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NEWS: World’s least-polluting nations aim to set Paris climate bar high

Megan Rowling from Thomson Reuters Foundation explores how many of the worlds least-polluting nations are preparing their contributions for the United Nations climate meeting this December in Paris. This article first appeared on Alertnet.

If your country were responsible for only 0.05% of the world’s climate-changing emissions, you might not think it worth making a plan to curb that pollution – especially when you still need to get electricity to much of your population. The Gambian government thinks otherwise, and is already working on its contribution to a new global deal to tackle climate change.

Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), all countries have been invited to submit an “intended nationally determined contribution” (INDC), setting out what they will do to combat global warming, in advance of December’s Paris climate talks.

“We think that if even the smallest nation or the poorest country can develop an INDC, there should be no excuse from any country to say (they) cannot,” said Bubu Pateh Jallow, a former Gambian official who advises the government on climate change. “There is a moral obligation that we have to do this.”

With assistance from CDKN and the German government, Gambia has held consultations with technical experts, as well as groups from bureaucrats to businesses to women in all its eight regions. Initial results suggest Gambia could aim to cut emissions 25-30% by 2030 from 2000 levels, Jallow said. Measures to get there include using solar and wind energy for rural electrification, reducing power loss during transmission, recovering gases from landfills, composting waste, and introducing agroforestry and better soil management.

So far, 37 countries – including the United States, Russia, Canada and European Union member states – have formally submitted their INDCs. Among them are two developing countries: Mexico and Gabon. But they have yet to be joined by any of the world’s poorest nations.

Kiran Sura, who leads CDKN’s work in supporting eight developing states shape their UN climate offers, says it’s unlikely that all 48 least-developed countries will submit a plan. But with France earlier this year having added 3 million euros ($3.35 million) to the aid pot supporting those efforts, around two thirds might, she said.

An ongoing survey by the NewClimate Institute shows that INDCs from countries producing 84% of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to be tabled by the Paris conference, and nearly 60% of countries are receiving funding to help prepare them.

Domestic Appeal

Emelia Holdaway of environmental consultancy Ricardo-AEA, who co-authored the CDKN guide to drafting INDCs, said many developing countries need support because they have limited technical expertise and financial resources, and the time frame for the process is short. That is why officials and experts from industrialised countries – including Britain, the United States, Japan, Germany and France – have shared their experience of crafting emissions reduction goals in regional workshops organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

A key lesson is ensuring the plan “makes sense at the country level” and is not just designed to fit international requirements, said Yamil Bonduki, a technical advisor with UNDP. That is particularly important because “you need high-level political endorsement”, he said.

In Bangladesh, some participants in discussions on the INDC questioned why the South Asian nation should even produce a plan when its emissions are such a small fraction of the world total. In response to such doubts, some countries are working to put a price tag on the economic benefits of measures to tackle climate change, said CDKN’s Sura.

Another option is to show how work on an INDC can produce better data, giving “a clearer picture of your future emissions” to support policy making, said Munjurul Khan, an academic who heads up a team of local experts developing Bangladesh’s offer.

Chris Dodwell, international projects director with Ricardo-AEA, noted that as Bangladesh pushes forward with solar power for homes and irrigation, it is recognising the potential of those advances to curb emissions – even though its focus so far has been on helping people adapt to climate change impacts.

Some developing countries, including Mexico and Gabon, are also putting planned adaptation measures in their INDCs, keen to highlight the mutual benefits of both types of action – how planting trees on farms can conserve water, boost yields and store more carbon, for example.

Funding Guide

Whatever goes into the INDCs will be scrutinised by donors and investors, Ricardo-AEA’s Holdaway said, making them a convenient place to set out the support countries need to realise their ambitions for climate action. Even if the plans do not contain explicit financial demands, many developing nations are likely to present what they can achieve within the constraints of their own budgets, and what they could do with increased financial assistance and access to clean technology.

Gambia’s Jallow said his country would struggle to implement its plans without international support. Many developing countries are hoping that will come from the fledgling Green Climate Fund set up under the UNFCCC.

Ricardo-AEA’s Dodwell said climate finance and technology transfer for poorer countries were “absolutely core and central” to the Paris deal. The INDC process should enable poorer countries to make the links between putting together their own development priorities and climate strategies, and winning climate finance via the Paris agreement to help put those into practice. “If that balance can be struck, then you start to get some interesting political buy-in to the agreement,” he said.

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