The Global Stocktake (GST) Mandate: Pakistan’s Climate Crossroad

Though it may be considered an old news now, the outcomes of the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) still hold immense relevance. The urgency and severity of climate change and its impacts insists a debate transcending the temporal boundaries of pre-, post-, and during the COPs. These gatherings should not be focused as isolated events but a reminder of the continuous journey we must undertake to address the multifaceted challenges of climate change.

With its landmark decisions and agreements, COP28 in Dubai was perhaps the most significant conference on the climate change discourse since the Paris Agreement at COP21 in 2015. The words of veteran diplomats are a testament to this fact, according to Chinese delegate Liu Zhenmin “COP28 is the most important COP since the Paris Agreement…”. Similarly, John Kerry the US climate envoy refers to it as “A unique opportunity…”.

But why does COP28 hold such significance and not its predecessors? Primarily due to the first ever Global Stocktake (GST), which being a vital component of the Paris Agreement under Article 14, was finalised at COP28. The GST was in the works for some two years prior to COP28 with its information collection phase being initiated in 2021, a technical assessment taking place at Bonn and COP27 Sharm Al Sheikh in 2022. The final political phase of the GST concluded at COP28, its findings were dubbed the UAE Consensus and it was the first time in 30 years of climate change negotiations that a decision to transition away from fossil fuels was made hence the significance.

So, what is the GST? The GST is the mechanism that enforces the goals set by the Paris Agreement, primarily the goal to limit global warming well below 2 °C and preferably to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial warming levels. The GST assesses the efforts made to address climate change by considering the present state of the planet and subsequently recommending adjustments to the scale and intensity of effort required. Furthermore, it serves as a medium for countries to assess where they are individually in the context of climate change, where they’d like to be and how to get there. It ensures that nations which are party to the Paris Agreement are on track towards making the collective effort required to meet the Agreement’s goals by obliging them to submit climate action plans, also known as nationally determined contributions (NDC’s) every 5 years. The next round of NDC’s in 2025 will be informed by the findings of the GST of COP28 which is a major factor behind the GSTs importance.

NDC’s are viable actions which govern how a country will contribute towards the Paris Agreements’ targets and so they’re vital towards managing climate change. They involve a country’s climate pledges and climate actions such as mitigation and adaptation efforts to e.g., reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. So, a country’s likelihood of becoming a victim of climate catastrophe depends largely on the extent to which the entire globe fulfils its NDC’s. Pakistan is no stranger to climate catastrophes as our economy is still recovering from the effects of the devastating floods of 2022, hence the urgency of understanding and appreciating the climate change discourse and major developments related to it such as the GST.

Why should Pakistan care about the GST? Firstly, Pakistan relies heavily on climate finance to meet its adaptation goals and to recuperate from the loss and damage caused due to climate catastrophes such as the 2022 floods. The GST highlighted the growing gap in finance, noting with concern that current levels of climate finance are not up to par with what is expected of developed countries. This should serve as ample incentive for Pakistan to take the initiative of climate action by submitting more ambitious NDC’s by 2025 to inspire the confidence of donors by showing its commitment towards climate action beyond mere compliance to global agreements.

External aid can only get us so far, ultimately, it’s our own dedication towards addressing the issue of climate change that can deliver us from its worst impacts.

Secondly, Pakistan’s energy supply is heavily dependent on fossil fuels which account for 63% of our total energy mix, renewables excluding hydroelectric, by contrast, are a mere 7%. This too is concerning because the most notable outcome of the GST was the decision to transition away from fossil fuels which will ultimately lead to considerable challenges for Pakistan. These can range from the stranded assets we would create if investment in non-renewable energy production continues, rising unemployment if workers from the non-renewable segments of the energy industry do not possess transferrable skills and of course funding the inevitable transition to renewable energy.

The decisions made in the GST should be a clarion call for immediate climate action. Indeed, Pakistan is not a historical emitter, nor presently a significant emitter and while my friends in Lahore would disagree with this statement given the smog, Pakistan’s share of worldwide CO2 emissions is a mere 0.5%! We may continue to use this argument to avoid the inherent struggle of climate action and resort to inaction, ignorance, whiling away until the next climate finance cheque comes along. But such ignorance would only be bliss until the next climate catastrophe rears its head. As we stand at this critical juncture, the choices we make today will script the legacy of our commitment to the Earth, its climate and the future of our generations to come.

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