It is a chilly 2°C outside in Katowice, a city in southern Poland, where over 23,000 people are huddling together to thrash out a set of rules that will help them achieve commitments agreed to three years ago.
Ironically, one of those commitments that came out of what has come to be known as the Paris Agreement is to limit the rise in global average surface temperature to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.
The negotiations, which started at the International Congress Centre on Dec 2 and will continue until Friday, are taking place beside the city’s Museum of Coal History, a grim reminder of one of the biggest polluters and contributors to the state of the world we are in.
With so much at stake, many of the more than 190 countries taking part have sent large delegations to the 24th Conference of the Parties (familiarly known as COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; the West African nation, Guinea, has the largest with 406 members.
The United States delegation – whose government has previously announced that it would be pulling out of the Paris Agreement and has even begun promoting the use of fossil fuels that contribute to global warming – has 44 members.
And Malaysia? We have 16 registered members at the conference. Even Indonesia has more at 191.
Size, however, is not stopping Malaysia, which has ratified the Paris Agreement, from being vocal. Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin, who is leading the delegation, is determined that Malaysia and other developing countries stand up for climate change justice.
“The world is facing climate change problems now due to historical carbon emissions that fuelled the industrial revolution of the now developed countries.
“Therefore, I strongly believe that it is the moral obligation of the developed countries to provide financial support and transfer technology to developing countries,” she says in an e-mail interview.
In an earlier interview, Yeo had also mentioned that her ministry would be applying for funding for climate change mitigation projects.
At present, Malaysia is only getting an average of RM2mil a year from developed countries for such projects.
These funds are necessary to help spearhead projects to reduce carbon emissions in the country; Malaysia has committed to achieving its National Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement by cutting carbon emission intensity by 45% relative to 2005’s level, by 2030.
The RM2mil, according to Yeo, is not enough to help us meet the target.
“We would like to voice out and seek more financial support from the developed countries,” she says, adding that international climate finance is proving to be one of the greatest challenges in addressing climate change.
She points out that although both the Convention and the Paris Agreement were unequivocal on the obligations of the developed nations in providing financial support and technology transfer to developing countries, the “pledges to date have been woefully inadequate”.
“Even worse, developed countries are including loans and loan guarantees as financial support, giving a false impression of the amounts provided,” says Yeo.
“This is one of the most important items on the agenda that the Malaysian delegation seeks to bring up during this climate change conference,” she says.
Yeo says, of Malaysia’s 45% reduction target, it would achieve 35% “unconditionally”.
“The additional 10% will be conditional upon receiving financial support, technology transfer and capacity building from developed countries.”
Yeo, who arrived at the conference just as negotiations entered the final stage, delivered Malaysia’s national statement yesterday.
Not only is this Yeo’s first attendance at the annual UN climate talks – which, as any journalist will tell you, can be pretty overwhelming with its endless meetings and conferences – this is the Pakatan Harapan government’s maiden representation on the environmental world stage.
It is a stage shared with the likes of former US vice-president Al Gore, renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough, former California governor and Hollywood action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger, and even the Dalai Lama, who sent a written message via his delegates this year.
It is also a stage fraught with many diplomatic complexities – not least due to the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement – where countries like Malaysia often negotiate in groups or blocs.
Among others, Malaysia is in the G77 Group+China.
On top of financing for mitigation projects, Malaysia has traditionally argued for countries with rainforest to be paid by developed nations for the benefit of keeping these trees standing to act as carbon sinks.
Deforestation and degradation of the world’s forests are said to cause up to 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Despite these policies having been drawn up by the previous Barisan Nasional administration, Yeo stresses that Malaysia’s negotiating position has not changed.
“Under the REDD Plus programme (the UN Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), Malaysia is seeking results-based payments which are a non-market mechanism to incentivise forest protection,” she says.
Malaysia will not be calling for new terms to be drawn up after the Paris Agreement was unceremoniously dumped by the United States, she says, adding that that document represented the culmination of many years of intense and sincere negotiations.
“Ironically, the final concession acceded to by the parties to get the Paris Agreement adopted was made to appease the United States.
“Therefore, we foresee that any effort to negotiate a new agreement that would be agreeable to the Americans would invariably put developing countries at an immediate and substantial negotiating disadvantage,” she says.
Even as the US government’s stance seemed to be opposing the Paris Agreement, Yeo says the country’s scientific and academic communities as well as many US states, cities and corporations continue to have a very progressive take on climate change and have even implemented measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“For these reasons, Malaysia sees no need to reopen the Paris Agreement negotiations. (It) intends to follow through on all obligations under it and calls on developed countries to honour the delicate balance of that agreement.”
To a question about what Malaysia hopes to walk away with from the conference, Yeo says the country wants to conclude negotiations on the Modalities, Procedures and Guidelines (MPGs) to enable the full implementation of the Paris Agreement post 2020.
The MPGs are a set of rules and procedures to guide countries in meeting their obligations under the agreement.
“In addition, Malaysia wants to send a strong message that it is committed to meeting its obligations under the Paris Agreement and to this end, it is implementing significant policy interventions in the areas of electricity generation, transmission and consumption, as well as waste management.
“In doing so, Malaysia hopes to attract the necessary international finance, technology transfer and capacity collaboration to help the nation achieve its climate and other sustainable development targets.”
It looks like Yeo is adamant about getting that green financing.