The tough journey on the road to Paris: addressing the needs of the most vulnerable

With the latest round of climate negotiations under way in Bonn, Achala Abeysinghe reports on concerns that the burden for an ambitious and equitable agreement falls disproportionately on the backs of the poorest and most the vulnerable.

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Dr. Achala Abeysinghe is principal researcher and team leader of the global climate law, policy and governance team in IIED's Climate Change Group
02 September 2015
The opening session  of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) begins in Bonn, Germany, on 31 August, 2015 (Photo: UNclimatechange, Creative Commons, via Flickr)

The opening session  of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) begins in Bonn, Germany, on 31 August, 2015 (Photo: UNclimatechange, Creative Commons, via Flickr)

This week's climate negotiations remind me of a famous African saying: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together". But in climate negotiations, if parties try to walk alone, they will not go anywhere.

The climate negotiations journey on the road to Paris appears tough, but if countries walk together, they will advance towards building a sustainable future for the planet. In this journey, parties must consider the needs and demands of the poorest and the most vulnerable. 

Parties are in Bonn this week for the latest round of negotiations on the Durban Platform (ADP), the body established to negotiate a new climate agreement to be adopted at the climate summit in Paris this December (COP21). With less than eight formal negotiating days to go, the task ahead is huge.

The co-chairs' tool

Following the mandate given to them at the last ADP session, the ADP co-chairs have produced a 'tool' to facilitate this week's negotiations.

The tool has three key parts: part I lists provisions that are appropriate for inclusion in the Paris agreement; part II lists provisions that could be included in a COP decision; and part III lists provisions where further clarity is needed. This seems to be a helpful structure going forward.

Parties now need to get down to the nuts and bolts of the agreement's design. Many of the elements needed for an effective and equitable outcome in Paris need to be moved up from part III of this tool into parts I and II.

LDCs' voices missing

The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are gravely concerned that many of their most crucial issues – such as loss and damage, mitigation and financial commitments, provisions for enhanced support on technology and capacity building, establishing a compliance mechanism – are in part III of the tool. Parties now have to convince others to move these issues to parts I or II.

This is a disproportionate burden for the poorest and most vulnerable countries and is aggravated by the lack of LDC participation in Bonn due to a lack of funding for their coordinators to attend this session. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat used to fund at least two people per LDC for negotiating sessions but have limited funding to one person per country for this session. This has resulted in many key negotiators missing this session.

Representatives from the LDCs fear that they will be further disadvantaged as a result. The agreement will not be fair and equitable if the voices of the LDCs are not heard and their concerns are not addressed at this critical juncture of global climate negotiations

Creating the storyline

As part of this week's process, parties have started discussing and building the storyline for the future climate regime.

Building the storyline of the Paris Agreement will not be a difficult exercise if parties work based on the Durban Mandate. It should be built around adopting an ambitious agreement that is legal in nature, that enhances the multilateral rules-based regime and provisions on mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, means of implementation, transparency of action and support, and it must be applicable to all parties.

It is important that the narrative is established both within the agreement and through the accompanying/supplementary COP decisions.

This must start with the preamble and the objective sections, which should set a clear direction of travel and explain the Paris Agreement's underlying philosophy. According to the LDCs, the direction of travel must start with the ultimate objective of the convention, reference the global temperature goal of 1.5 degrees (as called for by more than 100 vulnerable countries), reference the long-term pathway of net zero emissions and to the need to address the linkages between mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage.

It is encouraging to see that the need for a strong general objective is widely recognised among parties in Bonn.

Actions and commitments on all these elements need to be strengthened by common enabling factors such as adequate finance, investment in environmentally sound technologies and infrastructure, and capacity strengthening and a strong governance system. Transparency, accountability and compliance must be guaranteed.

To ensure the durability and dynamism of the agreement, LDCs are calling for concrete short-term mitigation and financial targets from 2020-25 and subsequent five-year periods, housed in integral annexes, with principles of no backsliding and progression, anchored in the legally binding agreement. They also argue that any trading mechanism must be conditional on sound environmental principles, including strong rules related to land use.

To complete the storyline, LDCs have called for the agreement to include clear and robust provisions for enhancing resilience, reducing vulnerability and addressing loss and damage.

Need for more ambition

The process to submit intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) has revealed an alarming low level of ambition from an increasing number of countries.

However, momentum is building that could inject more energy and ambition into the negotiating rooms. From the leaders of Brazil and Germany to the leading figures in the Muslim community, there is an increasing understanding that the Paris outcomes must signal the long-term pathway is the end of fossil fuel era, build resilient communities and enhance support to vulnerable countries.

French President Francois Hollande is pushing for a "viable" agreement that would see 80 per cent of our fossil fuel resources stay in the ground. Hopefully, this momentum will continue to create more ambition in the current negotiations and in the INDC process.

The French and Peruvian COP presidencies are organising a series of high level meetings, with the next one in Paris on 6-7 September. Ministers are due to discuss how finance and adaptation will be included in the agreement, and are expected to discuss how they can deliver the USD $100 billion a year climate finance promise by 2020 – a precondition for poorer countries to adopt the new agreement in December.

The UN Secretary General will hold a meeting on climate change alongside the UN General Assembly in New York. It is to be hoped that these meetings will consider the needs and demands of the poorest and the most vulnerable and harness further political momentum for the Paris agreement for a sustainable and equitable future for all.

Dr. Achala Abeysinghe ( is principal researcher and team leader of the global climate law, policy and governance team in IIED's Climate Change Group.