With just over 24 hours to go before the official end to the Paris climate talks, it is unclear how parties will reach consensus in order to ensure an outcome document with teeth and which assures security for the Caribbean, as others most vulnerable to climate change.
At a just-concluded press conference of negotiators from China, EU, and the G77 — put on by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and where Caribbean journalists supported by the ‘1.5 To Stay Alive’ campaign were represented — they said all the right words about optimism and needing to get to an outcome document that packed a punch.
But what also rang through is that getting there — if, in fact, we do — will be a climb. For one thing, there are parties that seem unwilling to make trade-offs, which for some — including the Caribbean and other small island states — may, in fact, be ill-advised.
Take the reported twinning of the 1.5 degrees Celsius ambition and loss and damage, for example. The Caribbean and their counterparts in the Alliance of Small Island States require a 1.5 degrees Celsius cap in increases in global temperatures, given the potential fallout — from biodiversity extinction due to rising sea levels and sea surface temperatures, etc. to the proliferation of diseases like dengue due to rising temperatures; and economic and social losses, given that most industries and key assets are sited along the coast.
Yet, earlier this week, the US is reported to have indicated a need to have compensation and liabilities excluded from loss and damage with a precise proposal on the language. In exchange, it was rumoured they would get behind the 1.5 ambition.
“What I can tell you is that of now, I know G77 [which includes the AOSIS membership] has rejected the exclusion clause that was posed by the US to exclude liability and compensation. That was our negotiating position the last time I heard,” Dr. James Fletcher, head of the CARICOM Task Force on Climate Change said Wednesday, following the release of an updated draft text.
“I know G77 will be meeting at 6 or 7 o clock. Maybe then there might be a shifting of positions but, as of now, our position is that we do not agree to an exclusion clause for compensation and liabilities because of what it means, not just for loss and damage, but what it means for the agreement itself. And the advice we have from our legal people is that that would be a dangerous thing to do in the formulation that has been proposed by the US. That is and remains our position,” he added at the time.
It is important to note that since that time, negotiators have been locked in a series of meetings — until 5:30 am this morning (Thursday) and then again since then.
It does make well the point though. If there is to be no trade off, then how are parties to get to a final outcome document?
Among other issues in contention is the inclusion of human rights in the text, given concerns that national constituencies could likely bring lawsuits against their governments for the climate change impacts they suffer personally.
One example that has been used is the recent case of drought in Jamaica, where hundreds were denied access to water for weeks. The UN General Assembly explicitly recognises the right to water and sanitation. And this is perhaps the least of it.
There is contention, too, over finance — ‘additional, adequate and predictable’ quantities of which Caribbean islands, again as others most vulnerable to climate change impacts, are calling for.
Of course, finance, as Dr. Mariama Williams of the South Centre has indicated, is usually one of the last things to be negotiated since it is contingent on most, if not everything else on the table for negotiations.
This brings us back to the essential question: If there is to be no trade offs, how is the world to get to a final agreement? And if there are to be tradeoffs, what is to be bartered?