Q&A: Least developed countries on UN climate talks

LDCs chair Prakash Mathema addresses hopes and fears of world’s poorest on UN climate deal

Subsistence fishermen and farmers in poorer countries are at acute risk from climate impacts (Pic: UN Photos)

Subsistence fishermen and farmers in poorer countries are at acute risk from climate impacts (Pic: UN Photos)

By Ed King

The Least Developed Countries group comprises 48 states acutely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Together with the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), its members are often described as being the “conscience” of UN climate negotiations, living on the frontline of extreme weather events.

Nepali diplomat Prakash Mathema represents the LDCs at international talks.

In an emailed Q+A, he outlines the groups key concerns as it heads towards two major set-piece events: Ban Ki-moon’s climate summit in New York on September 23, and the main UN climate conference in Lima in December.

Ed King: How optimistic is the LDC Group about progress towards Paris and a UN deal?

Prakash Mathema: LDCs believe that the UNFCCC is the legitimate global forum where international co-operation can best deliver equitable solutions to climate change. Over the years, the UN has mobilised climate action and delivered a range of collective decisions.

It is on these foundations that we are negotiating a new agreement to be adopted in Paris in 2015. Paris could be our last opportunity to address climate change before it becomes an insurmountable challenge, particularly for the most vulnerable countries.

We are optimistic about 2015 because we are seeing that many progressive countries and groups are creating new political dynamics with a focus of moving ahead with more ambition. We are seeing that countries such as the US and China are taking major steps to reduce their emissions.

We are also seeing that the poorest and the most climate vulnerable countries are actively engaging in the negotiations to ensure that the voices, needs and priorities of their people are addressed in every aspect of the process determining the 2015 agreement.

In the negotiations, there is now greater clarity on the way forward on many of the substantive areas.  However, success in Paris will be dependent on two fundamental factors. First, the issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to close the current emissions gap has to be central.

Second, the agreement has to comprehensively address the adaptation needs of developing countries by providing adequate support, and also ensure transparency of action and support.  But we have to speed up as only limited time is available.

EK: Do you think the ‘shopping list’ of options for a 2015 deal outlined by the Co-Chairs after the Bonn intersession meeting is a basis for progress?

PM: The ADP Co-Chairs [who run the talks on a 2015 climate deal] have laid out a landscape of possible negotiating issues and various options of available entry points for those issues. We hope that those choices can be further elaborated and defined for possible compromises for the maximum ambition to be delivered in 2015.

In the next steps, we would like to see LDC vulnerabilities, needs and demands reflected more strongly, particularly in the context of Article 4.9 of the UN Climate Change Convention. We also think that there is a need for an honest and more open discussion on climate finance than what we have seen so far.

EK: What criteria do you want to see included in the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), due to be presented by countries in early 2015?

PM: LDCs believe that the INDCs should focus on mitigation to address the cause of climate change.

Among the criteria to be included are: type of commitment/contribution, base year or period, baseline emissions trajectory, peaking year, coverage in terms of GHGs and sectors, geographical boundaries, percentage of total or national emissions, expected emission reductions to be achieved, approach to accounting for the land-use sector, additional specific information depending on the type of commitment/contribution, and indicators relating to fairness and ambition.

It is very important to note that the Parties must also agree on a robust approach and a process to negotiate adaptation, and means of implementation needs of developing countries as integral core elements of the 2015 agreement. This is an absolute must. Such a process will address the concerns of those who are calling for INDC to include these in the 2015 agreement.

EK: What more assurances do you need to see regarding mitigation commitments and finance this year?

PM: Ratifying the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is very important. Also, Parties must show that they are serious about closing the pre-2020 emissions gap. The best forum for this is the workstream on pre-2020 ambition which should continue in 2015 agreement as a platform for ensuring short-term mitigation ambition.

Regarding climate finance, all developing countries are unanimously calling for agreeing on a mid-term target for achieving the USD 100 billion goal by 2020. There should also be agreement on financial commitments beyond 2020 as USD 100 billion is just a fraction of the financial needs of the developing countries for addressing climate change.

EK: Realistically what can the forthcoming UN Climate Summit in New York deliver? What would you like to see agreed/announced?

PM: We see the UN Climate Summit as a unique global opportunity to stress the need for taking climate change into account very seriously at the highest political level. We hope that world leaders will collectively agree on a narrative to drive greater mitigation, finance and adaptation ambition for the Paris agreement and individually agree on the strongest possible actions they will deliver.

We hope that the world leaders will also guarantee their readiness to stand in support of the most vulnerable to climate change. We hope that our leaders will take this as an opportunity to strengthen the mandate of their negotiators to deliver an agreement in December 2015 that is full of the ambition and scale of commitment necessary to address the challenge of our generation. All these are very realistic expectations.

EK: For the Paris deal to work, will it need firm emission reduction commitments from emerging economies? If so, what’s the best way to ensuring this happens?

PM: In Durban [at the 2011 UN climate summit], Parties agreed that the 2015 agreement will be applicable to all. For any agreement to be successful and if we are to stay below 1.5 degree Celsius target, addressing emission reduction is a must.

While respecting the principle of CBDR-RC [Common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities], we know that all countries have important roles to play. We believe that countries, based on their various capacities, can choose from a range of reduction commitments under the 2015 agreement.

It must be noted that even some LDCs are already taking mitigation actions through NAMAs [Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions] and low carbon resilient development strategies. But what is paramount is adequate support regarding means of implementation.

EK: Regarding loss and damage – what progress do you want to see by the end of 2014?

PM: Progress of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage is important for this year. Firstly, the Interim Committee must complete its task of preparing a work plan for the next two years.

Secondly, Parties must agree on the composition and modality of the permanent Executive Committee. Being the most vulnerable, it is vital for the LDCs that loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change become a part of the 2015 agreement as well.

EK: Is there anything else you think is important and would like to mention?

PM: Success in addressing climate change at global level will not be achieved unless the key concerns of the countries that are extremely vulnerable to climate change impacts are appropriately taken into consideration and adequately addressed.

The 2015 agreement can use our vulnerabilities as the benchmark for setting emission reduction levels and for building the architecture and modalities for adaptation and finance.

The world leaders must agree on collective and enhanced climate actions to guarantee that our survival and options for sustainable development are not compromised by climate change impacts.

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