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Q&A: Helping the poorest nations with development goals

Copyright: Ivor Prickett/Panos

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  • LDCs are fighting to get their voices heard in climate and development talks

  • Many are working on sustainable development goals, including climate aims

  • But they will need a range of support to build their capacity to meet goals

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Next week’s Climate Summit in New York is one of a few remaining stepping stones to the internationally binding agreement to tackle climate change expected to be agreed at a UN summit in Paris next year. At the same time, the global community is negotiating sustainable development goals that will become a part of global development agenda after 2015.
 
As these pivotal agreements are nearing, how are the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) dealing with the negotiations and ensuring that their research and development needs are heard and included in any global decision?
 
SciDev.Net spoke to Prakash Mathema, chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group at the UN climate change negotiations, about what LDCs need and how they will cope with climate and development challenges.
 
How are LDCs keeping up with crucial talks and making their voice heard?
 
The global community is in the process of crafting a set of goals on sustainable development and agreeing the next phase of climate action under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by the end of 2015. Both platforms provide unique opportunities to plan holistically on a range of important issues for LDCs.
 
These include adoption of low-carbon, climate-resilient development pathways, and pursuing options for addressing our vulnerabilities, poverty and lack of capabilities, especially in the face of the daunting challenge of climate change.
 
The international negotiations continue at an unrelenting pace with new agendas, and multiple bodies and institutions. LDCs are stretched for time in an increasingly complex and hectic global schedule of events.
 
Many LDCs have small delegations and many of us are responsible for following more than one international process. Yet, we have to attend the negotiations fully prepared because we represent nearly a billion people who are most vulnerable to climate change impacts. We have to ensure that our voices are heard and justice is delivered through fair, equitable, effective and ambitious global policy decisions.
 
In the climate change negotiations, the LDC Group has a team of experienced and competent senior negotiators. We try to coordinate ourselves strategically in between and during negotiating sessions.

We have a team of coordinators and a core team to lead the negotiations on behalf of 48 LDCs.
 
While we try to further strengthen our capacities, we also work in alliance with the Africa Group, the Alliance of Small Island States and other negotiating groups. Of course we will struggle, but we will keep fighting for the best possible global outcomes.
 
How will LDCs respond if there is an agreement on limiting temperature increase but without financial assistance?
 
Any further delay in taking action to tackle climate change will only lead to greater adverse effects, increasing need for climate adaptation, as well as residual and permanent loss and damage in LDCs and other vulnerable developing countries.
 
The negotiations for the 2015 climate agreement provide an opportunity for parties to the UNFCCC to aim for and incentivise universal participation in activities designed to mitigate and stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations. Our group has been strongly calling for all parties to contribute to a global goal for limiting temperature increase below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
 
This means immediate mitigation actions are needed, including rapid scaling up of the full portfolio of mitigation technologies and quick transition to a low-carbon development pathway.
 
Many LDCs are already taking urgent action on climate change at home. Even though these were not mandatory requirements, nine of our countries have submitted their plans for Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) to the UNFCCC and 12 have developed or are developing their low-carbon development strategies.
 
However, we will not be able to do much without adequate financial support from developed countries as agreed under the UNFCCC provisions. In addition, LDCs are compelled to give highest priority to adaptation, managing the impacts, and addressing loss and damage due to climate change which are affecting the day-to-day lives of our people. LDCs will need increased financial support to implement these priorities.
 
Are LDCs happy with the outcome document that has emerged from the UN’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals?
 
Our colleagues who negotiated the SDGs on behalf of LDC countries worked very hard for the outcome document but we feel that there is still more work to be done in the General Assembly phase of negotiations.
 
The document contains numerous references to LDCs, giving us special and preferential treatment as a group of countries. But the language agreed in the working group on means of implementation must be strengthened to ensure that LDCs have a good chance of being able to achieve the full set of SDGs.
 
The new development agenda should improve on what has been agreed earlier. Similarly, the discussions on the post-2015 development framework must acknowledge the UNFCCC negotiations, and should add clear commitment to ensure policy coherence across both processes. The UNFCCC and post-2015 processes can complement each other.
 
What capacity and research problems must be addressed in LDCs to comply with new goals and targets being set for SDGs and climate change?
 
To achieve the SDGs and address climate change, all types of means of implementation will be required: capacity building, including in research and data collection and use; technology development, transfer and deployment; and additional, reliable and adequate financing. We also need policy coherence so that policies in one sector do not unintentionally undermine policies in another.
 
It is also critical to strengthen institutions at all levels and make them more transparent, accountable, inclusive and effective. But putting this into action will be a major challenge. We need to be innovative in our partnerships for sustainable development, by strengthening links between the state and civil society, by enhancing South–South cooperation, and by ensuring that partnerships are based on demand and not supply.
 
LDCs are often supportive of targets in international negotiations, but as with Millennium Development Goals, where some targets were not met, is this support made safely in the knowledge that they will either be exempt, or not meet them anyway?
 
It is good for us to have internationally agreed targets; they should be ambitious yet realistic and matched with the necessary means of implementation. This is why LDCs have been pushing hard for the right balance between outcome targets and means of implementation targets in the working group and will continue to do so in the General Assembly, as well as in the climate negotiations.
 
How much understanding do you think there is in the international community for LDCs' lack of scientific capacity to meet targets and adapt and adopt technologies that would, for example, facilitate changes to meet climate change goals?
 
There is a great need for the international community to understand our capacity constraints. Even though the UNFCCC has adopted a special article and work programme dedicated to LDCs, there is an implementation deficit.
 
We need further support for building and sustaining our capacity to participate in, and influence, the international negotiating processes. We also need support for the implementation of global decisions at a national and local level.
 
What needs to be done to ensure that LDCs benefit from post-2015 development agenda?
 
Regardless of the three UN conferences dedicated to LDCs and three specific programmes of action since 1971, only a handful of countries have graduated from the LDC status.
 
In this context, the SDGs need to be strengthened to truly meet the requirements of LDCs.

Two important matters must be considered. First, there needs to be an adequately resourced mechanism for supporting LDCs in the development and implementation of national sustainable development strategies to achieve the SDGs.
 
Second, we need to develop our own national plans, which detail key priorities, the bottlenecks we need to overcome, and what we need to implement these plans. We need to identify gaps where partners can support us and draw up clear terms for entering into mutually beneficial partnerships.
 
How will LDCs manage the data collection and analysis required to measure and benchmark SDGs, including climate change goals?
 
Huge efforts will be required in building the capacities of LDCs to collect and analyse data that is separated by gender, social group, rural or urban location, and so on.
 
In particular, to eradicate poverty in a lasting manner, we first need to map poverty in all its dimensions. Currently a great deal of urban poverty in particular is not mapped, and these poor people are not represented in official statistics. This means that progress in poverty eradication is likely to be grossly overestimated.
 
Being able to rise to the challenges will need not just more young people with high-level skills, but an overhaul in universities and research institutions. How can the LDCs face these challenges?
 
Progress may have been slow but many of our countries have attempted to promote research on climate change and strengthen the local-national-global nexus. Many of our countries have programmes for exchanging information and supporting international programmes, networks and organisations. We also have programmes to cooperate in further improving our capacities.
 
However, climate change is complex and involves a wide range of issues and actors. It covers a broad range of sectors, organisations and ecosystems, as well as cross-cutting and interdisciplinary research. So, rising to these challenges will require transformation, and our countries will need much more support to enable such transformation.
 
Q&As are edited for length and clarity.

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