OPINION: Paris Agreement – Opportunities and challenges for developing countries
Munjurul Hannan Khan, CDKN’s country advisor for Bangladesh reflects on the implications of the Paris Agreement for developing countries – including the least developed.
In December 2015, governments of more than 190 nations gathered in Paris with immense enthusiasm and expectations for a global agreement to address climate change. The ‘Paris Agreement’ considered as an important milestone in the history of the international climate change negotiations, succeeded in providing a groundbreaking agreement among parties to deal with the adverse impacts of climate change. Unlike previous agreements, the Paris Agreement has recognised the urgency of holding the temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, although that remains an aspiration more than a target for now.
The decisions under the Agreement are applicable to all countries, whether developed or developing, recognising common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. The Agreement will enter into force after 55 countries, which contribute at least 55% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, enact their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession. The signing of the instrument will commence in April 2016, allowing parties to sign and ratify the agreement within a year’s time. [Editor’s note: at the time of publication, Fiji just became the first country to ratify the Agreement.]
The Paris Agreement has opened up opportunities and challenges to developed and developing country parties in various ways at differentiated levels. It is important for developing countries to have a better understanding of the key opportunities and challenges of the Agreement.
Recognising rights of vulnerable populations
The Paris Agreement’s preamble recognises the interrelation between human rights and climate change. Human rights encompass a wide range such as rights to have shelter, and access to clean water, food and environment etc. Global warming is likely to lead to a 2.7 to 3 degree Celsius rise above pre-industrial levels (based on the current growth rates of emissions and in spite of the Paris Agreement’s lofty goals). This means crossing the 2 degree Celsius threshold that scientists deem the limit of safety, beyond which impacts of a changing climate – such as droughts, floods, heat waves and sea level rise – are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible. Reflecting the rights of individuals while addressing climate change ensures that planning to address vulnerability accounts for the rights of indigenous people and local communities as well as climate migrants. The inclusion of the rights of the vulnerable people, including climate migrants, in the Agreement ought to facilitate the provision of legal protection to the climate-displaced community. A section in the Agreement solely addresses the loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change; it calls for providing support to vulnerable populations by strengthening early warning systems and emergency preparedness, among other matters.
Balanced approach between mitigation and adaptation
The Paris Agreement also recognises a balance between mitigation and adaptation to address climate change. Such initiative provides an opportunity for the developing and the least developed countries to access international climate funds for addressing adaptation needs which are urgent and immediate. The Agreement also contains provisions which, if effectively implemented, can generate demand for internationally transferred mitigation outcomes (that is, if you cannot manage to reduce your own emissions sufficiently, you can pay for mitigation action elsewhere). Article 6 (paragraph 6) of the Agreement states that the usage of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes, which is voluntary, to achieve nationally determined contribution would help to generate proceeds which can be used to meet the administrative expenses, and also assist the developing countries, particularly vulnerable countries, to meet the costs of adaptation.
Resourcing climate compatible development interventions
Effective implementation of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes would facilitate nations’ buying carbon credits to offset their carbon emissions. Developing countries including LDCs can enhance existing carbon sinks and reduce carbon emissions and hence benefit from such mechanisms. Alternatively, LDCs and other developing countries, with international financial support, can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sell the surplus carbon credits to other countries that need them (to reduce their own carbon footprints). The private sector could be involved by taking the lead in operating and managing these mechanisms. The proceeds generated could be utilised to eradicate poverty and enhance employment.
While developed country shall provide financial resources to assist developing country parties for both mitigation and adaptation as per the Paris Agreement, other parties are encouraged to provide support voluntarily, facilitating South-South cooperation to address adverse impacts of climate change.
Developing countries, particularly LDCs, must take advantage of the Paris Agreement by accessing finance, technology and capacity for implementing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) while reducing vulnerability through adaptive measures. New market mechanisms, as emphasised by the Paris Agreement, can be used as an economic vehicle for developed and developing countries’ private sector to initiate joint actions on both mitigation and adaptation.
Paris Agreement has its own sets of challenges
While discussing opportunities of the Paris Agreement, there are many challenges attached to its implementation. The Paris Agreement is not a legally binding instrument in its entirety (see this blog by Dean Bialek on which aspects are binding and which are not) and hence the parties have limited accountability for failure to fulfil their obligations. Therefore, the developed countries may not provide adequate funding to implement mitigation and adaptation activities for ensuring climate-resilient development. This would pose a serious challenge for the developing countries to pursue domestic mitigation and adaptation activities to address adverse impacts of climate change.
Although the Agreement has recognised the need to initiate approaches to enhance private sector involvement in its implementation, particularly technology development and transfer, however, the Agreement does not explicitly mention Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). Therefore, the knowledge and the new technology generated through research and development (R&D) needs IPR protection. The private sector, profit seeking in nature, will have little incentive to invest in this sector unless they are assured of investment return with profit. As a result, huge upfront investment coupled with absence of intellectual property rights may hinder the private sector’s participation in implementation of the Agreement.
It is worth noting that the allocation of short-term, mid-term financial supports for the developing countries has not been specified in the Agreement. Absence of predictability and reliability of climate finance in terms of resource allocation would pose a serious challenge for the developing countries to implement the Paris Agreement.
Furthermore, although the phenomenon of climate-related loss and damage was recognised in the Agreement, the possibility of compensation for losses (i.e. compensation to affected peoples or countries) was not recognised. While the Agreement has recognised the interrelation between human rights and climate change impacts, there were no obligations on relocation stated in the article to address the rights of the people vulnerable to displacement.
It is worthwhile to mention that the developing and the least developed countries are already experiencing difficulty in developing their National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), primarily due to inadequate funds. Climate vulnerable countries will face serious consequences of climate change impacts without adequate allocation of resources for implementation of NAPs as well as NDCs.
Finally, compliance of the Agreement is not sufficiently addressed to ensure effective and efficient implementation. Its non-punitive nature will be a serious limiting factor to achieving the goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. Parties should reach a further agreement, by consensus, on a fully legally binding framework, with enforcement mechanisms, for both pre-2020 and post-2020 climate action.
Image: Dhaka, Bangladesh, credit Aaron de Leeuw, flickr.com