Paris climate talks ‘not a north-south fight’

Developing countries are owning their climate plans, say experts on Climate Home panel, as national interests drive low carbon engagement

A windfarm in Brazil (Flickr/The Danish Wind Industry Association)

A windfarm in Brazil (Flickr/The Danish Wind Industry Association)

By Megan Darby

“The fact that we have poor people does not mean we are poor countries. We are rich in talent and resources.”

Climate negotiations are no longer a tussle between the global north and south, as developing countries are taking ownership of their policies.

That was the message from Monica Araya, former Costa Rica chief negotiator turned head of think tank Nivela, at a press briefing in London on Thursday.

“The climate story is being reshaped,” she said. “The narrative that we just need aid to do more is the most disempowering idea and we need to fight it…

“Even the islands [vulnerable to sea level rise] are moving away from the victim narrative, they are bored of it.”

Her remarks chimed with a high-level panel brought together by Climate Home, in partnership with think tank E3G and consultancy PwC.

Comment: Costa Rica is green and growing despite climate concerns

France’s top climate diplomat, Laurence Tubiana, highlighted the tough debates going on within countries in the run up to a global summit.

“An extraordinary domestic discussion has really opened up at very high levels,” she said. “My final goal is to set Paris as a turning point of this low carbon economy being the new normal.”

Nearly 150 countries have submitted national pledges towards a global climate deal to be finalised in Paris in two months’ time.

It is a bottom-up approach, with each government submitting targets it considers achievable. That is in contrast to the 2009 Copenhagen talks, at which attempts to impose a top-down division of responsibility foundered.

Learning from that summit’s failures, the French presidency is hoping to have political agreement going into the talks, leaving only technical details for negotiators.

Heads of state have been invited to open the event. “We have to finalise the choreography, but what we expect is many, many [world leaders] will come,” said Tubiana.

Report: US, China outline ‘common vision’ for UN climate deal

Pete Ogden, who was at the heart of US negotiations in Copenhagen, endorsed the bottom-up ethos. It had taken the US five years to build the policies behind its target, he said.

“Countries didn’t have the benefit of thinking about what was in their national interests before. At the end of the day, countries are going to pursue these [plans] not just because they are in their climate interest, but because they are in their full economic interests.”

In a pivotal moment, the US last November announced a joint commitment with China to curb emissions. It built on the pact last month.

For Jairam Ramesh, India’s former environment minister, that deal between the world’s two biggest emitters was one of three big shifts since Copenhagen.

The other two were India’s agreement to phase down HFCs, a class of potent warming gases used in refrigeration, and plummeting solar power costs.

He stressed the need for nations to hold themselves accountable for meeting their commitments.

“Only when developing countries themselves take responsibility will it become acceptable,” he said.

“The moment you talk about global pathways, you immediately run into questions of burden-sharing, which become very contentious.”

Report: Climate pledges overshoot 2C target but emissions gap narrowing

For all the renewed engagement with climate change, national plans do not collectively deliver the emissions cuts necessary to limit warming to 2C.

That is the threshold countries have agreed to, beyond which impacts like sea level rise, drought and flooding intensify.

Analysts at Climate Action Tracker estimate policies could cool the trajectory to 2.7C, leaving a significant ambition gap.

Araya said countries should get to work on bridging strategies as soon as the summit is over.

“Some very serious people are thinking very hard about these bridging scenarios,” she said. “Starting in January, it is easier for us to have the space for that conversation.”

A Paris deal is expected to include some kind of long term global decarbonisation goal and framework for periodically reviewing national plans.

The agreement will take effect in 2020, giving five years “to build on this momentum,” Tubiana added. “What happens 3, 4, 5 months after Paris is key.”

Read more on: COP21 | NDCs | UN climate talks