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FEATURE: Vulnerable countries’ concerns come to the fore

It was a mixed first week at COP21: negotiations were tense and slow-moving and this challenged the positive mood generated by notable financial pledges and Heads of States’ visit to Paris to open the summit. Amid all this activity, CDKN’s Sam Unsworth takes stock, unpacks some of the action on the side lines and explains why there’s still cause to be cautiously optimistic that a robust and ambitious deal may be reached.

Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands Minister Tony de Brum remarked on Saturday morning that he would not go home to his grandchildren without a deal, citing this journey as being “the most important of his life”. These determined words would seem necessary following a week where negotiators, on the surface, appeared to have made limited progress on the draft agreement. The draft agreement text that has been handed to the Ministers still contains a myriad of options on different elements of the deal, rather than a small number of political issues to be resolved, as had been hoped for. Nonetheless, this was always going to be a challenging political process and it is these politicians who have a lot of heavy lifting to do this week.

Old divisions threaten to re-emerge – will things move on?

The Like Minded Developing Countries group appeared to dominate negotiations by staunchly standing by the original 1992 distinction between developed and developing countries – known in COP lingo as ‘differentiation’. In view of how the world has evolved over the last two decades, with the rise of emerging economies, many countries believe that this distinction is no longer appropriate. Viewing these discussions last week, you could be forgiven for thinking that these ‘red lines’ have the potential to derail a deal.

Nonetheless, a number of positive signs suggest a shift away from such distinctions. Ambitious INDCs have been tabled by Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh and the Marshall Islands. Meanwhile, prior to the COP, China pledged $3 billion of climate finance despite falling into the ‘developing country’ bracket. Notably, in the discussion related to differentiation, no countries disputed the need for special provisions to be made for LDCs and SIDS.

Growing support for the priorities of climate vulnerable countries

There is significant political will to agree a deal in Paris. This, along with some late nights, should get it over the line. What remains to be seen is the degree to which the ‘red line’ issues will be addressed in such a deal, with LDC chair Giza Gaspar Martins also feeling that the interests of LDCs are “still not adequately represented” in the text.  The deal might have to resolve some issues at later dates, with timeframes for implementation and review looking likely to fall into this category.

Early signs are positive though that some of these issues can be tackled – at least in writing – this week. LDCs and SIDS’ ambitious call for a long term goal limiting temperature change to 1.5 rather than 2 degrees Celsius appears to be gaining widespread traction with Germany, France, US, Canada and now the EU. Even India, which plans to continue investing heavily in coal, has stated that it has no problem with a 1.5 degree target if developed countries make the required cuts. Similarly, the US and EU are engaging in discussions on how they can support climate vulnerable states to manage the damaging and irreversible impacts of climate change. However, despite these small glimmers of hope, the divisive issues remain very much alive, the top 3 being differentiation, climate finance and ambition.

A number of observers are recognising that through the INDCs, and with a far more transparent drafting process, we are considerably further ahead than the beginning of week 2 in Copenhagen. Provided the INDCs are well positioned in the agreement, they outline a clear path for action – particularly if accompanied by regular reviews and raising of ambition.

There’s more to Paris than just getting an agreement

A range of ingenious and practicable solutions to climate change are on show at COP21, both inside and outside the negotiating room. It has been developments outside of the negotiation process that have grabbed the headlines so far. These were largely donor pledges for finance, such as a $420m pledged for disaster risk insurance for the most vulnerable countries or the announcement by the UK, Norway and Germany to invest up to $5 billion to reduce deforestation in tropical countries over the next five years.

The COP venue, through its side events and exhibits, showcases the networks of actors already facilitating the transition to a climate-compatible future. Well-attended and practically-minded side events on implementation of INDCs in countries as diverse as Kenya, Bangladesh and Lebanon demonstrate that actors aren’t just waiting on the outcome of Paris to instruct their actions to address climate change. Countries have done their homework and are thinking about the next steps when they return to their national capitals. International support in all its guises – finance, capacity building and technology – will be key for driving action.

Agreeing an ambitious deal will be tough – but it is achievable

That said, agreeing an ambitious deal in Paris will send out a strong message that leaders are getting serious about addressing climate change. Ministers from across the world have arrived in Paris for the second week of negotiations, and it is up to them to safely navigate contentious issues while the world watches. Forging a robust deal that all countries will sign-up to in the next 4 days is possible but is going to be tough. If the first day of the second week at COP21 is anything to go by, the negotiations are entering an even tougher phase.


Image: Rt Hon Minister Tony de Brum, Marshall Islands, speaking on 3 December 2015 in Paris, credit Takver,

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