Translating climate cooperation into action

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    The Paris Agreement marks an important step forward in our global effort to address climate change, but there remains much work to be done to avert dangerous climate change.

    Political success

    In December 2015, the countries of the world came together to adopt an unprecedented global agreement designed to combat climate change. While there is no doubt that the Paris Agreement represents a major political achievement, its implementation brings both opportunities and challenges if the promise of our achievements in Paris is to be realised in practice.

    A key success was the agreement on a global goal to limit warming to 2°C and pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. This is a strong political signal that greater action needs to be taken and it is of particular importance to the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) that face disproportionate impacts from rising global temperatures as the poorest and most vulnerable countries in the world. Importantly, the Preamble to the Agreement refers to the specific needs of LDCs in terms of climate finance and technology transfer. The Paris outcomes also encouraged increased participation compared to previous agreements. All parties to the Paris Agreement are to submit Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which include mitigation objectives. The Agreement also allows countries to include adaptation plans in their NDCs, acknowledging the importance of taking action to adapt parties’ economies, infrastructure and social support structures to prepare for the impacts of climate change. For the first time, the issue of loss and damage, which is concerned with averting, minimising and addressing the loss and damage arising from extreme weather events and other events caused by climate change, has been given a stand alone provision in the Agreement. This is a significant political statement of the importance of loss and damage action and it lends legal weight to the existing Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage. A further vital component in implementing obligations relating to mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage is climate finance. The Paris Agreement contains a legally binding obligation on developed countries to continue mobilising financial resources to assist developing countries, building on existing obligations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The provision of US$100 billion per year has now been recognised as a floor rather than a ceiling for contributions and a commitment to mobilise financial resources for renewables has also been established.

    Ongoing cooperation needed

    However, the, Paris Agreement has limitations and much work remains to be done to avert dangerous climate change. Firstly, it fails to effectively commit parties to achieving the 1.5°C temperature goal. It can only be hoped that all Parties take this goal seriously and build on the unity achieved in Paris as we begin to implement the Agreement.

    Secondly, the Paris Agreement does not seem to require developed country parties to submit ambitious mitigation targets, despite having greater responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions and greater capacity to reduce emissions. Indeed, to some observers, the agreement is weaker in its application to the wealthiest and most polluting countries than the existing Kyoto Protocol. While developing countries are entitled to adaptation finance, there is little in the Agreement to concretise this, requiring more efforts to strengthen this. Recognition of loss and damage is also heavily qualified, reflecting the position of wealthier developed countries that have sought to limit responsibility for the costs of adverse impacts. Continued discussions in the coming months and years will be vital for the international community's recognition of loss and damage and the necessity of adaptation finance to become the concrete support desperately needed by poor and vulnerable countries.

    Enduring, long-term capacity building

    The goal of achieving a floor of US$100 billion per year in climate finance is vital to the effectiveness of the Paris Agreement. It is important to ensure that climate funds are genuinely ‘new and additional’, going beyond other existing sources, such as official development assistance.

    An estimated US$93.7 billion will be needed each year from 2020 onwards simply to implement the NDCs of the LDCs (IIED Briefing, November 2015), suggesting that significantly more funds will be required to assist non-LDC developing countries in meeting their targets. To date, less than a third of the climate finance mobilised has reached the LDCs, with just a fraction of this funding adaptation. A clear definition of climate finance and how it is to be accounted for could assist in ensuring the financial contributions of developed countries are genuine and that funds reach those countries which need it most acutely to assist with mitigation and adaptation actions. These efforts could be assisted through injections into the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF). This fund, specifically dedicated to supporting LDCs, is currently empty, lacking finance for even the urgent adaptation needs of LDCs. The Paris outcome clearly provides that the LDCF will serve the Paris Agreement, however it remains to be determined how the fund will be governed and what access modalities will be in place. Further challenges arise in the context of absorbing climate funds, requiring additional support for least developed and other vulnerable countries. The Green Climate Fund, for example, operates through grant-based payments to institutions complying with certain financial, risk-management and gender-policy based criteria. LDCs are less likely to have institutions that qualify for these grants, or possess the capacity to coordinate, manage, monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of climate finance. Going forward, the provision of finance will need to overcome these barriers. A dual approach of more appropriate financial and risk management standards for LDCs, as well as the provision of capacity building support, would assist in overcoming these barriers. Grants and readiness funds should focus on in-country capacity building, emphasising the development of strong, enduring institutions within LDC member countries. These can embody and preserve the expertise required to absorb climate finance and implement climate initiatives. It is also important that funds facilitate the LDC leadership in reaching out to other countries, including African countries and small island states, to cooperate in the sharing and development of initiatives focussed around renewable energies, adaptation and loss and damage.

    A global family

    The Paris Agreement marks the international community uniting in recognition of the dangers posed by climate change and the collective need to act. For the goals and aspirations of the Agreement to translate into meaningful actions to address climate change, we must perpetuate and build on the goodwill solidified in Paris. We must continue to work together to address challenges such as those identified above, as one global family, to create a safer world for present and future generations.

    About the author Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu is the Chair of the Group of Least Developed Countries in the UNFCCC process and a Board Member of the Green Climate Fund.

    This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 5, Issue 3  (May/June 2016).
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