COP21: combating global warming

Global Insight: Climate


In November, France will be hosting the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), otherwise known as Paris 2015 or COP21. The conference, which will run from 30 November to 11 December, will look to draw up a new international agreement on climate change with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.

The UNFCCC was adopted at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992. The Convention came into force on 21 March 1994 and was ratified by 196 states, now referred to as the ‘parties’ to the Convention. The key passages of the document acknowledge the existence of human-induced climate change and put the main emphasis on industrialised countries to stop it.

COP is the Convention’s supreme decision-making body. It meets annually to make decisions on goals for combating climate change. The COP held in Paris this year will be the 21st, hence the moniker COP21. The event is expected to have close to 50,000 participants, including 25,000 official delegates from governments, intergovernmental organisations, UN agencies, NGOs and civil society groups.

Lord Nicholas Stern is chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, part of the London School of Economics and Political Science. He says: “The two defining challenges of our century are overcoming poverty and managing climate change: if we fail on one, we will fail on the other. It is this understanding that links the climate negotiations, sustainable development and growth.

“So success in Paris will depend on a shared understanding of the profound interweaving of these challenges, and particularly the complementarity of sustainable development, economic growth and climate responsibility. Sustainable growth and climate responsibility are mutually supportive and intertwined. And international collaboration and co-ordination on finance and technology have never been more important to progress on sustainable development.”

COP21 comes just after the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the biennial event that sets future policy for the Commonwealth of Nations, which will take place in Malta in November (see Commonwealth Network, starting on page 67, for more on CHOGM). A Commonwealth statement on climate change will be released immediately before COP21, highlighting the challenges facing small and vulnerable states, which is an on-going concern of the Commonwealth. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, is scheduled to attend a special session on climate change at CHOGM to discuss the concerns of Commonwealth heads of government.

A number of small states in the Caribbean and the Pacific are members of the Commonwealth. Many of these countries are frequently prey to extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, which can devastate communities and cause loss of life. Rising sea levels are also a concern to many of these nations. Kiribati – a small group of islands in the Pacific ocean – has gone so far as to buy itself an island from Fiji as it is likely that its islands will become completely submerged in the future. The cost of protecting these islands from rising sea levels, as a proportion of national income, is among the highest in the world (see box below). Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Maldives – all Commonwealth countries – are among the ten nations where the financial impact of climate change is the most extreme.

Speaking at a Small States Forum in Lima, Peru in October, Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Deodat Maharaj called on the international community to ensure that COP21 becomes a turning point in agreeing to an ambitious climate change agenda and delivering resources effectively to those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. He added: “While many small states are middle-income countries, they are significantly different from larger middle-income countries by virtue of their disproportionate vulnerability to shocks. Both vulnerability and capacity for resilience must be considered as criteria for accessing concessional resources.”

The significance of 2°C

A National Research Council report in 2010 suggested that for every 1oC increase in temperatures, there could be up to ten per cent less rainfall during the Mediterranean and southern African dry seasons and a corresponding increase of rainfall in arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere.

It could also mean up to ten per cent less stream flow in some river basins, up to a 15 per cent reduction in the corn crop in America and Africa and a similar lowering in yield from the wheat crop in India. Countries that suffer from bush fires could also see the areas burned by wildfire increase fourfold.

As far back as 1975, economist William Nordhaus warned that if temperatures rose more than 2oC above pre-industrial levels, this would take the climate beyond temperatures that had been calculated for the last few hundred thousand years. He said:“According to most sources, the range of variation between distinct climatic regimes is on the order of around 5°C, and at present time the global climate is at the high end of this range.”

In 1990 the Stockholm Environment Institute suggested that policy-makers should strive to keep temperatures below 2oC above pre-industrial levels.

The Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub

The Commonwealth convened an Expert Group to look at climate change in 2013. The group found that small states and least-developed countries are highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change and that their vulnerability is exacerbated by their inability to access available climate funds due to limited capacity. The group recommended a Commonwealth initiative be set up, aimed at assisting small and climate-vulnerable states with acute capacity needs to access existing sources of climate finance.

On the recommendation of the group, heads of government requested at CHOGM 2013 that a mechanism be developed – the Climate Finance Access Hub – that will enable these countries to improve their access to climate finance to cover the cost of adaptation and mitigation. In developing the Climate Finance Access Hub, the Commonwealth Secretariat has consulted widely with member states and climate change experts and will now present a proposal for the Hub to heads of government at CHOGM.

The Climate Finance Access Hub will aim to assist small and climate-vulnerable states with acute capacity needs to access existing sources of climate finance. This will facilitate cross-Commonwealth co-operation, as well as sharing of experience and expertise. Countries with limited expertise will be able to bid for and access climate finance and coherent approaches for dealing with multiple funds and partners will be established. There will be a small knowledge centre in Mauritius linked to technical advisers based around the Commonwealth. This online, networked approach will enable swift sharing of knowledge and expertise.


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