Ahead of COP 21, Dhaka Tribune spoke with Achala C Abeysinghe who is Principal Researcher and team leader of the global climate law, policy, and governance team at International Institute for Environment and Development. She is an experienced negotiator in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and has been working as the legal and technical adviser to the LDC Group since 2011.
What are the most important issues that are going to be discussed in COP21?
There are a number of key issues, but one major issue is the long-term temperature goal. There are varying positions on this issue. The most ambitious of them is the net zero emission by 2050, which means the countries have to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to a very serious level. If it is net zero by 2050 the time-line is very short, but science says that this is still possible. However, countries will have to take serious measures to meet such a target. Hence I think our political leaders need to be involved in this part of negotiations and make a serious commitment to do this.
Do you think that it is possible to get a legally binding agreement on emission cut in this year’s COP?
It is possible. We have been given a significant opportunity to address the gaps that the current regime has not managed to address. We have had many decisions under the UNFCCC, but the implementation of some of those decisions is questionable.
I believe that the legally bindingness is one of the elements in the 2015 agreement that countries can use to show that they are serious about addressing climate change. Also, with the bottom-up approach of nationally determined contributions, countries decide what they will do and how. Capturing those targets in a legally binding agreement is the least that countries can do to show they are serious about their nationally determined targets. We hope that an annex of mitigation and finance numbers could be attached to the agreement so that it is a strong part of the Paris Agreement, yet can be kept flexible for amending overtime.
We understand that there are difficulties for certain countries to have a protocol at an international level because their national level systems may not approve such kind of arrangement. One of those countries is the US. However, US delegation is actively negotiating and we hope that their internal systems will not be a reason to jeopardise this historical momentum to adopt an effective and legally binding agreement at international level that will be applicable to all Parties.
Is this the only problem to get a legally binding agreement?
No, you have the issue around differentiations. We understand that the world has changed since 1992 and that it may be the time to move on from the strict firewall of differentiation between developed and developing countries.
However, we still have to have some kind of differentiation between countries who emit more, who have the capacity to do more and those who have minimum emissions and have limited capacity to address impacts of climate change. Particularly, there should be special provisions to address needs and demands of least developed countries.
What is the role of least developed countries (LDCs) in the UNFCCC negotiations?
LDCs have very strong moral voice in the negotiations, because their emissions are still very low, but they are the first and hardest hit by climate change impacts. Despite their vulnerability and lack of resources, many LDCs are preparing their nationally determined contributions despite it not being mandatory for them to do so. This means other more capable and responsible countries should not shy away from strongly committing to the new agreement. All of the developed countries and emerging economies should do much more. LDCs believe that 2015 is the opportunity for every country to act collectively, to address climate change problem.
What is the strategy of LDCs in the UNFCCC process?
Negotiations among 196 countries to find compromises in order to adopt a defining global agreement is a very difficult task. The strategy of the LDCs is to be solution-oriented and be a bridge builder in the difficult negotiations. The LDC Group listens to all Parties and tries to understand the underlying rationale of stated positions before helping to find solutions. However, with limited capacity and resources, this is not an easy task.
Is it possible to limit the carbon emission by 1.5 degrees?
It is possible and it is needed. Technologically it is possible. Financially, it is possible. What is lacking is political will. Us and our political leaders have a choice at this defining moment. If they choose not to do it, the consequences will be severe. To say the least, some of our countries will completely disappear.
What are the major points we are going to see in the Paris agreement?
As mentioned, a long-term global goal, commitments to mitigation and adaptation, and provisions for means of implementation for vulnerable developing countries, particularly for LDCs, are key. Hopefully, the agreement will also introduce a system where parties can prepare cycles of commitments and do regular reviews and assessments on their commitments to increase ambition overtime. Provisions for transparency and accountability, both for actions and support are needed. Also, compliance and enforcement should play a vital role in the new agreement.
In addition, at COP 21, we will get a number of decisions setting the scene for negotiations between 2016 and 2020. These are the decisions that are needed to put the structures in place during the transition period between 2016 and 2020 in order to implement the new agreement from 2020.
Do you think this year’s COP will be a landmark to go the future?
I think it is. Not only for the COP 21, this year is the landmark year for many reasons. If you look at the events going on across the world -- on Sustainable Development Goals, on Disaster Risk reductions, on finance of development -- they are all key events. Every meeting has the opportunity to lead the world towards collectively setting up systems for an environmentally sustainable and better future. I am confident that the parties to the UNFCCC will use this opportunity at the COP 21.