Asia-Pacific nations assess COP21 result

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Speed read

  • Global pledge to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius to favour region
  • But human rights language would have sharpened support for vulnerable sectors
  • Paris agreement also opens door to more funding for climate-change resilience

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[PARIS] South-East Asian and Pacific nations would have preferred more explicit reference to human rights in the agreement that came out of the Paris climate talks, which concluded on 12 December, one day over schedule.

“Human rights language could have further targeted support to vulnerable groups or populations facing an undermining of rights to life, food, health, etc. [as] it would have increased the likelihood of assistance to vulnerable countries facing these problems as well,” says Matthew McKinnon, a UN Development Programme advisor to the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), an advocacy coalition of 43 nations representing one billion climate-vulnerable people globally.

After 13 days of formal negotiations at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21), 195 states reached a historic agreement that will, for the first time, require both developed and developing countries to lower greenhouse gas emissions to help avert the worst effects of climate change.

Of particular relevance to the Asia-Pacific region is explicit reference to “pursue efforts” to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2020 while “holding” the increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius.

“This was a major victory for the island countries and the least developed countries in South-East Asia as they were among the strongest advocates of this goal,” Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, tells SciDev.Net.

To ensure compliance, nations will meet every five years starting in 2020 and present updated plans on raising their emission cuts. Starting in 2023, they will have to update the public on their progress.

Losses and damages, which are extremely important to vulnerable countries in the region, were “taken to a whole new level”, McKinnon tells SciDev.Net. adding an article of the outcome agreement made this a major pillar, not just a footnote under adaptation like it was in the past.

But while certain aspects of the agreement are legally binding, such as monitoring and reporting requirements regarding emissions levels and reductions, other aspects are not, such as individual parties’ reduction commitments. This means that the success of the Paris agreement depends largely on the resolve of future governments.

Other commitments from rich countries that Asia-Pacific nations would have liked strengthened is the US$100 billion per year that will be provided to poor countries by 2020 and scaled up starting in 2025. However, countries in the region want the scale-up to start from 2020 onwards, according to the Manila-Paris declaration of the CVF.

Still, McKinnon says that all is not lost. Now that a cap of 1.5 degrees Celsius is mentioned in the Paris agreement, vulnerable countries have the opportunity to argue that their needs in achieving that target and in building resilience far exceed US$100 billion per year from 2025. “This opens the possibility of significantly higher funding,” he notes.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.