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Mary Mazzoni headshot

Oxfam: Developing Countries at Risk of Being 'Squeezed Out' of Paris Negotiations


On Tuesday morning in Paris, Oxfam Australia’s executive director, Helen Szok, issued the following statement about the ongoing COP21 negotiations: "Developing countries are at risk of being squeezed out of critical negotiations as the pace of talks intensifies. The small delegations of the poorest countries are being stretched, and it is vital that ministers ensure their voices are heard on critical issues like climate funding as the deadline for the Paris deal looms."

TriplePundit sat down with Heather Coleman, who manages Oxfam America’s climate policy work, to find out more about the unique challenges facing delegations from small, low-income countries, and what that means for their ability to engage effectively with the negotiations in Paris.

"Some of [these countries] only have 100,000 people living in them. And even if they're not that small, certainly they're not very well-resourced," Coleman explained. "So, when they come here, they're coming with a few delegates. Many of them will badge folks from civil society to help them on their country teams."

This presents a huge roadblock as the pace and complexity of the talks heated up at the start of this week. Multiple bilateral and small group meetings are being held in parallel, making it increasingly difficult to ensure that the voices of the poorest and most vulnerable country delegations are raised. Last week, 3p correspondent Nithin Coca pointed out that the complexity of the talks can make it challenging for the average person to grasp what's going on. And, as it turns out, the same is true for some of the most vulnerable nations at the conference.

"They don't have the capacity to cover it all," Coleman continued. "For them, they need to try to figure out a way to streamline and simplify. So, that's the real issue.

"And I think that any ways that the [COP presidency] can work to ensure that the process is happening in a way that's not only overly transparent, but also that allows for these counties to be able to engage, is really important."

The G77 raises concerns

G77 and China raised some concerns about the process for drafting language for Wednesday’s new text -- namely that the text might emerge out of small group or bilateral meetings instead of a larger setting where any country can participate.

While Coleman understands these concerns, she warns that an undue focus on process issues could muddy and slow down the negotiations -- hurting the chances of a robust deal that works for everyone.

"I think it's legitimate that they're raising concerns about the ability of vulnerable countries to engage effectively, but I also think that we need to continue to be moving forward at a fairly quick pace," Coleman told us. "We have a situation where we're trying to get a legal agreement done by Thursday … to be then adopted officially here at this COP."

"Process issues can get us hung up," she said simply, "and we don't have the time to get hung up."

Finance language removed from the Paris text

While many were disappointed with the outcome of COP15 in Copenhagen, at least one good thing came out of it: The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) committed to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 in public and private resources to support climate action in developing countries. But the “sources, instruments and channels that should count toward this goal remain ambiguous,” the World Resources Institute reports (PDF).

Now, things appear to be getting even more complicated: “One casualty of this race for the new text is the deletion of language referring to interim finance targets toward the $100 billion goal by 2020, and to a separate goal for adaptation within the $100 billion,” Oxfam said on Tuesday. “This language was on the table in a COP decision on long-term finance in a text that will feed into the final agreement but was sacrificed last night in favor of a much reduced text with little or no new agreements.”

So, what gives? Coleman explains:

"The numbers that were pulled out last night I think were pulled out because the G77 has to focus on some of the top issues that are most critical to them moving forward," she explained. "Those numbers were in reference to money that was already on the table for the next five years. They weren't in reference to what's going to happen once we hit 2020 hand beyond. So, I think what it signals is that [the G77] really want to focus on 2020 and beyond."

A consensus appears to be reached on language recognizing that the $100 billion goal will be a floor for the post-2020 period, Oxfam said. But Coleman added that negotiations on finance for the pre-2020 period are by no means off the table.

"It's very much still on the table, and I think that it may come back in the form of another text," she told us. "There's still an important issue to be addressed regarding adaptation finance for developing countries even before 2020, and that's the piece that did get pulled out. So, we can't loosen pressure on that issue ... Even though [the G77] hasn't prioritized it as a top ask, it still remains one of the issues to be addressed here."

Although the pre-2020 finance landscape remains murky, the fact that developing countries are more clearly communicating their needs for 2020 and beyond -- essentially new versions of the $100 billion goal -- is not without significance, Oxfam noted.

"Bolivia for the G77/China made this call, supported by countries like Argentina, Peru and Colombia, alongside Mexico," Oxfam reported. "The U.S. has indicated an openness to agree to embedding a process of setting such funding targets in the post-2020 agreement, provided an agreement can be reached that encourages complementary finance contributions on a voluntary basis from developing countries."

These issues will continue to be discussed at ministerial level on Tuesday, facilitated by the ministers of Germany and Gabon, Oxfam said.

"The U.S. needs vulnerable countries"

Although it's still unclear how adaptation in the most vulnerable nations will be financed, Coleman remains optimistic that an effective deal can be reached by Friday. She credited U.S. President Barack Obama for creating a constructive environment from the get-go.

"The president, when he came here at the beginning of the week, he gave a lot of credibility to small island nations and vulnerable countries," she told 3p. "He had a direct meeting with leaders of small island states and really addressed them directly as an island boy and said: 'I understand your issues. I understand the vulnerabilities you face, and we're not going to put them aside in this deal.' And I think that was the most important signal we've gotten that this deal is going to be a deal that works for vulnerable countries."

While it may seem, on the surface, as if developing countries need rich nations like the U.S. to help them pay for climate change adaptation strategies, Coleman pointed out that -- politically speaking -- U.S. delegates are just as reliant on the G77.

"The U.S. needs vulnerable countries and they need countries in Africa on their side, if we're going to get a deal that the U.S. wants to see," she said in conclusion. "So, politically, they have to be on it."

Image credit: Mary Mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni headshotMary Mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni has reported on sustainability in business for over a decade and now serves as managing editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of brands and organizations on sustainability storytelling. Along with 3p, Mary's recent work can be found in publications like Conscious Company, Salon and Vice's Motherboard. She also works with nonprofits on media projects, including the women's entrepreneurship coaching organization Street Business School. She is an alumna of Temple University in Philadelphia and lives in the city with her partner and two spoiled dogs. 

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