Q&A: climate negotiations

An interview with IIED's Dr Saleemul Huq on what the upcoming CIOP15 negotiations mean for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

Article, 17 March 2009

Q. From a Least Developed Country (LDC) perspective, what is a desirable outcome at COP15 in Copenhagen?
A. It really is the biggest opportunity for getting a good, fair and ambitious climate change deal in place. The science is directing us and that is saying we need to take severe action.

A good agreements has three parts:

  • Firstly the major emitting countries, particularly the richest countries like the US and Europe have to take on very strong targets for reducing their emissions.
  • Secondly, the larger developing countries, who are becoming major emitters, need to take on some kind of commitments to reduce their increase in fossil fuel use and GHG emissions, bringing them down over time.
  • Thirdly, the LDCs need a lot of money for assistance to deal with harmful, unavoidable and inevitable impacts of climate change.

Q. You are a major proponent of the Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States and Africa Group allying themselves as the “Most Vulnerable Countries.” How much uptake has this had, how close is it to being a reality, and how will it help in the negotiations?
A. There has been quite a lot of uptake and positive feedback and to the idea of these three groups working more closely together to do more high level messaging. These groups are essentially one hundred of the poorest countries in the world, with a total population of one billion people. These are the people who will suffer the consequences of climate change but who are responsible for only a tiny fraction - less than 3 or 4 % of global emissions. Developing countries aren’t the cause of the problem, they could reduce their emissions to zero tomorrow and it wouldn’t make any difference, so their appeal is to the rest of the world, the countries that are responsible for the other 96 or 97% of the global emissions, to take strong action in Copenhagen.

It is in that framing of the issue at the higher level that the concept of the Most Vulnerable Countries (MVC) is useful. It should not be forgotten that there are millions of vulnerable people who fall outside of these groups in India and China and South America but it is a useful utilisation of the concept of the MVC, bringing them together and highlighting their plight and their issues.

Q. Scientists at the recent international congress in Copenhagen have prepared a summary statement of their findings for policy makers with six key points; one of which calls for a “well funded adaptation safety net”. What innovative options are there for funding adaptation?
A. Aside from the Adaptation Fund in terms of going forward, there are a number of proposals on the table. The Norwegian government has put forward a proposal that would tax the agreed assigned unit amounts that the developed countries have, auction them and then put that money into a fund that would go to adaptation as well as forestry and various other good things as well.

The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have put forward a proposal to put an adaptation levy on international air travel, called the International Air Passenger Adaptation Levy which would be applied to every international traveller every time they bought a ticket for an international flight. This would apply as much to the LDC passengers as to any other country passenger. An amount of money would be deducted and go into the adaptation fund and would raise in the order of US$10-15 billion per year.

Q. How has the global economic downturn affected funding opportunities?
A. The global economic downturn makes it more difficult to make an argument for environmental causes. On the other hand the argument that is bring made, which will hopefully have resonance, is that the economic downturn in fact presents an opportunity for us to overhaul the system that is clearly not working and has failed, which we would perhaps not have been able to do had the economic recession not happened. The ability to question the current economic paradigm and particularly the current paradigm of energy dependence on fossil fuels would not have happened without this economic downturn. The opportunity now exists for us to start from scratch by investing in new, cleaner technologies. Hopefully politicians will realise that and will go for the option of a better new world rather than going back to the old word which has clearly failed us.

Q. Who will be the major players in the negotiations and what can we expect from them in terms of action to support adaptation funding?
A. The major players on the mitigation side are clearly the two biggest emitting countries: USA and China. The good news is that after 8 dark years of the Bush regime, where they were in practical denial about the problem, refusing to take any action, the new President and the Administration he has put in place, particularly the advisors and the people he has apportioned for this issue, it is very very hopeful that things will change. The President has certainly said that they will change yet it remains to be seen what those changes will be and there will be a summit coming up very soon between the US and the Chinese presidents where the two will hopefully talk about climate change and come up with some agreed outcomes between themselves being the two biggest emitters.

In the wider negotiating context it is the larger countries like the US, Europe, Japan Canada, the large developing countries like China, India and Brazil who will have to agree on the mitigation side of the equation – how much to reduce, when to reduce and who does how much. These are very difficult negotiations, but I am generally hopeful that people are in a more positive bent of mind to try and come up with solutions.

On the other side of the equation in terms of funding adaptation, I am actually more sanguine because the larger more difficult part is mitigation, if we solve that then adaptation funding in the order of tens of billions of dollars which is now widely accepted figure for what is going to be needed, we already have proposals of how to raise that amount, there aren’t any major objections to those proposals, we will probably end up with a mix of different ways of raising funds, but I don’t see a major problem in raising the funding there’s really nobody out there saying that adaptation funding should not be done or should not be given at the required levels. It’s about agreeing on how to do it, where to do it and how to manage it, rather the principle of whether to do it or not.

Q. What do you think of the media coverage of climate change in Least Developed Countries (LDCs)? Do you think there is enough awareness about adaptation issues in the UK and abroad?
A. Media in most LDCs that I am familiar with have been slow to pick up on climate change. Initially when they did report on climate change issues tended to be material from places like the BBC or CNN which is very much a global or even a Northern perspective. Very little media information was available with a more Southern perspective broadly, or an LDC perspective more specifically. That is beginning to change.

In the last year and a half more and more journalists in developing countries and LDCs have been exposed to the climate change issue. IIED’s media programme together with Panos and Internews have been doing journalist training and facilitation which has been very effective. The Climate Change Media Partnership were able to bring something in the order of 70 journalists from developing and least developed countries to the last COP in Poznan, Poland and have had a strong presence at the previous two COPS in Bali Indonesia and Nairobi, Kenya. Developing country journalists have been able to inform themselves of the issues, talk to various people and experts in their own countries and gain a much more nuanced and bottom up view of the problem. They are then able to articulate their views on the issue and provide information for readers and listeners and citizens that is specific to their needs and not just rely on the global set of information that comes off the international wires. Many of these journalists have continued to report on climate issues, having been to the COPS, understood the issues being discussed. These issues tend to be very complicated and for the normal journalist who is not normally exposed to this and who does not have a scientific background it can be very difficult to find out what the story is and how to report on it, but these journalists have been trained and exposed and are now able to write effectively on these issues in their own media journals, radio television. They have been able to raise the level of awareness in developing countries generally and LDCs particularly.

Climate Change Media Partnership - Joint venture by Internews, Panos and IIED to support developing world journalism and perspectives.

Fairer Flying: an international air travel levy for adaptation - IIED Briefing paper

International Air Passenger Adaptation Levy - PDF of full proposal