Caricom and climate change
OnDecember 12 in Paris, France’s Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, brought to aclose the UN climate change conference, COP 21.“I nowinvite the COP to adopt the decision entitled Paris Agreement outlined in thedocument,” he said, and then seconds later: “Looking out to the room I see thatthe reaction is positive, I see no objections. The Paris agreement is adopted.”
It was,according to some reports, an act of brinkmanship, as unresolvedlast minute concerns hadbeen expressed by Nicaragua and there was, ina part of the final draft text, a difficulty surrounding US concerns about the use of the word ‘shall’ rather than the more discretionary word‘should’; but with mysteriously, a typographical error being declared, the deal was done.
Apart from it demonstrating MrFabius’ outstanding ability to bring to a conclusion a multi-dimensional meetingin which unanimity was required if the world was ever to be able toaddress climate change; US concerns, driven by domestic politics, demonstratedhow hard it may be for nations most at risk to obtain a viable outcome.
Caricom was ready for Paris. A taskforce had been set up two years ago and the region had a well-prepared position,a short-list of critical issues, and simple but memorable branding. In additionto a delegation led St Lucia’s Minister of Sustainable Development, Dr JamesFisher, and the Caricom Secretary General, Irwin LaRoque, seven Caribbean Heads of Governmenttravelled to Paris to express, at the opening, theregion’s concerns, andto mobilise third-party support among the huge numbers of NGO’s, businessinterests, environmentalists and other present in Paris.
It wasan outstanding example of where, inthe pursuit of acommon cause that touches everyone in the region, the regional institution can add realvalue and be an organisation to be proud of. Itdemonstrated in relation to important cross-cutting roles, a future for thesecretariat.
For the Caribbean and other low lyingsmall nations, for which sea level change and global warming are quite literally existentialissues, what now is at stake is whether what has been agreed isdeliverable; what the textmeans in practical terms; and how the region and otherAlliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) intend ensuring that the manycommitments made are delivered within the agreed time frame.
In outline, the thirty one pagetext agreed by 193 nations proposes that a balance between greenhouse gas emissionsand the sinks for ameliorating them is achieved in the second half of thiscentury. It emphasises the need to hold the increase in the global average temperature wellbelow 2C (36F) above pre-industrial levels, proposes ‘pursuing efforts to limit thetemperature increase to 1.5C (35F)’, and that a peak in global greenhousegas emissions be achieved as soon as possible. It accepts an asymmetrical approachenabling all developing countries – including large industrialisedcarbon emitters like China, India and Brazil – to have more time to adapt.
In a section that addresses loss anddamage, it agrees a US$100bn annual minimum up to 2030 to enable support for mitigation andadaptation in developing nations, but does not acceptthere is any basis for compensation for loss and damage by carbon emitters. It also does not set a timescale for reaching greenhouse gas emission neutrality, or say anythingabout the shipping or aviation industries.
Theproblem for the Caribbean and all AOSIS’ 39 member states is whether what wasagreed in Paris is prescriptive enough, or is so hedged round by the potentialfor opt-outs, delays, and unenforceability as to make it meaningless.
What itsuggests that Caricom must now follow through, as the agreement as it stands islittle more than an aspirational framework. Togetherwith other AOSIS statesit needs to determine how at the UN and in other forait is going to hold theworld to account for what has been agreed, then obtain, andsuccessfully apply some of the money that will be available for both adaptation and mitigation.
This will not just be a test of the Caribbean’s stayingpower and the willingness of its governments to fund and support a continuing focus,but will also require that the region hold to account those countries that it supported during the negotiations. They will need to prove, when it comes to the Caribbeanthat their expressed concerns reflected more than just a need to obtain a satisfactory agreement. It is a position that will have to bedeployed as much with China and Brazil as with the US and Europe.
In this,both Caricom and the Caribbean Community Climate ChangeCentre (CCCCC) will continue to have a critical role in coordinating the regionaleffort. But it willalso be up to governments to maintain the political momentum, demonstratea unity of purpose, and to be determined to payattention to theCaribbean’s implementation deficit.
Climate change is an issue on which theCaribbean has had every reason to have its voice heard and be taken veryseriously. Fifty per cent of its population andthe majority of the region’s productive enterprise and infrastructure liewithin 1.2 miles of the sea. Its low lying nature, itsfragile eco-systems, and extreme weather events demonstrate that it is a primecandidate to benefit from what has been agreed.
While countries in the region are oftenaccused of allowing mendacity to drive their foreign policy, here is an examplewhere the Caribbean deserves a transfer of resources if it, quite literally, isnot to disappear beneath the sea.
Climate change also has a strategicimportance. It enables the Caribbean to demonstrate an approach that owes moreto the future than to the past; it is an issue on which it has a better chanceto exert leverage; and one that can deliver national and regional developmentobjectives. It is also an issue on which the region occupies the moral highground and has popular international support.
Sealevels and water temperatures are rising and it will be some of the world’ssmallest nations that will suffer first. Logic would thereforesuggest that the Caribbean – a region of vulnerable, low or zero carbonemitting states – should be a significant early beneficiary of any resourcetransfer for adaptation. It is now up to Caricom to make this a public cause.
David Jessop is a consultant to theCaribbean Council and can be contacted at