World’s poorest seek to revive ‘high ambition coalition’ of Paris climate summit

Unlikely grouping of rich, poor and emerging economies important to maintain momentum on back of landmark deal, say experts

Marshall Islands minister Tony de Brum walks into the final session of talks with US envoy Todd Stern, both wearing a coconut leaf (Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth)

Marshall Islands minister Tony de Brum walks into the final session of talks with US envoy Todd Stern, both wearing a coconut leaf (Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth)

By Ed King

Talks on preserving a 100-strong ‘high ambition’ alliance that helped deliver the Paris climate deal last December are ongoing, according to a legal advisor for the world’s poorest countries.

The unlikely group saw the US, Canada and EU link arms with African, Pacific and smaller Asian states in the closing days of the UN summit, agreeing to pursue a tough global warming limit of 1.5C.

Most observers had assumed the politically expedient coalition – the brainchild of Marshall Islands diplomat Tony de Brum – would expire when the conference closed.

But Achala Abeysinghe, legal and technical advisor to the Least Developed Countries group, told a meeting in London on Monday discussions are under way to maintain its unity.

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“It was a very important coalition of countries, and going forward we are looking at what role do these countries play,” she said.

“I think it’s mainly around ratification of Paris and coming together to maintain the momentum we had.”

Top envoys gather in Japan at the end of the month for an informal set of talks. The next scheduled round of official UN climate negotiations kicks off in May.

Before then, world leaders will attend a Paris agreement signing ceremony in New York on April 22, an event Abeysinghe hopes will encourage governments to implement the deal ahead of schedule.

“The immediate challenge is ratification – it’s possible for this to come into force before 2020,” she said.

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The world’s most climate vulnerable nations are also seeking to enforce the 1.5C warming limit, the result of a series of huge political battles in the French capital.

“It’s an aspirational goal but extremely important. It gives the most vulnerable a way of measuring action,” said Saleemul Huq, an advisor to the LDCs and senior fellow at the London-based IIED.

“We already know actions are falling short of event 2C. 1.5C is an even greater stretch for countries to achieve if they are serious.

“The challenge is to make an aspirational goal a reality. That’s something we are working on.”

With Paris in the bag, countries now face an arduous task working on the finer details. That will likely be one task for the year, with progress on a loss and damage mechanism another priority.

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Help for poorer nations hit by extreme weather events has long been a contentious issue, with wealthier countries fearful they will be liable for huge compensation payouts.

If the frequency or power of storms like Tropical Cyclone Winston increase as the Earth warms, small islands or low lying coastal regions face the prospect of devastating economic losses.

But new cash for a Caribbean insurance scheme from the US and an explicit section of the Paris agreement focused on the need for more cooperation signals the start of a new era, said Huq.

“We’re in a new era of loss and damage. They have accepted we need to discuss and need to discuss innovative ways to resolve it,” he said.

“One of the first things President [Barack] Obama did when he arrived in Paris was pledge US$30m for Caribbean insurance.

“They are in effect recognising loss and damage is a reality even though they put in a clause saying this was not about liability and compensation.”

Read more on: Climate Politics | UN climate talks