‘Less than a year ahead of the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [COP21], which will take place in Paris in December 2015, the outcome of which will affect the lives of billions of people, we call upon the international community to conclude a universal, equitable and ambitious climate deal, in line with the scientific recommendations set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], to preserve our planet as a livable place for future generations. From Manila today, we hope to make history together in Paris in December and not simply watch history unfold.”
The “Manila call to action on climate change”, issued last week on the occasion of the French president's state visit to the Philippines, summarises what is at stake when, from November 30 to December 11, 2015, the yearly round of climate change negotiations will take place in Paris. It has become, unfortunately, an annual event where despite the urgency to act, progress remains too slow.
Climate change is happening: the latest data collected by the IPCC indicate clearly that each of the past three decades has been successively warmer than any preceding decade since records began in 1850, and it is directly related to human activity. To prevent disasters like typhoons, droughts, floods and a rise in sea levels by nearly a metre by the end of the century, we need to limit the rise in temperature to a maximum 2 degrees Celsius, meaning in practice that global greenhouse gas emissions need not only to stop rising but begin to actually be cut.
This is critical because climate change is affecting everyone, but its impact is more severe for vulnerable countries like Cambodia, which is highly dependent on its natural resources.
So what does France want to achieve at the upcoming COP 21 meeting?
First, it has to be a good host. With more than 20,000 expected delegates, 3,000 journalists and many civil society organisations, this conference will be the largest France has ever hosted. The second and most difficult challenge will be to chair the meeting. The feeling of urgency to come up with a comprehensive, binding agreement on climate change is there among many stakeholders.
However, we remain humble because of the complexity of the negotiation and the difficulty to reach an agreement among 195 countries with different points of views and priorities.
Yet, there are reasons for optimism.
First, more or less every country in the world knows that the clock is ticking and that action needs to be taken: 22 million people were displaced in 2013 as a result of extreme weather events like floods and typhoon – the bulk of them taking place in Asia.
Second, we know we have technological solutions that can help us address the issue and that these technologies are more and more affordable. Third, political will is getting stronger. In that regard, the European Union and its member states are spearheading efforts and were the first ones to present their Green House Gas reduction target after 2020, so far the most ambitious worldwide: a 40 per cent cut in emissions compared with the level of 1990. The two largest emitters – China and the US, which account for 40 per cent of global emissions – had come to an agreement last year.
Finally, the Green Climate Fund, whose purpose is to help developing countries to limit their emissions and to adapt to the impacts of climate change, is receiving more financial contributions. France for instance has committed $1 billion, roughly a 10th of total pledges. Lastly, the COP 20 meeting in Lima last year laid the foundation for a positive outcome in Paris by agreeing on a basis for discussions.
What should be the main features of a Paris agreement? In our view, it could be organised around four pillars:
• An agreement between governments on common targets, rights and obligations of each party and rules for monitoring its implementation.
• National contributions, the so-called intended nationally determined contributions, which would cover mainly emissions but could also encompass adaptation measures.
• Financial and technology support, especially for developing and vulnerable countries.
• The last pillar would be what we call the “solutions agenda”, bascially a reflection of the initiatives taken by civil society and companies, to curb emissions.
Reaching an agreement in Paris is a very high priority for France. A key element for the success of the conference is to listen to the points of view of all parties since every country has a different approach to climate change. Yet, one common driver for change is to start considering it from an economic perspective since what we are asking of all countries, rich or poor, is to rethink their economic development models. For instance, when only 30 per cent of its population has access to reliable and affordable electricity supply it is difficult to ask Cambodia to slow its energy production if we are unable to provide alternative and affordable solutions. So we need to be able to adapt to a given context and provide solutions whenever possible.
Jean-Claude Poimboeuf is the French ambassador to Cambodia.