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My experience as a climate negotiator tells me Marrakesh talks will not be easy

Marrakesh braces for the first round of climate talks since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. Youssef Boudlal/Reuters

In a way, adopting the Paris climate agreement was the easy part.

The agreement, which came into force mere days before the latest round of climate talks in Marrakesh, Morocco, is just a roadmap. Marrakesh has to turn this roadmap into reality through adoption of rules and procedures, all before 2018.

So the main focus at the summit will be on the adoption of rules for at least ten tracks of negotiations: adaptation to the effects of climate change, mitigation of further global warming, finance, loss and damage, technology, capacity building, transparency, global stocktake, compliance and cooperative approaches.

This vast array of subjects is most important to the world’s least developed countries: the nano-emitters of greenhouse gases that suffer the most from the impacts of climate change. The least developed countries negotiating bloc include nations as diverse as Bangladesh, home to 155 million people, to the tiny Timor Leste, population 1.1 million.

I have participated in climate negotiations for many years, representing Bangladesh. In Paris, we fought for a universal agreement, clear provisions for ambitious mitigation, adaptation action and adequate finance. Now at Marrakesh, we want to see more action on the ground.

The Paris Agreement is officially in place: what next? Jacky Naegelen/Reuters

Show us the money

The Paris Agreement establishes a global goal linking the needs to adapt to the effects of climate change to the level of mitigation – that is, how far we go to prevent it. A global assessment of progress every five years is expected to boost action on adaptation.

Climate finance stands at the core of concerns for the least developed countries, but on finance provision, the Paris Agreement is no better than its parent document, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, adopted back in 1992.

The Paris Agreement does not mention the long-agreed principles of climate finance: that it should be new and additional money, as well as being adequate and predictable. There is now more apprehension that there will be more loans than grants for adaptation.

Still, the Paris Agreement is the first climate law where state obligations to finance have been linked to avoidance of 2°C temperature rise.

The least developed countries have also been accorded preferential treatment in adaptation finance, but the record shows only one-fifth of adaptation finance goes to them. Negotiators obviously want to see clear improvement on this.

A question of trust

There is a serious disagreement between the developed and developing countries over the former’s claims on yearly provision of climate finance. The least developed countries are ready to extend total cooperation to the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice to help work out a clear and common accounting format on climate finance flow, so that it can be tracked. This is extremely important for trust building.

Finance for adaption will need more funding than currently exists in national budgets. There are ways around this. France, for example, leads an initiative to levy a tax on financial transactions, to be distributed as climate finance. Some other industrial countries, such as the UK, already contribute 0.7% of their national income as overseas aid.

The hope in Marrakesh is that these countries will be willing to realise the long-agreed principles of climate finance – new, additional, adequate and predictable funding. Least developed countries must build stronger alliances with these progressive groups and countries to guarantee future climate finance.

Canaries in the coal mine

Achieving a low-carbon, climate-resilient world means providing poor countries with the capacity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to climate impacts themselves.

The Paris Agreement’s capacity-building provisions include the decision to establish a committee on capacity building, a transparency initiative, and the promotion of education, training and public awareness about climate change. The least developed countries regard these issues as fundamental for all other institutions, mechanisms and processes.

Basic human rights and the no-harm rule have long been regarded as sacrosanct, particularly in Western countries. And holding on to a centuries-old view of sovereignty and national interest cannot deal with emerging global public threats like atmospheric pollution.

American scholar Joseph Nye has cogently argued that while the US has led in production of global public goods since World War II, now cooperation of other powerful states is needed, because power has become a positive-sum game.

Bangladesh will be hardest hit by climate change. Andrew Biraj/Reuters

As the canaries in the climate coal mine, the least developed countries must sing louder to grab the attention of major emitters, old and new. Joining together to solve the most diabolically complex global problem really is a positive-sum game.

Hard negotiations

My long experience as a negotiator is not very pleasant. The decision process at climate talks is consensus-based, and reaching agreement between 195 countries is an uphill battle.

The process is too slow, and a negotiator needs extra patience to endure. There are some parties that play the role of obstructionist in any decision to be adopted. So one has to endure lots of frequent huddling in the corner of meeting rooms to resolve the impasse.

After the adoption of the universal agreement in Paris last year, we in the least developed countries bloc hope that the traditional acrimony among the negotiating parties will gradually dissipate. Unless, of course, the issue of differing responsibilities between rich and poor becomes intractable again.

And as always, in disputes between the big emitters of the developed and developing worlds, it is the least developed countries that have the most to lose. In no way do we want this, because we cannot afford any more hurdles on the road to climate justice.

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