COP21 partnerships: The way forward for Small Island Developing States?

Dominique Maingot, Lawyer

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from Small Island Developing States (SIDS) represent just a minor share of global emissions output, with less than 2 per cent attributable to SIDS. Of the 52 island states that are Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), SIDS represent a vulnerable group most prone to the early consequences from unabated climate change, such as extreme weather events and alterations to surrounding coral reefs.

At the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) in Lima, Peru this December, such issues of adaptation were raised with joint concerns for mitigation, financing and capacity-building. Draft outcomes in each of these areas – as included in the COP20 draft text agreement – are expected to serve as the framework for the highly anticipated agreement in Paris next year.

A distinctive feature of COP20 and the upcoming negotiations is their reorientation towards a bottom-up approach. Through Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), States are to submit their voluntary commitment to GHG reductions by the informal deadline of 31 March 2015. This has yielded some criticism, however, regarding the flexible nature and lack of required details to be presented at this stage. The encouragement of National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), originally established under the Cancun Adaptation Framework, has been an important step forward for both SIDS and other Parties to the UNFCCC as it allows them to examine their unique circumstances in order to determine the appropriate mechanisms going forward.

In the case of existing climate policies in Caribbean SIDS, like Barbados’ NAP or St. Lucia’s Climate Change Policy and Adaptation Plan, there are benefits to be gained from both their present initiatives and future INDCs, as they would allow them to continue to build on already established goals and activities. Their current models and lessons learned can then further serve as case examples for other states in the region also faced with similar developmental and environmental conditions.

SIDS stand to further benefit from a bottom-up approach, as this method may generate incentives for additional domestic policies and legislation that encourage both financing and energy shifts towards mitigation projects, such as renewables. The role of partnerships with SIDS, as was addressed at the Third International Conference on SIDS in September, will play a pivotal role at COP21 towards achieving their targets. Through this voluntary framework of the UNFCCC, capacity-building efforts in SIDS may be strengthened at both an international and regional level.

Article 3 of the UNFCCC serves as an important acknowledgement of the equity imbalance between SIDS and larger industrialised states. This principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) was particularly illustrated at COP20 with respect to encouraging state contributions to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) in stimulating its 2020 target of USD 100 billion.

Anticipated GCF allocations in SIDS are likely to be applied towards the future assistance of developing states in their adaptation or mitigation projects, for example. It is at this stage that the standard top-down approach of UNFCCC negotiations might return in its distribution of funds, whereby emphasising the regional importance of SIDS in reaching their INDCs. Existing organisations, such as the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat, Caribbean Community Secretariat, Indian Ocean Commission, or their respective environmental programmes, can then serve as the bodies through which to represent, or implement, the responsibilities and concerns of their member SIDS. Looking forward towards COP21, the upcoming UNFCCC sessions and domestic pledges demonstrated by SIDS will play a vital role in attracting the necessary private, public and international partnerships to assist them in addressing the challenges of climate change.