Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and the Need for Domestic Actions

By Vositha Wijenayake

The Paris Agreement focusing on climate change and ways to address its adverse impacts was adopted on the 12th December 2015. It provides both binding and voluntary measures to address the objective of limiting the rise of global temperatures “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with the background target being 1.5°C”. The Agreement will be legally binding upon ratification by at least 55 countries that represents 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and will be the basis for the work ahead on climate change. While needing further development in the coming years through domestic actions, and further decisions to be developed within the process, the Agreement will be addressing its objective of addressing climate change at the global level, and highlights issues such as food security, human rights and climate justice, as well as livelihood quality jobs.

Key Features of the Agreement

The Agreement is considered by many as providing hope and means to address the impacts of climate change, having gained the support of 195 countries for its adoption. In its purpose, which is formed with a sense of aspiration, the countries are provided with self-differentiation on its responsibilities. (The historic responsibility based method not in its rigid form as wished by many). The common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities defined under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) though not completely abandoned, could also be interpreted as not present in its strongest form in the Paris Agreement. This being one of the reasons as to why some groups feel that the outcome of the Paris negotiations on climate change is not cause for euphoria. Among other aspects criticised being the lack of financial commitments, and the non-inclusion of liability and compensation for loss and damage.

  • Mitigation:

On mitigation, the system is “bottom-up” (the countries needing to take actions, than being bound at the international level to prescribed to take actions) and the mitigation obligations for countries is through the communication of national determined contributions every five years. The countries are required to “pursue” domestic actions to achieve the objective of achieving the contributions listed in their intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) which were submitted to the UNFCCC as their voluntary contributions to bring down the global emission levels of greenhouse gases causing climate change. A sign that if the world is to achieve the objective of keeping the global temperature increase to 1.5 C, then the countries will need to take more ambitious actions at the national level to reduce their emission levels.

  • Adaptation:

Adaptation, the way to address the already existing impacts of climate change by adjusting to them and changes made to exist with those impacts is one of the key elements for countries vulnerable to climate change. Under the UNFCCC, the developed countries had agreed to support the adaptation efforts of developing countries. This includes financial and technical support to developing countries for appropriate actions, and efforts to adapt to the impacts felt in their countries. The Paris Agreement though providing for the continuation of obligation by developed countries to provide financial and technical support to developing countries does not provide for clear and predictable financial support by the developed countries.

  • Loss and Damage:

Addressing the losses and damages caused by climate change in developing countries has been one of the key issues of the Paris negotiations. There has been a strong call for the recognition of loss and damage, separately from adaptation and as a separate element of the Agreement from developing countries. While the Agreement was successful in identifying loss and damage as a separate element from adaptation, the question on liability and compensation for loss and damage remains not answered. Further, there is an exclusion for compensation and liability which through the decision of the Paris outcome. The Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) which was set up to address loss and damage, at the 19th conference of parties (COP) of the UNFCCC will further operate under the Paris Agreement. In order to address climate induced displacement, the Executive Board of the WIM is to establish a task force tasked with developing recommendations and approaches to address this issue.

  • Compliance

The inclusion of compliance as part of the Agreement has survived. However in a non-punitive, non-judicial way, despite the call for setting up a climate justice tribunal by some parties. Compliance is intended to be facilitative and linked with the obligation under the section on transparency which is on all Parties to report their mitigation efforts, and for developed country parties to report on support for finance, capacity building and technology transfer, the word compliance is found for a mechanism to facilitate implementation and promote compliance. In order to ensure that compliance remains an important element of the Agreement, more time will need to be invested in developing the ways for its effective implementation.

Paris Agreement and Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka as an island state is vulnerable to impacts of climate change. Adverse impacts of climate change are already felt in the country, and with the potential for temperature increase, if concrete actions are not taken to reduce emission levels of greenhouse gases, the country will be at a more vulnerable stage to these adverse impacts. This heightens the importance of the Paris Agreement, and the need for ambitious actions of Parties to it.

Sri Lanka at the climate negotiations has been negotiating as part of the G77 and China, as well as the Like Minded Developing Countries. The country has submitted it INDCs prior to the negotiations, and the contributions include both mitigation and adaptation ones, also highlights the need to address loss and damage. Sri Lanka has also developed its National Adaptation Plan which is to be launched, and will be the basis for measures to be taken on adapting to climate change. With the Presidential manifesto highlighting the need for a shift to renewable energy, which falls in line with the efforts on climate change mitigation, it will be important to see how the actions will be taken to achieve the domestic targets in a participatory manner, through a multi-stake holder driven transparent and accountable process.

About the Author:

Vositha Wijenayake is the Policy and Advocacy Co-ordinator of CANSA and, Regional Facilitator for Asia for the Southern Voices Programme. She is a lawyer by profession and has an LLM from University College London. She specialises in International Environmental Law and Human Rights Law. She has been tracking the UNFCCC negotiations since 2009 with a legal and gender focus.

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