Moving Forward from COP19

The recent COP19 climate change multilateral talks witnessed the usual theatrics – negotiators from developed countries shying away from serious talks in the first days of the conference, civil society organizations walking out in protest due to lack of any concrete progress, talks spilling over into extra time at the last day, just to mention a few – with important implications for what is currently at stake.   Also, the Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN) annual index by the University of Notre Dame highlighted huge disparities between the developed and the developing world concerning the adaptive capacity to climate change in this century. 

It is generally accepted that African countries have a lower influence and say in the climate change negotiations debate and they have tried to change this by forming the Africa Group chaired by Swaziland, a coalition of African states which looks out for the continent. Negotiating as a regional bloc has increased their bargaining power on issues considered critical to them especially financial support, adaptation and technology. Still within this group, there will be losers and winners depending on the outcome at the negotiating table. This agenda of seeking funds to adapt and for agricultural support as in other COP meetings really did not make any (if at all) headway in the discussions. 

In the period leading up to COP19, major developed countries like Japan, Australia, the US and Canada shown lack of interest to commit to tackle the climate change problem. For instance, Japan announced during last year’s talks that it would be revising downwards its future emission reduction targets. The new Australian government on its part has attempted to remove the existing carbon tax which is a Low Emissions Development policy instrument. There was evidence in 2012’s climate talks in Doha where many parties to the Kyoto Protocol shown little interest to commit to another period of the Convention after 2015. Also, decisions in Canada to exploit the tar sands reserves, those in Brazil to clear forests for agriculture and those in the USA to promote coal-powered electricity generation to enhance energy security have undermined mitigation efforts to climate change among some of the world’s major powers. 

Last year’s multilateral talks largely considered among other things whether the climate agreement in 2015 should recognize compensation of communities affected by climate change, the so-called loss-and-damage mechanism. There is no agreed-upon definition for "loss and damage", but the phrase broadly refers to a range of harms incurred as a result of climate change, which cannot be avoided either through mitigation or adaptation. This is why developing countries have been advocating for in the form of financial and political support as they have always put forward that they are not the ones who have caused the climate crisis – and it is true. Under these UN-led talks, billions of dollars in the Green Climate Fund have been pledged by developed countries to assist poorer nations adapt to the effects of climate change. 

However, pertinent questions as to how and by whom it will be funded as well as how and where the funds will be spent still are a hard nut to crack. A report by the African Climate Policy Centre of the UN Economic Commission for Africa highlights that of the USD 29.2 billion pledged since 2009, only 45 per cent has been committed, 33 per cent allocated and about seven per cent actually disbursed. Clearly, the global goal of limiting warming to under 2˚C is now more than ever in jeopardy and climate-vulnerable countries and communities will have to continue depending on local climate action into the foreseeable future. 

Coming hot on the heels of COP19 was the Notre Dame’s annual index that ranks more than 175 countries based on their vulnerability to climate change and their readiness to adapt to the slow- and fast-paced extreme events that climate change can cause. The 2013 version of the index put forth that the poorest countries in the world such as Kenya, Cambodia and Haiti will take at least a century to reach the level of climate change adaptation readiness that developed countries enjoy.  Other countries such as the Philippines are more than 40 years behind developed countries in climate readiness. Either way, many countries still have a long way to go in achieving climate variability readiness.

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