Charlotte Flechet


Among a crowd of heads of State and a series of high-level events organised on Monday for the official opening of COP21, it is the “Climate Vulnerable Forum” that caught everyone’s attention. The members of this forum that brings together 43 states vulnerable to the impacts of climate change signed a declaration calling for a 100% renewable energy by 2050, the decarbonisation of the global economy and a temperature increase limited to 1.5°C.

According to the UK’s Met Office, the symbolic threshold of 1°C global warming is likely to be crossed this year. And yet, vulnerable nations are already experiencing the full brunt of climate change impacts.

In 2009, the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC adopted the objective of maintaining climate change within 2°C. Although largely portrayed in the media as being a consensual goal, more than half the countries in the world – about 115 out of 196 – are in favour of aiming to limit climate change to 1.5°C, considered much safer by vulnerable nations.

Since the last negotiation session in Bonn last June, a growing number of voices spoke out to lower the long term temperature goal to 1.5°C. The African and AOSIS (small island states) groups insisted that +2°C would put them at extreme risk and that it was absolutely necessary to raise ambition on this issue.

For a number of commentators, lowering the global goal to 1.5°C is unrealistic from a political point of view. However, it is largely doable both technically and economically, according to a 2014 report by the World Bank. Bill Hare, one of the authors of the report, claimed that reaching that objective would require to bring all actions forward by a decade, which would cost about 50% more than in a 2°C scenario, but would allow to save a much higher amount of money by avoiding a series of climate disasters. Nevertheless, the report’s conclusions have been criticised for their reliance on technology that is not yet available and for being overly optimistic.

For Monica Araya from the organisation Costa Rica Limpia, “this is not about feasibility, it is about the moral case. Two degrees may be safe for some countries but for others it is a threat to their very survival.”

For their part, Caribbean leaders consider it essential that this long term goal reflects the needs of the entire world and not only that of a few privileged nations.

Talking at COP21’s leaders’ summit on Monday, the president of Saint Lucia, Dr. Kenny Anthony declared: “the devastating effects of climate change on our countries are well known and documented. There is no need to rehearse the facts. Yet, despite irrefutable evidence and scientific data, there appears to be a sinister attempt to downplay and negate the unique vulnerabilities of our states in the outcome of COP21.”

For CNCD.11.11.11 that represents 80 Belgian French-speaking associations and development NGOs, the 1.5°C goal is one of three essential elements – along with finance and loss & damage – that must be included in the Paris agreement in order to ensure its fairness for populations in the global south.

According to Véronique Rigot, Research and advocacy officer at CNCD.11.11.11 “This is the most important point. We’re working to tackle the problem at its root, to limit as much as possible climate change and its impacts.”[1]

Developed nations, on the other hand, are more reluctant to adopt the 1.5°C goal as it would inevitably have implications on the level of support that would be required to help poorer countries develop while emitting as little greenhouse gases as possible.

They would nevertheless benefit from a more ambitious long term goal. Higher temperatures would inevitably lead to more frequent and intense climate disasters. As major providers of climate finance, developed nations’ contribution would be increasingly solicited to help vulnerable nations cope with these impacts. The issue of how to deal with the loss and damage associated with climate change is one of the remaining contentious issues in the negotiations. Parties are currently negotiating to see how this issue should be integrated in the Paris agreement and what kind of support would have to be provided by developed nations.

According to Dizanne Billy, president of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network for the Trinidad and Tobago Chapter, “developed countries need to realise that their reality is very different from that of developing countries. Climate change for developing countries is happening now, everyday. From droughts to coastal erosion, the effects of climate change are stripping people of the human rights. So developed countries need to start thinking about the good of humanity and not just their own national interest.”

The long term temperature goal is very tricky as it puts a lot of emerging countries such as China, India and Brazil in an uncomfortable position. Traditional allies of vulnerable and developing countries, their sustained economic growth will lead them to emit even more greenhouse gases in order to lift their populations out of poverty.

Nevertheless, positions are evolving. Over the past week, support from developed countries has been building up. In his opening speech to the COP, President François Hollande called delegated to aim for 1.5°C, “if possible”, while Barack Obama stated that he wanted 2°C or less. Earlier this week, one of Germany’s top negotiators openly supported the 1.5°C option, stating that it was its country’s official position.

However, the sky is not so blue as countries such as Saudi Arabia are still blocking progress on this issue.

This is why the EU must take a hard stance on the long term temperature goal and support its own principles of equity and human rights. The slogan of an active campaign by small island states and least developed countries across the world comes as a heart-breaking reminder that this is indeed “1.5°C to stay alive”.

[1] Translated by author.

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