Paris Agreement – Actions Will Speak Louder Than Words

June 3, 2016

By Nalini Singh, Programme Manager, ARROW

The Paris Agreement[1], agreed to by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)[2] member states at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) and adopted on Earth Day 2016 (22 April) now has 177 signatories out of the total 196 countries (175 being first-day signatories).[3] This is a fair indication on the importance countries are placing on climate change matters including the impact climate change will have on the environment and people.

ARROW’s engagement in the COP processes follows from our work on climate change and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and the implementation of a multi-country project[4] in 2014 to enable national partners and ARROW to generate a wider evidence base for advocacy. One aim of the project is to provide evidence to intervene effectively with COP. We have participated in COP20 and 21 to highlight that so far climate discourses and discussions are not only gender blind but also completely miss SRHR. ARROW was recently formally accredited by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as an observer organisation.

Climate change and sustainable development are inextricably linked and as such the UNFCCC and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are linked by a goal on climate change (SDG 13) which acknowledges that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change”.[5] There are links to SDG 2 (agriculture), SDG 7 (energy), SDG 11 (cities), SDG 9 (industrialisation), SDG 15 (forests), SDG 14 (oceans, seas and marine resources) and SDG 15 (terrestrial ecosystems, forests, desertification, land degradation and biodiversity). Both agreements state enhancement of gender equality while developing response measures to address climate change, reduce food insecurity and improve nutrition. There are opportunities for convergence but the most likely scenario will be that there will be two separate but parallel processes.

But is the Paris Agreement paving transformative pathways to reverse the anthropogenic damages? Will commitments translate into implementations and action? Such questions are worth taking a closer look at the Paris Agreement.

Ratification by ‘Big Polluters’

Despite the high turnout for signing, the Paris Agreement needs ratification by at least 55 countries covering 55% of global carbon emissions to come into force and become legally binding.[6] Out of the 177 signatories, 15 have ratified the agreement, and at least 45 others are expected to do so in this year. Hence, the question remains on when the ‘big polluters’ such as Australia, Canada, China, Mexico and USA will be ratifying.

Action for CSOs:

CSOs at the national level, especially in big polluting countries, need to advocate with their governments on the importance of Agreement and the need for ratification. CSOs can also build awareness nationally on why ratification is different from signing and how commitments will come into effect only when there is ratification.

Reducing Carbon Emissions: Elephant in the Room

The debate on carbon emissions took a life of its own during the negotiations. For the first time all countries acknowledged that the effects of historic and on-going emissions will have serious and lasting consequences for the earth’s natural systems. The Agreement puts the onus on all member countries to have equal responsibility in reducing emissions, with developed countries leading the way for emissions reduction by undertaking absolute emission reduction targets and developing countries to continue enhancing their mitigation efforts (Article 4.4, Annex, Paris Agreement). This may sound equitable but it weakens the principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR)[7] and favours developed countries by overlooking their historical emissions. This in turn undermines aspirations of developing countries to develop further. There can also be an opposite effect of putting up barriers dependent on geopolitical block interests (such as that of the G77, LDCs, AOSIS, etc.) and national sovereignty issues which have been used time and time again during negotiations to limit countries full commitment. And it’s not clear if or how nations will be penalised if they fail to meet their voluntary targets.

Action for CSOs:

CSOs need to press for mechanisms for greater accountability and transparency as there is no process to verify independently all 195 countries’ greenhouse gas inventories, or progress towards their targets. The lack of a common or comparable format will make national emissions reductions even harder to assess and track otherwise.

The 20 C Goal: A Vague Promise?

COP21 was seen as the last chance to seal a deal that can limit global warming to 2 degrees while pursuing efforts to keep temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.[8] The debate around what the upper and lower limits of temperature increase was heated during the negotiations with a final consensus that temperature increase needs to be less than 20 C. While it’s a significant step forward, it’s important to note that this is not legally binding. It’s also concerning that the estimated aggregate GHG emission levels in 2025 and 2030 resulting from the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) would lead to a scenario beyond 20 C (Para 17, Paris Agreement). The Paris Agreement requires a ‘global stocktake’ every five years which would cover mitigation and adaptation measures undertaken. All countries need to be prepared for this as the first meeting is due in 2023 with preparations beginning in 2018 – 2019.

Action for CSOs:

Nationally, CSOs need to ensure that their governments comply with providing appropriate and correct baseline data for a meaningful global stocktake process. And CSOs must be a part of these processes at all levels.

Financing the Paris Agreement: The Unfinished Agenda

The Paris Agreement failed to address the question of reliable funding resources for developing countries. The Agreement states that ‘developed parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation of their existing obligations under the Convention[9]’ and other parties were asked to make voluntary contributions (Article 9, Annex, Paris Agreement). The Green Climate Fund (GCF) – which was adopted as the operating entity of the Financial Mechanism of the Convention at COP17 – has been able to mobilise only 10% of its target amount. Developing an innovative financial mechanism in order to help poor and low-income countries shift towards a low carbon economy is critical.  Renewal and fulfilment of pledges to the GCF needs to be prioritised by developed countries so that all countries can meet their emission and other targets. Richer governments need to create actionable roadmaps to raise their ambitions in terms of contributions.

Action for CSOs:

CSO especially in developed countries should track and monitor their government’s contribution to GCF and also towards other funds to understand the areas that government is prioritizing for funding. The CSOs should also analyze the budgets of their government to accurately respond to issues on government income and expenditure.

Acknowledgment of Gender, Human Rights and Vulnerable Groups

The Paris Agreement represents a tremendous step forward in terms of acknowledging gender equality, human rights including right to health of all people and specifying the most vulnerable groups in the preamble. This is seen as a significant step forward as gender and gender equality had remained inadequately addressed in the more than two decades of climate change negotiations.

Governments need to fulfil their international commitments. Climate change has brought about a change in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters such as droughts, landslides, floods and hurricanes. These have greater impact on communities that are reliant on natural resources for their livelihoods. Community knowledge and practice must be understood and incorporated in all national mitigation and adaptation plans (NAPAs). Women face higher risks and greater burdens from the impact of climate change in situations of poverty, and the majority of the world’s poor are women. Women’s unequal participation in decision-making processes and labour markets compound inequalities and often prevent women from fully contributing to climate-related planning, policy-making and implementation. This has to change.

Women do and can play a larger role in responding to climate change. Their knowledge and skills in sustainable resource management must be recognised. Women’s participation in leadership and political processes in relation to climate change needs to be ensured at all levels. The Agreement states ‘right to health’ which countries need to heed as they build climate resilient health systems. WHO explains this as when climate-related disasters strike, or environmental conditions are gradually degraded, health systems are able to face the challenges head-on.[10] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has recognised the co-benefits of addressing health including reproductive health in relation to climate change.[11]

Action for CSOs:

CSOs need to continue in their efforts to build the body of evidence and create awareness on climate change and how it impacts grassroots/communities, especially women. With this momentum CSOs need to continue their advocacy with their governments to develop NAPAs which need to accommodate actions and resources for all people including the most vulnerable. Their differentiated needs have to be recognised. And at the same time there is a greater roles for CSOs in monitoring and holding their governments accountable in their efforts in the fulfilment of their international commitments on gender equality, human rights and right to health.

The Paris Agreement marks a watershed moment in taking action on climate change. However for it to be truly transformative, actions will have to speak louder than words.

[2] The UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994 with an ultimate aim of preventing “dangerous” human interference with the climate system and making member states act in the interests of human safety even in the face of scientific uncertainty. UNFCCC aims to stabilise greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations and puts more responsibility on developed countries. It also directs funds to activities in developing countries and began a process for monitoring the situation and responses. In order to ensure effective implementation of the UNFCCC, an annual meeting of all Parties to the Convention is organised which is called the COP. So far there have been 21 conferences.
[4] The eight country partnership project is called “Building New Constituencies for Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: Working with Rights-Based Climate Change/Environmental Groups to Build Momentum for SRHR in the Lead-up to the New Development Framework” which is being implemented in Bangladesh, Lao PDR, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Philippines.
[7] The principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) includes two fundamental elements. The first concerns the common responsibility of States for the protection of the environment, or parts of it, at the national, regional and global levels. The second concerns the need to take into account the different circumstances, particularly each State’s contribution to the evolution of a particular problem and its ability to prevent, reduce and control the threat.
[9] UN Framework Convention on Climate Change