Climate Summit: Paris Our Last Chance for a Global Pact to Protect the Planet

*Op-ed by Bishow Parajuli

Violent extremists recently killed 130 innocent people in the city of lights and love. Joined by the whole world, Paris, however, remains unfazed by and it will not yield to this outrageous act. It is instead firmly in the spotlight for a just and noble imperative: hosting perhaps the most consequential of multilateral forums in recent times - the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. The conference, known as COP21, will be held from 30 November to 11 December 2015.

In a befitting show of determination to the objectives of the conference and in solidarity with France, world leaders will converge in Paris to deliberate and adopt a global action plan to mitigate the effects of climate change and reduce carbon emissions, which would be one of the major decisive action to save the humanity.

COP21 comes hot on the heels of the adoption of the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the momentous 17 goals to end poverty, transform all lives, and protect the planet by the year 2030.

Scientists have repeatedly and continue to warn that climate change, manifested by global warming, is wreaking havoc on livelihoods through devastating droughts, catastrophic flooding, rising sea levels and destructive cyclones. The earth's average temperature rose by 0.8 degrees Celsius over the past century, and is projected to further rise by 1.5 to 2 Celsius or higher if not tamed by 2030 as the result of climate change. Overwhelmingly, the world’s scientific community and 97 percent of climate scientists acknowledge the existence of global warming as the result of human activities largely due to excessive burning of coal, fossil fuel and clearing of forests.

Climate change constitutes a significant threat to sustainable development and to the survival of humanity. Floods, droughts and cyclones have caused more than US$ 1trillion in damages and affected over 4 billion people since 1990. Without addressing climate change, our determination to end poverty and achieve the other global development goals will remain just that: determination.

While weather-related disasters strike rich and poor countries alike, the poor and most vulnerable nations are bearing the brunt and the greatest burden without much fault of their own. Unless we implement rapid climate informed development programmes, a new World Bank report shows that climate change is an acute threat that could push more than 100 million people back into poverty over the next 15 years. And the poorest regions of the world – Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia – will be hit the hardest.

Case in point, in 2015 alone, 30 million people in the Southern Africa region (approximately 17% of the total population of the region) will be affected due to erratic rainfall and extreme weather events. Some 1.5 million people in Zimbabwe are being affected and will be in need of assistance during the peak lean season of January to March 2016. This could be further aggravated by the forecasted El Nino phenomenon whose effects are already being felt and preliminary indications are that four to five million Zimbabweans might be affected at the peak of El Nino.

Notwithstanding the threat, COP21 gives hope and we have the tools to reduce carbon emission and the impact of climate change on agriculture, fisheries, water, health, and energy.

A goal has been set: keep global warming levels from exceeding 2 Celsius by 2050. In response, fifty-one countries filed their climate change action plans aimed to contribute to the overall reduction of global warming. These action plans aim to build resilience, reduce disaster risk in the medium to long term while catering for emergency humanitarian needs to save lives and minimize economic damage and disruption. The action plans also mainstream response to climate change across all key sectors to seize economic and social opportunities through adopting a low carbon development pathway. The litmus test, however, is the implementation of the action plan and commitment and support from the international community.

In line with the strategy, the UN in Zimbabwe – led by UNDP- has set up a Resilience Building Fund with support from the European Union and the UK Department for International Development. In addition, UNDP with support from Global Environment Facility has assisted the establishment of a fully functional Climate Change Department within the Ministry responsible for Environment. The UN is also facilitating Zimbabwe’s access to climate finance like the Special Climate Change Funds and the Green Climate Fund.

In addition, to mitigate emergency humanitarian needs, the UN (FAO, UNICEF, WFP and WHO) together with other humanitarian and development partners has put in place a response plan worth US$ 132 million to address challenges in food, nutrition, water and sanitation, social protection and agriculture.

Zimbabwe like all countries must intensify its action to mitigate the effects of climate change through enhancing water and soil management, scaling up of climate smart agriculture and clean sources of energy such as hydro, solar and biogas. Without adaptation, Zimbabwe’s rain-dependent agricultural yield could drop by 50 per cent, affecting millions of smallholder farmers, 70 per cent of whom are women.

Humanity is in jeopardy –livelihoods, wellbeing, and ecosystems are disrupted. Source of sustenance for humans and animals are endangered. The gravity of climate change has a far reaching global consequence and developing countries including Zimbabwe cannot succeed alone.

It is high time for a collective action; the tides and heat waves will not wait. I could not have put it more eloquently than the UNDP Administrator and UN Development Group Chair, Helen Clark when she said, “we are the last generation that can avoid the worst effects of climate change.”

So to Paris all eyes are soon returning to mold an urgent groundbreaking blueprint for the preservation of our only planet, to restore the livelihoods of millions already affected by climate change and for generations to come.

  • Bishow Parajuli is UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Zimbabwe.