Paris Agreement: A pact of solidarity for developing countries?


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    While the Paris Agreement addresses various elements - mitigation, adaptation, financing - to tackle climate change, they have not been elaborated on in the manner and to the extent that developing countries wanted and needed. The authors set out some recommendations to ensure the goals of the agreement are reached.
    The Paris Agreement on climate change – finalised at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held in Paris in December 2015 – is a welcome sign of the collective resolve of humanity to deal with one of the most critical challenges of our time. It is not a perfect agreement. There is some genuine and well-founded disappointment among many developing countries which will be bearing the brunt of the adverse effects of climate change despite being least responsible for it. But it is a good beginning and it provides a solid platform to build upon. Moreover, it shows that all countries - developed, developing and least-developed – can come together to find shared solutions to common problems. The main challenge for developing countries, particularly in Africa, is to address their under-development and widespread poverty. Climate change makes this challenge even more formidable. Their limited and fragile productive capacities will be further tested and their objective of ‘trading out of poverty’ undermined. Their need has been for an agreement with adequate mitigation targets based on respective responsibilities and capacities of countries, adaptation efforts at the same level as the mitigation targets, sufficient provisions for financing and technology transfer to assist them in transitioning to greener economies while meeting their developmental and poverty-reduction goals, and effective safeguards against disguised protectionism on their trade prospects. The Paris Agreement addresses these elements though not always in the manner and to the extent that developing countries wanted and needed.

    Global temperature rise and mitigation targets

    Parties agreed under article 2.1 (a) of the Agreement to keep global temperature increase well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. The target of 1.5°C offers hope for developing countries, particularly in Africa. It will produce fewer climate extremes for farmers in the tropics who are adversely affected by heat waves, floods, and cyclones. But achieving this target requires gigantic efforts which sadly are missing in the Agreement. Even the target of 2°C will not be delivered if one were to go by the countries’ current pledges under the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Paragraph 17 of the Paris Decision Text “…. notes with concern that the estimated aggregate greenhouse gas emission levels in 2025 and 2030 resulting from the INDCs do not fall within least-cost 2 degrees Celsius scenarios but rather lead to a projected level of 55 giga tonnes in 2030”. Obviously more needs to be done and the leadership in this regard has to come from developed countries while developing countries also make contributions commensurate with their capacities.

    Global goal on adaptation

    Article 7.1 sets the globally agreed goal to significantly strengthen adaptation to climate change through support and international cooperation. Implementation of National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) will be facilitated and technology is noted as an important tool for the implementation of adaptation actions. The agreement emphasises climate-safe technologies and building capacity in the developing world to improve resilience to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through technology development and transfer from the developed world. This is a positive outcome for developing countries since they had pushed for parity between adaptation and mitigation in the negotiations. It is also good to see the reference made on gender to ensure that it continues to be important in climate change policy. However, the concern is that no legal or monetary requirement has been placed on individual countries’ contribution leaving room for defaulting. Moreover, provision of adequate funds will be crucial for the success of adaptation actions to be undertaken by developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing states.

    Climate financing

    Under article 9.3 of the Paris Agreement, developed countries are to continue to take the lead in mobilising climate finances from a variety of sources, including both public and private, and to allocate US$100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020 with a commitment for further finances by 2025, taking into consideration the needs and priorities of developing countries. While this is certainly a positive element in the Agreement, the lack of binding requirements on individual countries can be a possible cause for unfulfilled commitments. It is feared that the term “mobilise” has been intentionally kept broad and may include funds that come with strings attached. Similarly, there has even been talk of calling the money sent home by migrants working in richer countries a form of climate finance. Developing countries’ expectation is that these commitments will be fulfilled fully and faithfully. They remain convinced that developed countries have taken note of the need for assistance to developing countries for the common good, and will meet their commitments in the coming years.

    Trade and response measures

    It may sound paradoxical, but trade-climate change nexus may become even more challenging after the Paris Agreement. Measures and actions being developed and to be developed by countries, particularly developed countries may have trade consequences for developing countries particularly in Africa. For example, standards, carbon-labelling schemes and carbon taxes will affect trade flows.

    Unfortunately, countries could not effectively deal with the effects of these so-called ‘response measures’ in Paris. This lack of convergence will test the existing trade rules under the World Trade Organization (WTO). There are already disputes in the WTO, e.g. on the use of subsidy schemes to promote the production of clean energy. Such disputes may only increase with the passage of time if the countries do not deal with the ‘response measures’ under the UNFCCC in the coming months. The WTO also needs to find other means than dispute settlement to better deal with the nexus of trade and climate change actions and commitments. This may mean paying greater attention to the relationship of trade and climate change and examining the relevant trade rules to better address this relationship so that the outcome leads to a win-win situation.

    Some recommendations

    The urgent need now is to take several actions to ensure that the Paris Agreement leads to actions and outcomes that fulfil its objectives and assist developing countries, particularly from Africa, in achieving their development goals in a sustainable manner. Some concrete suggestions in this regard include:

    Sensitisation and de-mystification: Creating climate awareness and sensitisation of all stakeholders, particularly in developing countries, should be an urgent priority. The outcomes at Paris and the provisions of the Paris Agreement should be unpacked and explained in simple and clear language for the policy makers and other public and private stakeholders for their better understanding and to facilitate the implementation. The engagement of all stakeholders is also essential to ensure ownership of the Agreement at the local and national levels that will be the best guarantee for its proper implementation. The civil society organisations should play a leading role in this sensitisation effort. Full and faithful implementation: All parties to the Convention must meet their commitments as pledged in their INDCs so as to achieve the desired goal of the Paris Agreement. Developed countries must honour their pledges of providing financial resources and making green technology transfer to developing countries to ensure efficient implementation of the Agreement. There should not be any attempt to meet these commitments in ‘innovative’ ways that meet only the letter of the commitments while ignoring the spirit and intent. That will make the Paris Agreement a ‘paper tiger’ and not the game-changer that it can be. For this purpose, climate negotiators and policy makers must ensure transparency on climate financing issues by adopting a Measuring, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) system to help developing countries keep track of how far developed countries are honouring their pledges. Policy makers and implementers in the East African Community (EAC) must be proactive and take advantage of the UNFCCC technology transfer scheme through the creation of relevant institutions. Prioritisation: Developing countries, particularly in Africa, also need to identify priority sectors based on their development aspirations and challenges, and with a view to integrating climate change concerns in relevant policies and strategies. Issues of how to address challenges of adaptation and resilience faced by the energy, manufacturing, and agriculture sectors should be given priority. Urgent priority sectors should remain: energy, agriculture and forestry, especially agriculture since it is the backbone of a large number of African economies. The time is now ripe to discuss agriculture and related issues under the UNFCCC. Hence developing countries should prepare their submissions on agriculture to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice for discussion at the workshop scheduled for June 2016. Individual responsibility and governmental accountability: Finally, climate action is not the responsibility of governments only. Our planet is the home for every human being and this home is to remain welcoming and hospitable to the coming generations. Hence, each individual must make responsible choices in order to supplement governmental efforts in addressing climate change. Individual lifestyle initiatives may include transitioning from the use of fossil fuels to the use of renewable energy. On the other hand, individuals should also hold governments and the private sector accountable in their actions in addressing climate change. This sense of individual responsibility for one’s own actions, as well as for holding the governments accountable, will be the ultimate key for the full and faithful implementation of the Paris Agreement. About the authors Pradeep S. Mehta is Secretary General of CUTS International and Chairman of CUTS Institute for Regulation & Competition. Rashid Kaukab is Director of Programmes and Research at CUTS International.
    This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 5, Issue 2  (March/April 2016).
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