One of the challenges of coming to an agreement in Paris is that climate change won't affect everyone equally. Some regions will, in fact, benefit from warmer temperatures, though most of the world will not. Within that scheme are those countries who, due to location, geography or size, are especially vulnerable, and they have come together to form a powerful group pushing for a strong, binding agreement.
That group is the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), made up of 43 member-countries, including more than 20 who joined at the onset of COP21. They are the true heroes at COP21, pushing for a 1.5-degrees Celsius limit, the one backed by science. They are against the 2-degrees limit which many developed countries (including the United States) want, because that would leave many of its members facing some serious climate impacts.
"Everyone has to really commit themselves to climate action, and we, the CVF, believe that 1.5-degree temperature goal will be the driver of climate action," said Philippines CVF chair, Emmanuel de Guzman, during a press briefing. The Philippines, which has seen devastating impacts from climate change, most notably Typhoon Haiyan two years ago, is now the chair-country of the CVF and is pushing hard for a strong agreement.
Twenty-one years into the United Nations climate change negotiating process, it is fervent inaction and grandstanding by developed countries (and fossil fuel lobbies) that has led us to where we are today – still lacking a strong global treaty. This is a clear-cut issue of climate justice. The CVF countries contributed very, very little to global carbon emissions, yet they are on the front lines of climate impact. The fact that developed countries refuse to make commitments that would protect CVF countries like the Maldives, Bangladesh and the low-lying islands nations of the Pacific Ocean, such as Vanuatu, is a grave global injustice.
"It's like when a lizard's tail is caught by a predator — it will break it off so that it can escape. These vulnerable countries are in danger of becoming the lizard's tail, and of being sacrificed while the rest of the world escapes the perils of climate change," said Mohamed Adow, with Christian Aid, in a statement.
That being said, there has been progress at COP21. Today, the goal of 1.5 degrees has the support of over 100 countries, a big shift from just a few weeks ago, though whether or not it will be included in the eventual agreement remains to be seen. But that is not enough unless that goal comes along with a concrete decarbonization plan.
"When we peak and how rapidly we decline is important," Guzman said. "We need to start as early as possible, before 2020 – with a large support package to increase ambition. If we wait [until] after 2020, [it] will be hard to reach our goal." In that vein, the CVF wants to see a strong ratchet mechanism, five-year cycles which allow for readjustment of goals based on science, and a full commitment to climate finance that would allow developed countries to pay off their climate debt to the developing world, which will not be able to grow their economies in the same carbon-intensive manner as we did.
Let us heed their call. The CVF's presence and strong push for action is a stark reminder that what is at stake in Paris is not just profits, but also the livelihoods of millions around the world. They first came together in 2009, at the failed Copenhagen talks, and, now, seven years later, the clock is ticking as climate change gets worse and worse. They have waited far too long.
"We cannot afford another Copenhagen. Everyone will have to ensure that we conclude with an agreement based on solidarity based on climate change," Guzman said.
Image credit: Japan Meteorological Agency