Mexican diplomat Patricia Espinosa, leading the UNFCCC since May, 2016, sees phasing down of HFCs as the “climate’s low hanging fruit”, their immediate target. On September 16 , 1987, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, was signed, which has seen success in addressing the damage to ozone layer from harmful chemicals. The next step is to phase down Hydrofluorocarbons that can also help mitigate the climate crisis. Excerpts from a telephonic interview with the diplomat based in the Bonn, Germany headquarters of the UN climate body.
In an opinion article on the phasing down of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) recently, you wrote that this is the “climate’s low hanging fruit”. Are you positive that the nations meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, next month to discuss the Montreal Protocol (meant to protect the ozone layer) amendment on the matter would concur?
Yes, we have been following the negotiations at the Montreal Protocol. And we are confident that there is momentum building up to phase down HFCs. It has been evident how important this is for the countries and the huge impact it will have. So, I am optimistic that the amendment in the Protocol for phasing down HFCs will go through next month. With the exception of some countries, particularly warm countries that operate well only with air conditioners, the phase out time for all other countries will have to be worked out. Those will be parts of the agreement. There is general consensus that this goal must be pursued by the international community as a whole. These negotiations will make an important contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well and will help with the realisation of the Paris agreement. That is really the next step.
Till now 27 nations have ratified the Paris climate agreement, the latest being Brazil. Do you see the possibility that the >Paris agreement will be ready to enter into force by the end of the year , and get the ratification of 55 member nations as required?
Currently, with Brazil, we have covered over 40 per cent of global emissions with the ratification of the Paris agreement. They are very good signals. This shows that countries are keeping up their political will to comply. On September 21, the UN Secretary General will hold an event to promote ratification and encourage important contributions from member countries in this regard. There is possibility that the Paris Agreement will enter into force by end of this year.
Does it worry you that most of the countries that have ratified the pact till now, except for US, China or Brazil, are all small nations with low GHG emissions and are threatened by the climate catastrophe and not those who are responsible for the emissions?
Small island countries are the first to ratify the agreement. Their existence is at stake with this issue. Bigger countries are also joining in ratification. In Europe, a number of countries have already finalised the ratification and the EU nations will be depositing their ratification instruments together. Even Latin America and Africa are speeding up the process. Mexico, the country I come from, has also taken up the matter of ratification in the Senate yesterday. They will be having it approved by Congress as soon as possible.
What would be the most important and urgent action points you are hoping to raise with member nations in Marrakesh at COP22 in November in this regard, since the summit will be focussing on implementation? An earlier UNFCCC report in April this year had pointed out that even if all the pledges covered by the Paris agreement were implemented, it would be insufficient to keep temperature rise within the 2 degree Celsius danger threshold…
For COP22 one of the foremost agendas is ensuring the treaty’s entry into force. There has been a lot of movement on our side, on the part of the UNSG, and on the side of France and Morocco, the outgoing and incoming chairs of conference in this regard. First, we have to get as many people to ratify the agreement as that will allow it to come into force. If that happens we will have the first COP convention for building up the necessary machinery to become operational. We do have a lot of emphasis on action. We are also preparing a series of events focusing on ongoing efforts to fight climate change. We would like to show that countries can advance in solutions, be it technological or nature-based, to fight the impact of climate change. All relevant actors, government, and also non-state actors like private companies and civil society groups will be brought together. We will aim to bring all those actions on the ground and seek information from participants and get their inputs into the negotiations. This will help in making the agreement operational.
Christiana Figueres, the previous UNFCCC executive secretary, recently dropped out of the race for the top UN Secretary General job. Do you feel that having a woman as the next UNSG would make a difference in terms of delivering the stated goals of the organisation?
It is important that women have the same opportunity to assume leadership roles in the United Nations as men do. The United Nations stands for justice, human rights and social progress, and part of the agenda of the UN is the empowerment of women and girls, which is also crucial to achieve the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals.
It is more than two decades since the UNFCCC entered into force in 1994. What is your assessment of the progress made so far in curbing the worst impacts of climate change? Many of the negative impacts are already being felt the world over, such as droughts, cyclones, and rising sea levels submerging islands.
International negotiations are slow, given all the different views that need to be taken into account. It is important to acknowledge the central achievement of Kyoto Protocol, which enabled those industrialised countries that ratified it – as a group – to limit their emissions to the levels they set themselves under the first commitment period. Last year we had a breakthrough with the Paris Agreement that has put the world on a firm trajectory towards low carbon and resilience. The Paris Agreement will help transform the global economy, and at the same time it provides the framework for governments to raise ambition and achieve their key objective set in Paris, which is to limit the global average temperature rise to as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible. It is also important to keep in mind that the UNFCCC has developed and introduced many innovative ways of reducing emissions which are now bearing fruit. This includes carbon markets which are spreading all over the world, payments for maintaining forests, offsetting of emissions and various forms of innovative finance. Without the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, it is unlikely that we would be looking at the same levels of investments in renewable energy – around 300 billion a year - that have meanwhile become the norm.