Thursday 3 December 2015

CAFOD's hopes for COP21

By Rob Elsworth

After much anticipation the Paris climate negotiations, or COP21, are finally upon us. It is no exaggeration to say that governments, businesses, charities and faith communities have been working towards this point for years. Failure to secure a meaningful agreement on climate change in Copenhagen in 2009 made many decide to work differently, building political will from the ground up.

Much good work on communicating the urgency of the climate challenge has already been done, from Ban Ki-Moon’s Climate Summit in New York in September 2014 to Pope Francis Encyclical, Laudato Si’. This process will reach its zenith over the next two weeks in Paris. CAFOD, together with sister Catholic development agencies, is now attending the negotiations in Paris to represent the experience of our partners on the ground, advocating for a deal that protects the world’s most vulnerable people. Paris needs to demonstrate the international community working together at its best, delivering a binding agreement which can be assessed and strengthened every few years and ultimately delivers a shift away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy that protects the planet and provides energy for everyone, including the poorest.

Climate change and poverty

Without a deal on cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the job of tackling poverty will become even harder. In every country, in every community where our partners work, we hear the same thing: a changing climate is making life harder for the people who are often already the most vulnerable, and have no financial or social safety nets in place to support them when disasters or changing climatic conditions put their ability to cope under even further strain. These people have done the least to cause climate change but are being hit the hardest but its impacts. (See our report: Climate Change and Vulnerability: Pushing People over the Edge)

What does CAFOD want from Paris?

No single piece of paper, agreement or treaty will solve climate change. The ramifications of a changing climate are wide ranging, complex and ultimately uncertain.

CAFOD and its partner in the CIDSE and Caritas development network believe the Paris agreement must recognise climate change as a long term structural challenge to our economies and societies that will only be tackled through universal cooperation and solidarity. We must radically reduce GHG emissions fast enough that global temperatures rise by no more than 1.5 degrees above pre industrial levels. The poorest and most vulnerable countries need assurance that financial assistance will be made available to help them avoid the most dangerous impact of climate change.
To achieve this, the Paris agreement must, do a number of things.

First and foremost it should set a target which the world can aim towards –in our view total decarbonisation of the global economy by 2050 at the latest. Decarbonisation is key because it gives the clearest signal possible to all – civil society, governments, businesses and investors – of the shift to a low carbon future. The need to achieve this transition by 2050 is driven by the need to limit warming to below 1.5 degrees to climate change impacting the most vulnerable countries and regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa and low lying islands.

Flexibility must set the Paris Agreement apart from previous agreements. What’s agreed in Paris must not lock in low ambition or create inaction for another 10 years, but enable countries to respond to a changing world – politically, economically, technologically and scientifically. What is agreed here in Paris will need to be improved over time to meet the long term decarbonisation goal.

Support for poorer countries. This transition will not be easy and many countries do not have the financial or technical capacity to make it on their own. The ecological debt, as Pope Francis calls it, owed by those countries who developed first using dirty fossil fuels must be factored into the negotiations. Developed countries have promised climate finance of $100 billion per year by 2020. This is of course welcome but more needs to be done to offer certainty that meaningful financial and other support will be there up to and beyond 2020 for those most vulnerable countries. More clarity must be given on long term climate finance, including new sources of finance going forward.
Finally the legal form of the agreement must be clear and understood. The Paris agreement will require some degree of legal clout if it is to influence the way we develop and build economies going forward. This is likely to be a delicate balance but is possibly one of the most crucial elements.

 A week and a half to go…
The start of the COP was marked by the presence of world leaders, giving opening speeches to set the tone of the conference and give a mandate to their negotiators. President Obama spoke of the USA’s commitment to tackling climate change, David Cameron told delegates asked how we would explain failure in Paris to our grandchildren and the Chinese Premier Xi described it as being just the start of action. Cardinal Parolin of the Holy See reminded delegates of the ‘ethical imperative’ to act.
Many barriers and difficult political issues remain in the way before an agreement can be reached. Yet with so much work having gone into getting us this far, a global agreement on climate change is within striking distance. If negotiators are successful, they could change the lives of millions of world’s most vulnerable people for the better.

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