The Caribbean Must be Counted at COP24

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Channel 5, Great Belize Television, Belize, Caribbean

The second week of the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change kicked off today. This COP is considered the most important climate-change summit since the historic signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015. It has brought together over 20,000 people to Katowice, Poland, to lay out the plans of how that agreement will be implemented. When the summit opened, the president of COP24 pointed out that the success of that 2015 agreement is contingent on this year’s COP gathering.

“Without success in Katowice, there is no success of Paris. Because simply put, the framework will not be operational," said Michal Kurtyka, President, COP24. "Get this summit across the finish line and deliver a joyous message to the people of the world. We have brought the 2015 Agreement to life in Katowice.”

And so since last week, government leaders, policymakers, researchers, scientists, non-profit organizations, climate change activists and others have been meeting to decide how the Paris Agreement will be implemented to achieve its targets. Nearly 200 countries made the 2015 landmark decision to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and keep global warming well below two degrees Celsius. 

But that agreement is not legally binding and doesn’t have specific timelines for countries to meet their pledges. These Nationally Determine Contributions (NDCs) – are each country’s own targets to tackle climate change and reduce emissions. And so to make good on that 2015 promise, the world has come together at COP24 to develop a rulebook for how countries will reduce global warming. Carlos Fuller who is from the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center and a negotiator for the Small Island Developing States, or SIDS, at COP 24, explains.

“Dealing with things like NDCs; common time frames whether it is every five years you do an NDC or if it is every ten years. Should it be done together instead of everyone doing it a different year. On the accounting procedures, how do you account for your NDCs? At present, there are different NDCs. Some say, ‘I am going to reduce my greenhouse gases by X amount of tonnes. Some say I will be more energy efficient; others say I will reduce my trajectory of how I am developing. So, you have to develop a common metric to be able to measure one against the other," said Fuller.

And, as for the rest of the world, this COP is significant for Belize. Belize is a member of the small island developing states. This is a block of 57 countries from CARICOM, the Pacific and 10 others member states. Belize and these countries share similar sustainable development challenges, have limited resources and are some of the most vulnerable to natural disasters. And that is why some countries, including the SIDS, had requested further investigation into the below two degree goal of the Paris Agreement.

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its 1.5 degrees report back in October, it confirmed that the difference between a 1.5 and two-degree temperature increase would be catastrophic on water supplies, biodiversity, oceans and food production. Further, it projected even more extreme weather events – and some of the hardest hit by those disasters will be SIDS.  Moving from below two degrees to one 1.5 degrees to offset some of these catastrophes means more aggressive commitments to transition economies to clean energy. But last week, a few big countries, including the United States, Russia and Saudi Arabia, blocked the IPCC report from being included in the global climate talks in Poland.

“Some countries are objecting to it because they do not believe enough science went into it; however, I do not believe that. Others recognise that they have to transform their entire energy strategy and those countries which depend on the exportation of oil and coal for their economies, they are the ones who are afraid of bringing out this report because then it affects their economies," Fuller said.

And according to CARICOM representative Douglas Slater, this rejection of the IPCC’s 1.5-degree report makes things a bit more challenging for the already vulnerable SIDS.

“That is a challenge and I think it will be important for us CARICOM countries to use whatever opportunities we may have, at COP, out of COP, international fora, at discussions with our development partners and any level to present the findings of this report, to present our case," said Slater.

The SIDS negotiators believe this rejection of the 1.5-degree report may hold some implications for them. But CARICOM refuses to give in.

“How it would affect us is how an organisation would be able to use that report," said Fuller. "So, for example, the financial mechanism of the Convention cannot use that to develop its work program to provide financing you would need. Or other international organisations, whether it is the World Bank, the JEF, or whoever to be able to use that report to affect it.”

“We are small but we can talk," Slater added. "We intend to use our voices to carry some powerful messages. We depend especially on our Ministers who are here to send a very strong message to the world that the Caribbean, CARICOM must be counted.”

This story was supported by the 2018 Climate Change Media Partnership, a collaboration between Internews’  Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Foundation.

Thumbnail photo: Belize City harbour, Belize / Credit: Jasmine Halki via Flickr