COP21: Vulnerable countries draw their red lines

4 December 2015

Countries most at risk from climate change warned that there would be no overall agreement in Paris unless a mechanism to deal with the impacts of climate change beyond adaptation is agreed.

The Least Developed Countries (LDC) negotiating bloc comprises 48 of the world’s poorest countries including many African countries and low-lying island states. Its members face severe disasters from climate change that are predicted to cause damage for which adaptation will not be possible. This is known as “loss and damage” and includes salination of agricultural land and loss of land to the sea.

Pa Ousman Jarju, minister of environment and climate change for the Gambia, said: “We do no forsee an outcome in Paris without loss and damage. It is a red line for us.”

Jarju said that the bloc had been encouraged by some of the statements by world leaders made at the start of the Paris talks, but said that this had not filtered through to negotiations. “We have seen a lot of bracketing,” he said, referring to the practice of using square brackets throughout the draft text to indicate options on the table where no decision has been reached.

He also said the bloc wants recognition of the need to keep temperature rises within 1.5ºC, in contrast to the 2ºC limit that governments had signed up to. “2ºC is not a safety zone. We don’t want to jeopardise our future,” he said.

There was also much discussion of finance at the COP, following accusations by the G77 + China bloc that a proposal by developed countries to expand the donor pool to include developing countries with stronger economies. The proposal calls for all countries “in a position to do so”, in other words, those developing countries with strong economies to provide financial support.

Ambassador Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko of South Africa, which chairs the bloc, pointed to the difficulty of enshrining such a phrase in a legally-binding agreement. “With my children, I do not say ‘someone in a position to do so will clean the floor’. I need accountability. And I need to know the above all that the floor has been cleaned.”

Mxakato-Diseko said that one of the developed country groups was refusing to negotiation on finance. She would not name the group, but said: “These are countries that jumped out of the Kyoto protocol, or didn’t ratify it. We can’t continue to diminish ambition because we’re tip toeing around these countries.”

The LDC group and the G77 + China also criticised a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which estimated the amount of climate finance mobilised towards the goal of $100 billion a year agreed at the Copenhagen talks in 2009. The report counted loans under its definition of climate finance, which the blocs said was unacceptable.

A report published today by NGOs Oil Change International and the Climate Action Network found that Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US together spend 40 times more on supporting fossil fuel production than they do in contributions to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was set up to manage climate finance pledges. Australia was the worst offender, with fossil fuel subsidies worth 113 times larger than their GCF commitments, while the UK spent 48 times more, it found.

There was progress on discussions over how efforts to deal with climate change would be monitored, reported and verified (MRV). Steve Cornelius, chief adviser on climate change for WWF and a former UK negotiator from the energy and climate change department (Decc), said that negotiators had agreed draft text covering the principle of flexibility for different countries on how and what they report, and the principle of supporting developing countries with MRV.

Negotiators are now under pressure to come up with a new draft text by Sunday for ministers.

Meanwhile, a campaign to ban corporates from sponsoring the conference has been launched by civil society groups. In a report, they highlight in particular Engie, formerly known as GDF Suez, as well as EDF and BNP Paribas, which the groups claim collectively own or invest in 46 coal-fired power plants, Canadian oil sands and fracking in the UK as well as investing more than $15 billion in the global coal industry.

“The fact that the corporations that are driving the climate crisis are bankrolling the talks was an irreconcilable conflict of interest,” according to Tamar Lawrence-Samuel, associate research director at Corporate Accountability International.

The UNFCCC should replicate a clause in the World Health Organisation’s convention on tobacco control, which barred tobacco corporations from negotiations, she said.

The UNFCCC declined to comment on the issue of corporate sponsorship.