NGO: Poor should take ‘wait and see’ approach to climate deal

By Jean Chemnick | 03/30/2016 08:36 AM EDT

A Malaysian advocacy group is urging poor countries to skip a signing ceremony for the landmark Paris climate agreement in New York next month.

A Malaysian advocacy group is urging poor countries to skip a signing ceremony for the landmark Paris climate agreement in New York next month.

The Third World Network is circulating a memo urging developing countries not to "rush" to sign onto the deal, but instead to hold out for many of the assurances from rich countries that some feel eluded them in last year’s negotiations. Among them: the rich world’s pledges to contain emissions before 2020 and more details on how wealthy countries will discharge the financial promises in or prior to Paris.

The briefing paper, first reported by Climate Home, urges countries not to heed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s invitation to sign the agreement when it opens for signature on April 22.


"Not signing now keeps the pressure up on developed countries to deliver on their promises and to leverage the outcomes and positions that are vital for developing countries in meeting their obligations under the [Paris Agreement]," wrote Meena Raman of the Third World Network in the memo, which was distributed to developing countries’ delegations.

Developed countries do not have a good track record of either providing promised aid or following through on mitigation pledges, Raman claimed. She noted that of the $10 billion pledged to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund before 2020, wealthy nations have put up $6.8 billion through this year.

Even the full $10 billion for the fund — which would help poor countries respond to climate change and limit their own emissions — is a far cry from the total $100 billion in climate finance that rich countries pledged to mobilize annually by 2020.

The rich world has also come up short on its past mitigation pledges, Raman wrote. The European Union never ratified an agreement reached in Doha, Qatar, in 2012 to undergo a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol.

All in all, "It will be more advantageous to developing countries to wait this year and not rush into signing of the [Paris Agreement]," she wrote.

When asked for comment, Raman said that she was not calling for poor countries to boycott the Paris signing, but only suggesting that they wait to sign the agreement.

She added that developed countries that are sincere will understand that poor countries need more reassurances that they will act.

"If developed countries do not honour what they agreed to in the pre 2020 timeframe, how can they be expected to honour the commitments under the Paris Agreement?" she said in an email.

Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth U.S. called her strategy "prudent," adding, "She’s not saying sign it or don’t sign it; she’s saying wait and see."

Other activists question strategy’s wisdom

The Paris Agreement binds together voluntary emissions pledges from 187 countries of all levels of wealth and development to curb emissions and puts in place mandatory reviews of nations’ efforts toward meeting the goals. It includes a pledge from developed countries to raise the $100 billion in climate aid by 2020, calling it a floor to be built upon — a major win for developing nations in the talks. It also calls for an unspecified "collective mobilization" goal through 2025.

Negotiations are ongoing, especially when it comes to details of how the developed world will provide aid dollars, Orenstein said. Rich countries have made it clear that a substantial share of the eventual $100 billion a year would come from the private sector. But some advocacy groups say the money should come from government coffers and at least should not count the face value of loans that must be repaid by developing country borrowers.

The Paris deal opens for signature next month, but participants have a year to sign it and there are no practical consequences to waiting, Orenstein said. She argued that doing so would drive home that the agreement asks poor countries to give up priorities like finance and legal form, and it’s now the rich world’s turn to show flexibility.

"Just because there’s an agreement doesn’t mean everybody’s happy with what they’ve agreed to, and there’s a lot between now and when countries have to start ratification to determine whether countries put their money where their mouths are," she said.

But Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said being slow to sign the agreement is unlikely to give a country more leverage in ongoing negotiations.

"You could actually make the opposite point that by not being a party to an agreement when it takes effect or enters into force, you’re sort of in an observer status and not a full party at the table," he said.

At a negotiators’ meeting in Tokyo last month, there was some discussion about whether the European Union, which is not expected to sign the agreement this year because of complications related to enacting domestic legislation in some of its member states, would have the same status as countries that had signed. The question was particularly pertinent with regard to issues like market-based mechanisms and finance.

"The strategy is what I don’t understand," Meyer said of the Third World Network memo. "It seems to come from the position that the Paris Agreement is in the interest of developed countries but not developing countries, and so developed countries are desperate to have it enter into force, and so they are willing to give something more on finance than they were willing to give in Paris to have it enter into force. I just don’t see that."

Will Obama attend?

The agreement enters into force when 55 countries covering 55 percent of global emissions formally adopt the deal.

Meyer noted that a few developing countries, like Fiji, have already ratified the agreement. Yesterday, Papua New Guinea became the first country to submit a climate action plan to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change detailing how it will meet its Paris goal.

"Citizens around the world, especially in developing countries, want clean air, healthy cities and better public services," said Monica Araya, a former Costa Rican negotiator and founder of the nonprofit Nivela. "This is the new normal in the south."

Developing countries in both hemispheres want to lead on climate change, not wait for rich countries to do so, she said.

"We benefit from honoring our own commitment to act," Araya said.

One world leader who seems increasingly unlikely to visit the Big Apple on April 22 is President Obama. The White House has not said whether he will be attending the ceremony in person, but reports indicate he may be traveling. Secretary of State John Kerry, who took a personal stake in helping to broker the Paris Agreement, will be on hand.

But greens of all stripes say they are not concerned that the president might be absent, even though the gathering is in his country. Kerry can represent the United States, they note.

"He has a long-standing historical commitment to the issue and sense of the international process, and I think his presence will be felt both as somebody who gets the issues in a tangible way and something who speaks for the United States at a very high level," said David Waskow of the World Resources Institute.

"The important thing is that New York is a clear moment with all countries stating how vital this agreement is, and their path forward in terms of implementing it," Waskow said.

Ban, Obama and others have said that early ratification is key to building confidence that the Paris Agreement will be implemented and built upon.