“We need a legally binding agreement, and nothing short of it” – Maldives, New Chair of AOSIS

By Vositha Wijenayake 

Maldives was appointed the Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) on December 11, 2014. Speaking to CANSA, Head of Delegation for the country Ambassador Ahmed Sareeer, Permanent Representative to UN for Maldives said that it was a great honour for his country to have the opportunity to chair the alliance on an issue such as climate change which is vital for the survival of its people.

“We are happy with the work accomplished by the AOSIS during the last 25 years. The incumbent Chair Nauru has done tremendous work in carrying our work and leading the process. Maldives is taking over at an important time as the year 2015 is going to be in a very critical year, both on climate change negotiations as well as for the development of the sustainable development goals,” he said.

Year 2015 is crucial in many fronts. Not only is it the year for the much spoken of Paris Agreement, a legally binding agreement expected at the outcome of the 21st Conference of Parties (COP) to be held in Paris, it is also the year in which many negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be conducted. AOSIS will have a key role to play in both these fronts in ensuring that the key demands of the most vulnerable in the world are heard, and respected.

Lima and Developments

Speaking on the negotiations that are in its last stage in Lima, Ambassador Sareer said, “We like to see all the key elements in place in the Agreement and to see an outcome in Lima that would chart the course for the Paris Agreement. We think that the Lima outcome is in many respects important. What we finalise here will pave the way for a strong and legally binding agreement in Paris.”

Maldives wishes to see three key components in the Lima outcome i.e.:- mitigation, adaptation and finance, which the country believes will eventually lead to a successful outcome.  As concerns, Ambassador Sareer mentioned finance among the key ones. He pointed out that despite pledges on finance being made, there is no clarity on accessibility of funds.

“How do we access these funds? There is no point in having these pledges if we are not getting any access to it. The pledges will be of no use unless we have a mechanism reached devised on how this fund can be utilised and dispersed,” he said.

“The Green Climate Fund should not be the only finance component. There needs to be a new and additional fund on which there needs to be focus. Very often a number of countries are looking at the pledges, but in our view the numbers being quoted is not enough,” he added.

Need to Increase Ambition and Survival of the Vulnerable

The Ambassador also spoke of the need to increase in ambition in emission cuts to keep the temperature goal below 1.5 C.

“It is vital that we increase ambition. Any temperature rise above 1.5 degrees is unacceptable for small islanders. These states are the most vulnerable and an increase above this will risk their survival. If we combine our efforts we would be able to reach the ambition of 1.5 degree,” he explained.

“For small island states at the forefront of climate change impacts are every day issues. Our people are confronted with ocean acidification, depletion of fish stocks, damage to coral reefs, and we witness sea-level rise. When we were kids we have not seen changes in climate that we witness now. We have not seen these floods or rain fall patterns as we see now, and this is why loss and damage becomes a key issue of focus. We need it to be a separate issue, addressed separately from adaptation in the negotiations,” he added highlighting that climate change impacts are felt by the vulnerable communities of the AOSIS.

INDCs and Transparency

Among key demands that Maldives has on the Lima session, are the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDs), which should not focus only on mitigation, but needs to have adaptation as well as means of implementation. The delegation from the Maldives highlighted the need for finance for adaptation, and the need for support for capacity building and technical support for addressing climate change.

The negotiators further highlighted the need for the UNFCCC to be a party driven process with transparency and accountability.

“All along we have been calling for transparency and accountability in the negotiations. So many countries have been calling for these. When you look at the COP negotiations, this is no doubt the most complex negotiations in any United Nations process. Given the complexity, the need for transparency becomes of even higher,” added Ambassodor Sareer.

Speaking on the civil society engagement in the UNFCCC process as well as on climate action, the Ambassador pointed out that it is important for CSOs be a part of the process.

“Participation of CSOs is important for a multi-stakeholder process. This is also an element of transparency as well as public engagement, which increases the accountability of the process. It is important to understand the ground reality when making decisions at the high level panels. The CSO involvement will undoubtedly provide very useful information of the ground reality to facilitate progressive and efficient decision making to address the impacts of climate change.”

Paris Agreement and Remaining Positive

“AOSIS is supportive and pushing for a legally binding agreement. Anything short of being legally binding is not acceptable to this country block. However they do not see the structure and form of the legal agreement as something which could be predicted or discussed at present. How it will turn out will be is dependent on the outcome in Lima. Whether it will be a protocol, or another instrument with legal force, it needs to be decided post-Lima. But the qualities of being strong and fair cannot be ignored.”

Maldives also stressed on the need to have Common But Differentiate Responsibilities (CBDR) being a key and integrated aspects of the Agreement.

“The new Agreement should be under the UNFCCC. We are not rewriting the Convention. So the new instrument has to be under the UNFCCC. We have been advocating and will continue to advocate not to rewrite the convention.”

Maldives while not willing to predict the outcomes of Lima negotiations, the country that will be heading the AOSIS group for the negotiations in 2015 is hopeful and believes that there will be a positive outcomes on key fronts that are vital for the process towards a legally binding agreement in Paris.

Photo Credit: Climate Mosaic Files

About the Author:

vosithaVositha 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.