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COP-23 Delivered a Mixed Bag for Developing Countries

While COP-23 took many steps in the right direction, there are a plethora of issues at stake for developing countries that need to be ironed out, such as transparency, pre-2020 climate action, and loss and damage, before the post-2020 international climate policy is rolled out. Dhanasree Jayaram argues that the developing bloc needs to unite for a better and equitable world.

The twenty-third session of the Conference of Parties (COP-23), presided over by a small-island developing state (Fiji) for the first time in the history of climate change negotiations, came to an end on 17 November 2017. If one looks at the outcomes of COP-23, there are many positives, including the launch of the Ocean Pathway Partnership, InsuResilience Global Partnership for Climate and Disaster Risk Finance and Insurance Solutions, Fiji Clearing House for Risk Transfer, a health initiative for the vulnerable, a historic agreement on agriculture, and finalization of the first-ever Gender Action Plan as well as the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples’ Platform.

However, as far as adoption of the implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement, stocktaking of pre-2020 climate actions of developed countries under the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and of climate finance is concerned, very little progress was made. A lot now depends on next year’s COP to be held in Katowice (Poland), what many refer to as “maybe the last chance to stay below the 1.5°C limit.”

Like-minded Group of Developing Countries Demand Pre-2020 Stocktaking

One of the biggest sticking points during the conference was the demand by developing countries, led mainly by India, to include an agenda item on pre-2020 mitigation commitments of developed countries and climate finance, particularly the developed countries’ pledge to ‘mobilize’ $100 billion per annum by 2020. Since the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (the Doha Amendment) has not been enforced yet, developed countries skirted both demands until the last minute.

In the end, it was a diplomatic victory for the LDMCs, BASIC and the larger G-77 when an agreement to convene additional stocktaking sessions in 2018 and 2019 for the purpose of review of progress on emissions reduction was reached. Similarly, it was also agreed that two assessments of climate finance would be published in 2018 and 2020. The Doha Amendment is now likely to enter into force with a flurry of ratifications by several developed countries during and after the conference.

Where developing countries like India are stumbling is with regard to a much-needed transparency framework within the financing and stocktaking processes. Despite being in a position to meet (perhaps even surpass) its 2020 pledge to reduce emission intensity by 20-25 percent against 2005 levels by 2020, this moral standpoint was not leveraged to press for greater action by developed countries. This stems partly from India’s reluctance towards external scrutiny of its own plans and/or actions on climate change. 

What Lies Ahead for the Developing Bloc

Many of these outcomes – targeted mainly at developing and least developed countries (LDCs) and especially concerning gender and indigenous peoples – point towards an increasing awareness of the need for embedding social issues within international climate policies and actions, reinforcing equity and justice,and at the same time breaking the shackles of the technical aspects of mitigation and adaptation.

On agriculture, it needs to be ensured that not all eggs are put in the mitigation basket, by which excess burden is put on developing countries to reduce emissions from the agricultural sector, while adaptation is relegated to a secondary position. This would stymie the possibility of co-benefits, put additional financial burden on developing countries as well as compromise food and livelihood security.

Where developing countries have lost ground is on the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage. Many countries within the Like-minded Group, like India,began to speak about loss and damage only recently, despite being a victim of losses incurred on account of several extreme weather events. Since there is a serious leadership lacuna in pushing this agenda forward, there has been neither any discussion on financial instruments – except insurance (driven mainly by insurance companies from the developed world), which the poor cannot afford and which would not work if there is “a 100% probability that somebody is going to get affected” – nor scope for financing through the Green Climate Fund – earmarked for mitigation and, to a much lesser extent, adaptation.

For next year’s COP, LDMCs and BASIC will have to form a united front, leaving aside their political differences, as well as rope in support from G-77 countries and Small Island Developing States on selected issues to securea constructive outcome that benefits all. Issues such as the loss and damage mechanism, transparency and global stocktaking of emissions reduction and financial mobilization will determine the credibility and sustainability of post-2020 climate change policy.

Dhanasree Jayaram is Research Scholar at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education (deemed-to-be-University).

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.