Climate change: a test of the region’s staying power
After a period of uncertainty, it has beenconfirmed that the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will enter into force onNovember 4. This is good news for the Caribbean, one of the most at risk partsof the world from sea level change and severe climatic events.
By global treaty standards, formalagreement has been achieved remarkably quickly, especially as the solutions thatthe treaty proposes remain politically controversial in many of the nationsthat agreed last December to the final text.
Normally ratification takes years to achieve.However, faced with evidence that the planet continues to warm, and thepossibility that Donald Trump could become the next US President and may pick apartthe hard-won agreement, the world’s largest carbon emitters – China, the US,Brazil, the EU, and India, but not so far Japan or Russia – have agreed to ratify,thereby reaching the agreed target of 56.87 per cent of all global emissions, forthe treaty to come into force
In many respects this is a victory for theCaribbean, for CARICOM in particular, and the ACP and other small islanddeveloping states which in Paris last December made clear a positive outcome wasexistential.
In outline, the thirty-one-page agreementproposes that a balance between greenhouse gas emissions and the sinks forameliorating them is achieved in the second half of this century. It emphasisesthe need to hold the increase in the global average temperature well below 2°C (36°F) abovepre-industrial levels; proposes ‘pursuing efforts to limit the temperatureincrease to 1.5°C (35°F)’; and recommends that a peak in global greenhouse gas emissionsbe achieved as soon as possible. It allows for an asymmetrical approach,enabling all developing countries – including large industrialising carbonemitters like China, India and Brazil – to have more time to adapt.
In a section that addresses loss anddamage, the agreement establishes funding at the minimum annual rate of US$100bnup to 2030 to enable support for mitigation and adaptation in developingnations. However, it does not set a time scale for reaching greenhouse gasemission neutrality.
Unlike the earlier Kyoto Protocol of 2005, whichrequired major carbon emitters to agree to binding emissions reductions, but failedwhen the US decided not to ratify because of exclusion of nations like China,the Paris agreement requires all countries to devise their own climate actionplans and then improve on them at regular intervals.
What comes next is likely to be difficult,requiring all of the diplomatic and political skills that the Caribbean and othersmall island developing states have.
While Hurricane Matthew and the damage thatit wreaked in in Haiti, the Bahamas, and Cuba was a salutary global reminder ofthe risk that low lying states with limited resources face, CARICOM, as its SecretaryGeneral, Irwin LaRocque, noted earlier this year, now faces the challenge of beingable to access the resources the agreement promises.
An important recent development in thisrespect has been the establishment by the Commonwealth Secretariat, withAustralian finance, of a new facility intended to assist governments obtain availablefunding. The idea is that a Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub will locatenational climate finance advisers in countries for two year periods to helpaccess climate change support. Among thefirst countries likely to receive such support are Antigua, Barbados, Dominica,Guyana, Jamaica, and St Kitts, as well as other small island states in the IndianOcean and the Pacific.
Other funding options are also beingconsidered. Recently, Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, indicated that Jamaicais to work with its international development partners to pursue debt forclimate change swaps. Such an approach, he says, has the potential to providefiscal relief while helping to unlock climate financing to fund adaptation andmitigation initiatives.
What is clear is that when it comes tofunding, the treaty agreement as is so far little more than an aspirationalframework.
For this reason, at the forthcoming climatechange conference in Marrakesh in November, CARICOM will need, together withits Alliance of Small Island States – the global grouping which brings togethersmall island and low-lying coastal countries that share similar developmentconcerns – to hold the world to accountfor what has been agreed.
This will not just be a test of the Caribbean’sstaying power and the willingness of regional governments to fund and support acontinuing focus. It will also require the Caribbean to remind the countries thatit supported during the negotiations, and which expressed concern about theimplications of climate change for the region, of their commitments. Put more bluntly,it is now the time for China and Brazil as much as the USand Europe to ensure that the support for adaptation that the region needs, nowmaterialises.
In this, both CARICOM and the CaribbeanCommunity Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) will continue to have a critical rolein coordinating the regional effort. But it will also be up to individual governmentsto maintain the political momentum, demonstrate a unity of purpose, and be determinedto address the Caribbean’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 itspopulation and the majority of the region’s productive enterprise andinfrastructure lie within 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 an issue on which the region occupies the moral high groundand has popular international support.
DavidJessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at [email protected]
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