THE road to the international climate talks in Lima, Peru next month seems paved with ambition and good intentions from some parties, but the ‘proof of the pudding’, as we say in Jamaica, ‘will be in the eating’.
And what a ‘feast’ it should be since the intent is to have work advanced there provide the essential elements for a new international agreement on climate change to be signed in Paris, France next year — an agreement that has been several years in the making.
Among other things, Jamaica, as other small island developing states (SIDS), is looking to have the stage set for the signing of a legally binding instrument that commits the global community to significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction commitments.
But it will be no easy feat.
To begin with, there are issues around precisely what form the agreement should take, as noted by Clifford Mahlung, capacity building coordinator for the Alliance of Small Island States and former lead negotiator for Jamaica.
Among the options on the table are “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties”.
Precisely what form the agreement should take aside, there is also the challenge of the anticipated wrangling over what levels of commitment should come from different countries, given their particular development circumstances.
In play, too, are national political scenarios, especially in developed and fast developing countries.
The US, for example, has reportedly indicated they have five-year political terms, making it difficult for them to commit to anything that runs for longer than five-year intervals.
On the face of it, this argument appears reasonable since the perspective of political administrations change, influenced by their local constituents and changing geo-political as well as economic circumstances.
And this is not unique to the US.
Meanwhile, SIDS, including Jamaica and the Caribbean, are keen to have their ‘special circumstances’ taken into consideration.
One element of those special circumstances is “their combined level of GHG emissions [which] are a small fraction of the global total”, according to Mahlung, who has written a position paper shared at today’s national consultations on climate change, ahead of the Lima talks.
“Even more profound is the size of their landmasses that significantly restrict their adaptive capacity and eliminate options that are available to other countries, such as ‘retreating from the coastline’,” he added.
SIDS, Mahlung noted in the paper, are also interested in having, among other things:
- Adaptation recognised and given prominence, with funding to be provided awarded 50-50 between adaptation and mitigation — unlike in the past where the majority of funds have gone to mitigation;
- The avoidance of onerous reporting burdens and conditionalities for accessing finance; and
- A definition for the “rules, modalities and procedures” for the Loss and Damage Mechanism adopted in Warsaw last year “so that it operates in the best interest of the most vulnerable, including Jamaica and other SIDS”.
However, as with everything else SIDS are trying to achieve, there are impediments to realising these goals. They and other developing countries have, for example, consistently failed to have financing mobilised — beyond a few developed country parties, including Germany, Japan and Spain, for adaptation.
On Loss and Damage, there have been concerns around whether funding made available for same should be distinct from adaptation.
Still, Jamaica and Caricom as a whole, appear optimistic over their prospects.
“I think there are some encouraging signs. The European Union convened for this year alone two informal ministerial meetings — the first one was in Brussels and the second one was just on the eve of the Climate Summit in New York — to try to arrive at a consensus on the key issues going into COP 20 (Lima Talks),” said Senator James Fletcher, head of the Caricom Taskforce on Sustainable Development.
“I don’t think there is overall stubbornness on the part of the developed countries. I think there is an understanding that there are very serious challenges, particularly facing small-island developing states, but it is for us to get that understanding, that empathy to translate into action. I think that is where the challenge is and we just have to continue to make our voices heard and make them heard in the strongest possible way,” added Fletcher, who is also St Lucia’s minister of sustainable development, energy, science, and technology.
Jamaica’s own Albert Daley, who heads the Climate Change Division is himself optimistic, given the current science, which shows developed and developing countries impacted by climate change.
“It is probably easier now for them to agree on targets and issues to do with climate change [because of the science]. When you talk to the US, for example, they are committed to keeping temperatures below two degrees. If we keep going the way we are going, it will be three degrees. It, therefore, means that countries will have to shift significantly in the way they commit to shifts in (GHG emission) targets,” he said.