Countries warn of being ‘wiped off’ Earth ahead of Paris deal

By Jean Chemnick | 04/19/2016 08:56 AM EDT

Countries vulnerable to climbing temperatures won a major victory last year when the Paris climate agreement called for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

Countries vulnerable to climbing temperatures won a major victory last year when the Paris climate agreement called for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

Now the Vulnerable 20 — a negotiating bloc of 43 developing countries with much to lose in a warming world — wants to build on that success. On the sidelines of last week’s World Bank and International Monetary Fund spring meeting, finance ministers from the group mulled ways to attract foreign aid while ensuring that richer countries fulfill the promises they made during last year’s landmark climate deal.

The stakes couldn’t be higher.


Cesar Purisima, chairman of the group and the finance secretary for the Philippines, called the international agreement "a modest beginning toward securing a sustainable future for our world." The Paris Agreement opens for signatures Friday in New York.

"Let us be unequivocal about this — we have to achieve and undertake more ambitious targets, especially for top emitters," he told the V-20 gathering.

The target to prevent temperatures from rising more than 1.5 C is an aspiration set forth in the Paris deal. But Purisima called it "a matter of survival."

"Settling for less ambitious goals mean some of us — our people and our lands — would be wiped off the face of the Earth by the ravaging effects of global warming," he said.

The V-20 was inaugurated last year as a "sister" organization to the Climate Vulnerable Forum. Both groups advocate for the interests of poor countries threatened by climate change in a negotiating process where major economies in both the developed and developing world get top billing.

Purisima noted that warming is an existential threat for many of the poor countries present at the World Bank headquarters Thursday. Founding members Tuvalu and Vanuatu face being submerged by rising seas, while Bangladesh could see millions of its citizens migrate inland from the coasts.

The Paris deal specified that developed countries would raise at least $100 billion a year by 2020 for adaptation projects in the most threatened countries. But Purisima said the V-20 wants a clearer "roadmap" for where those dollars would come from.

External help will be needed, he said. But poorer nations have their own commitments to meet. He urged them to deliver on those promises, spelled out in their intended nationally determined contributions, or INDCs, included in the Paris deal.

"It’s important that we in the V-20 walk our talk," Purisima said. "That will improve our moral ascendancy as we advocate for other countries to have stronger action in this fight for climate adaptation and mitigation."

Is the 1.5 C target realistic?

On adaptation, the group discussed possible funding streams, like the idea of a financial transaction tax levied on bond and equity purchases and other financial transactions. The idea has some support in Europe — including from French President François Hollande — but it would face a daunting path in the United States.

Another idea floated by the V-20 last week is a possible insurance system whereby climate-related costs would be shared across countries. Several nations could pool their risk, perhaps making it more cost-effective to purchase insurance. An initial study was completed ahead of last week’s meeting, and the decision Thursday was to explore what, if any, mechanism would be feasible.

At least 10 members of the V-20 said they will sign the Paris Agreement on Friday when it opens for signature at the United Nations’ headquarters, and they pledged to ratify the deal shortly thereafter. Others have already taken the step of ratifying the agreement, including Barbados, Belize, Tuvalu, Maldives, Fiji and Samoa. They will formally join the agreement when they sign it Friday.

Jo Scheuer, director of climate change and disaster risk reduction at the U.N. Development Programme’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, said the climate finance and emissions mitigation goals of Paris are linked.

"If we want to have any chance to meet the 1.5 goal, we have to mobilize a lot of finance rapidly to invest in renewables and move away from a fossil fuels economy," he told ClimateWire last week.

Some wonder whether the aspirational goal is achievable at all. U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres recently said that it would require the world to stop growing its emissions in 2020 — a hefty task, as many populous countries continue to industrialize.

Scheuer said he was an "optimist" but that the goal would require "immediate, urgent action" from a host of countries.

His team serves as the secretariat for the V-20 and works with 140 countries on climate goals. He said the developed world’s top request, apart from finance, is for help creating the legal framework and administrative capacities to implement its INDCs.

One reason more private-sector investment is not flowing to green energy projects in the developing world is there aren’t enough investment opportunities, Scheuer said. Regulatory constraints and planning problems create a "bottleneck" that stymies the expansion of solar power, wind and other industries.

"The money is looking for places to invest," he said. This can be addressed by advising governments but also through strategies to "de-risk" investment, like loan guarantees, he added.

Scheuer said his team works with developing countries to integrate climate objectives into broader economic development planning so that the two priorities move forward together.