The aftermath of COP21

 Mulugeta took his first degree in law from Addis Ababa University, Law School. Then he pursued his second degree in law in the University of Gent, Belgium, specializing in the field of European Law and Comparative Law. He then completed his PhD in the University of Surrey, England. Mulugeta served as an instructor in Mekele and Surrey Universities. Solomon Goshu of The Reporter caught up with Mulugeta and discussed Ethiopia’s position on climate change and environmental protection issues, and its international context. Excerpts:

The Reporter: In the recent Paris Climate Change Summit agreements have been reached on different issues. As a party to this international agreement, how would Ethiopia benefit from these agreements?

Mulugeta Mengist (PhD): The Paris Conference was an international forum where different issues pending for a long time were somehow pushed to the limit and resolved. It was in 1992 that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change signed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Then in 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was signed. These two international agreements and the decisions from the conferences by the signatories of these agreements mainly regulate climate change. However, they were not comprehensive. So the need for a new agreement was the interest of many countries as the existing agreements, decisions and the structure they created were not sufficiently responding to the problems. The negotiation over a new agreement has been in progress since 2005. An attempt to reach a new agreement in 2009 in Copenhagen was unsuccessful. As a result, the negotiation restarted in 2011 in Durban. What has come to an end in Paris is this initiative.

Ethiopia and climate change are very much connected. Ethiopia is one of the countries that are vulnerable to and face the negative consequences of climate change. For this, there are different factors. Geographically, the location of the country contributes to its vulnerability. The country’s economic structure and development level contributes to its vulnerability as well. The global emission level also affects Ethiopia. The emission level measurement in Ethiopia indicates that it has increased on average with more than one degree centigrade since the 1960s. In terms of rain distribution, even if the amount of rain does not decrease in the country, there are now some places that receive smaller amount of rain in some seasons and parts. For instance, in South West Ethiopia coffee growing areas are now receiving smaller amount of rain. There are changes in the distribution as the rain comes late and stops early. For this reason, the raining season has become unpredictable. You may even get the same amount of rain in a very short period of time that you normally get in a season over a long period. This results in flood and drought dangers. Drought is occurring in Ethiopia every three or five years. Its repetitions and severity are increasing. As a result, this occurrence is seriously affecting Ethiopia’s agricultural growth, crop production and animal husbandry. If Ethiopia’s expenditures, investments and the infrastructures it is building are not implemented taking the impacts of climate change into consideration, there is a danger that these development opportunities may reverse. Climate change is the biggest obstacle to development now.

While planning and working by taking climate change into account at the domestic level, you also want the issue to be resolved at the global level as Ethiopia is one of the top vulnerable countries. That is why Ethiopia is an active participant in international stages. Ethiopia has to speak loud on how to respond to the challenge. In addition, beyond speaking, Ethiopia has to be an example and a role model. Ethiopia will sit idle blaming other countries for causing the problem. As much as possible, Ethiopia is making the best of efforts to address the issue and mobilize other countries. Ethiopia is working in accordance with the green development strategy since 2011. The strategy is all about bringing economic growth while preserving natural resources. The secondary benefit of this strategy also helps to reduce emission amount. Ethiopia has a vision to become a middle income country in 2025 by doubling the size of economy without increasing its emission amount. So far, the world has followed a path where the economic growth and emission amount go together. Ethiopia’s position is unique in this instance as it is determined to maintain the emission amount while planning to grow its economy in many folds. Ethiopia has at its disposal renewable and fresh natural resources which would help us achieve this target. In the long term, this approach is advantageous to Ethiopia. If we deplete our natural resources, even if we achieve middle income status, the growth may reverse. Ethiopia has a vision to go beyond middle income as per the government's plan. For this to happen, we need to follow sustainable economic development approach.

An international agreement that respect Ethiopia’s national interest has to help the country to adjust herself to climate change by mobilizing sufficient support. It has to also contribute to address the issue from its source. In this context, the Paris agreement has Ethiopia’s national interest at its heart in many aspects. The agreement has a goal of limiting the emission amount to two degree centigrade and if possible below 1.5 degree centigrade at the end of the century. All signatory countries including Ethiopia are expected to contribute. Unlike the Paris Agreement, in the Kyoto Protocol, the responsibility is only on developed and wealthy countries. This thinking comes from the assumption that developed countries cause the problem and should take the responsibility to resolve it. However, the international community now realizes that whatever the developed countries do, they cannot resolve the problem alone. Some factories that release emissions are migrating from developed to developing countries. As a result, now the thinking is to resolve the problem comprehensively, every country has to contribute. Unprecedented in the history of the climate change negotiation, 190 countries have announced that they will contribute. This benefits Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is criticized in some quarters that before emerging as an environmental-friendly country in the international scene the country have not achieved success in her own backyard. What damage inspired Ethiopia to give special attention to environmental issues?

This thinking has to be corrected in some ways. There is no immediate awakening or policy measure. Even during the transitional period Ethiopia had a Conservation Strategy. It dealt with the utilization of natural resources and environmental protection in some ways. After that, Ethiopia came up with Environmental Policy and Strategy. In addition, there are many piecemeal legislations on environmental protection. We have also different strategies on natural resources and environmental protection. In fact, in the majority of instances, Ethiopia’s environmental policymaking and implementation activity focuses on natural resources protection. Because, it is the main environmental problem. The problem is also related with Ethiopia’s development and growth. Agriculture is the foundation of our economy. Agriculture is an activity based on  natural resources. Our agriculture failed to show substantial improvement as a result of depletion in our natural resources base. Soil degradation, deforestation and depletion reduced productivity in agriculture. This caused our concern in climate change and environmental protection. Without forest development and protection, our agriculture goes nowhere. Ethiopia is dubbed as ‘the water tower of East Africa’ by many. Ethiopia has 12 international river basins. However, these water resources will not be sustainable in the absence of natural resources protection and forest development. Environmental protection is mandatory for economic development, power generation, and agricultural growth. As a result, we have started to give due attention a long time ago. Ethiopia’s active participation in the international forums dates back to 1992. Of course, some countries start to give due attention to the problem and mobilize the public after some environmental catastrophe occurred. To the contrary, Ethiopia gives her utmost attention not as a result of some danger but continued poverty and environmental protection problems that stayed with us for a long period of time. Even the Environmental Protection Authority was at work for quite a long period of time.

Ethiopia’s name has started to be connected with environmental protection in the international stage after successfully representing Africa in the Copenhagen Summit in 2009. Considering the environmental protection status of the country, some view Ethiopia’s image in the international scene as a contradiction. Do you think that these policies, strategies, laws, and institutions have produced a result to change the status of environmental protection in the country?

Encouraging results have been recorded. Obviously, this is not always the case in all regions. The government is putting an effort to shift the best practices of some regions to others. For instance, in Tigray, major environmental rehabilitation works have been done through massive public mobilization. As a result, previously denuded areas have been rehabilitated and lost trees are starting to grow again.

Through the technique of area enclosure which protects the area from people and animal movement the old eco system is now rehabilitated. Lost wild lives have returned around Shire. Terracing, soil and water preservation, plantation works conducted in a large scale. Ethiopian farmers are now contributing 30 hours of free labor on average for these works. So Ethiopia’s recognition comes as well from these results. Of course, we have still serious problems. Ethiopia is also building a green economy. The foundation of this strategy is the national interest of the country. It will also greatly contribute for international public goods. This helps the country to gain additional recognition. It opens an opportunity to Ethiopia to play its leadership role in the international stage. Generally, Ethiopia is of the view that rather than African countries negotiating independently, voicing their concerns as one in a coordinated manner makes the difference. Ethiopia reflected this position on climate change and environmental affairs as well. The late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi raised this issue in the heads of state and government meeting held in Libya. As the participants of the meeting were convinced of the cause they established an environmental affairs committee consisting of 10 leaders. Meles led the committee and served as its spokesperson at Copenhagen Summit. After that Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn continued to serve as the chair of the committee for a year and a half. So, in total Ethiopia led the committee for four years. In the process, Ethiopia communicated how climate change is affecting Africa and the type of measure it is taking to address the problem to the rest of the world. The chair of the committee rotates every two years. But the extraordinary achievement of Meles caused the extension of Ethiopia’s run to two terms. After that Tanzania served one term. Now the chair of the committee is Egypt. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi represented Africa in the Paris Summit. However, Ethiopia still continues to work with other African countries. We are always part of the African team whether it is at the level of experts or ministers. The speech of Hailemariam Dessalegn in the Paris Summit reflected the interests of Africa.

In the Copenhagen Summit Africa’s position as expressed through Ethiopia demanded compensation from developed countries. However, Ethiopia signed the Paris Agreement which distributes responsibility to all countries. What caused this change of position? What happened to the Copenhagen pledges?

It is true that there is a change in the spirit of our negotiation. The previous negotiations imply a sense of compensation and accusation. The fact that developed countries mainly caused the problem is not a contested fact. The previous assumption was as these developed countries have the capacity and the technology, they should be the ones to carry burden and the responsibility. The Paris Summit eroded this spirit and tone in some ways. Now we have developed a sense of cooperation. Even if developed countries caused the problem, they cannot address it alone. And because you will be the one to lose at the end of the day. Now we have come to a consensus that even if developed countries need to take the leadership to resolve the problem, developing countries as well need to contribute as much as possible. This shows a sense of solidarity and cooperation. In some ways it is also constructive. The previous approach made the developed countries defensive. The current approach is better as it invites every one and seeks to resolve the problem that affects all countries. On the other hand, the developed countries are paying some of their Copenhagen pledges. They are giving financial support. In recent times, Green Climate Fund is established. It is hoped that it will mobilize billions of dollars in the future. For a start, it has mobilized 10 billion dollars from developed countries. In the Paris Summit, African Renewable Energy Initiative, a new program that aims to generate 20 GW renewable energy in Africa in 2020 and 300 GW in 2030, has been launched. It will be implemented through the African Development Bank. It has already got a pledge of 10 billion dollars. So there is financial flow, but it is not sufficient.

Developed countries are not delivering 100 percent of their pledges. This affects the sense of confidence. As a solution to this problem, now specific time tables are designed for the pledges. This is another result of the Paris Summit. So even if the expected amount of money has not been collected, there are changes in that regard. The 1992 Kyoto Protocol lists the names of developed countries that need to provide financial support. However, through time, some developed countries got poorer while previously poor countries got richer. For instance, Greece is in the list of wealthy countries but us now facing financial difficulties. On the other hand, countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar are not in the list. The argument is as these countries’ capacity is better they need to start contributing now. In fact, for Green Climate Fund, countries like Mexico and Bangladesh provided financial support. Of course, the amount is nominal. But it will strengthen the emerging sense of solidarity. According to the Paris agreement, every country will decide on its own about their contribution. They will announce their five-year plans voluntarily. Nonetheless, the contribution of the next five years should have a better ambition than the past five years.

There is a complaint that Africa’s voice was not properly heard at the Paris Summit due to lack of having a good negotiator. Do you agree?

Different from any similar international summit, at the Paris Summit, extremely large number of leaders attended the meeting in one hall. There were over 150 leaders. The leaders of the majority of African countries were in attendant. They communicated their needs, questions and concerns in their speeches and bilateral relations. True, there was no one representative leader who forcefully spoke on the interest of Africa like Meles. The Egyptian President was expected to do that. However, for different political and other reasons, he didn’t perform that.  On the other hand, the structure of the Paris Summit is different when compared with the previous meetings. In the past, after experts and ministers stayed for a week, leaders come and participate in different stages for three or four days. However, in the Paris Summit, the leaders’ meeting was for one day. But the unity of African experts and ministers were by far better than previous meetings. It has put the best of efforts to promote the best interest of the continent.

Is the Ethiopian legal framework on climate change and environmental protection in conformity with international principles?

We face different environmental problems. Some problems are global and regional while others are of local nature. For instance, land degradation has a global dimension. Land erosion and reduction in soil fertility are local problems. The legal framework on these issues is locally drawn. On the other hand, international agreements are sources for some of our laws. Yet, in some instances, we take foreign experience to address a local problem. You can take the laws of other countries and apply it here. Environmental protection laws need to take the natural resources, financial capacity, and the living standard of the public into account.

Environmental impact assessment is considered as a balancing act between the desire to develop and the need for environmental protection. Many complain on its implementation gaps. One such issue is related with the delegation of the Environmental Protection Authority of enforcing the assessment to different organs of the government. Do you share that the way the assessments conducted now tilt towards investment than environmental protection?

I don’t have sufficient information on the matter. However, the law enacts that before major projects are implemented and even get a license, environmental impact assessment need to be conducted. There was a suggestion that it is better for the license regulating organs to conduct the assessment. However, even if there is delegation, it does not mean that these organs can do whatever they want. The delegation need to be enforced with the supervision of the delegator. Potentially, conflict of interest may arise in relation to these organs. Another factor is related with capacity. Sufficient and qualified professionals and consultants are not available in the market. Now environmental impact assessment is said to be conducted by any consultant. In addition, the capacity of the delegator itself is not without a problem.