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Opportunity to tackle climate change may never come again – Thoriq Ibrahim, Maldives Minister of Environment & Energy

on July 15, 2015

From Thomson Reuters Foundation

It’s been a landmark year for global leadership in the effort to address climate change.

China and the United States – the world’s largest economies and emitters – have submitted plans to reduce the emissions responsible for the crisis.

Businesses of all stripes have called for a massive transition to renewable energy. Polls in countries around the world show citizens want action.

And, in November, the international community will gather in Paris to try and hash out an agreement committing all nations to the effort for decades to come.

In fact, today I will join a special high-level meeting called by the president of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) where representatives of countries from around the world will to try to boost the political momentum for a comprehensive climate treaty in Paris.

But, as veterans of the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen well know, we’ve been on the verge of agreement before only to fall short in the end.

The danger of missing our goal is especially acute for the Alliance of Small Island States(AOSIS), a group of 44 low-lying island and coastal states from around the world, which the Maldives currently chairs.

Indeed, it was only a few months ago, for instance, that Cyclone Pam and Typhoon Maysak, both record-breaking storms, killed dozens and left a trail of destruction across Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia.

What’s worse, scientists expect climate change to make weather events like these far worse in the Pacific and oceanic regions worldwide, unless bold action is taken immediately.

So renewed enthusiasm for a new global climate deal will not be enough. We need confidence that all countries will commit to taking concrete steps to cut their emissions and provide support to help us build our own renewable energy systems at home and address climate impacts that can no longer be avoided.

Fortunately, the UNGA President has identified three key areas for our discussions here, which not only hold the key to unlocking a deal, but also to delivering the action so badly needed: mitigation, adaptation and the means of implementation.

In each of these areas, AOSIS has made proposals in line with what the best available science and latest information on climate finance demand.

1.5 DEGREES

First, AOSIS is of the view that the Paris agreement must be an ambitious, legally binding protocol capable of limiting warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, and it needs to be designed to increase mitigation ambition through consecutive commitments toward achieving this crucial temperature goal.

But immediate action is required before the treaty goes into effect in 2020 if we are to keep the window to 1.5 degrees open, so we are also calling for a strong decision under what is known as Workstream 2 of the U.N. climate negotiations. The line of discussions focuses on accelerating the implementation of proven climate solutions and identifying obstacles that have prevented their wider use around the world.

Second, as Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister who will preside over the Paris talks, noted: “the question of financing is, in fact, decisive for reaching an agreement in Paris”. The pledges made to the Green Climate Fund so far have helped build confidence that the international community recognises the challenges we face, but the funding still falls short of even the most conservative estimates of what is required.

Fulfilling the Copenhagen pledge of $100 billion per year by 2020 of new and additional financing will thus be essential for maintaining trust, and will give vulnerable countries a sense of security moving forward.

Finally, even as the world comes together to ramp up mitigation efforts by transitioning to renewable energy and supporting adaption for impacts that can no longer be avoided, AOSIS is acutely aware that other impacts will go beyond mitigation and adaptation.

That is why we have joined other vulnerable parties in calling for the rapid operationalisation of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage that addresses irreversible slow-onset impacts, such as sea level rise and ocean acidification, as another key outcome in Paris.

Political support for a strong Paris agreement is at an all-time high, and that should give us reason to be optimistic. But the opportunity for success has slipped from our hands before, and this time we must remember that it may never come again.

Thoriq Ibrahim is the Minister of Environment and Energy for the Maldives, which is currently Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). 

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