author is an Environmental Science student at Kenyatta University, volunteer at Greenpeace Africa, member of the World Youth Movement for Democracy, the World Youth Alliance and the YALI network.