What do the world’s most vulnerable countries want from COP21?

As negotiators gather in Paris to finalize an agreement to curb climate change, GroundTruth spoke with Giza Gaspar Martins, an Angolan diplomat who represents the world’s poorest and most vulnerable nations. These are the nations that are most vulnerable to climate change – and yet they have contributed least to the problem.

As chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Gaspar Martins explains why a 1.5 degree Celsius global warming target is critical and the importance of financing the LDCs’ most critical climate change adaptation needs.

He also describes what success at COP21 looks like for the world’s 48 poorest countries. The exchange is transcribed below, and lightly edited for clarity.

Nichole Sobecki: What are the key issues for the LDCs at COP this year, and are they being addressed with appropriate priority?

Giza Gaspar Martins: A major priority for us is setting an appropriate, ambitious goal, one that is responsive to science, and one that ensures that most of us are kept safe in the future. And to us LDCs that goal is to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

As a result of this goal there are corresponding positions throughout the text. On the mitigation side, for example, we need the goal to reflect emission cuts that are placing us on a trajectory to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, which means cutting emissions to 70-90 percent off of 2010 levels. On the adaptation side we need sufficient adaptation support in order to enable us to adapt to a 1.5 degree warmer world.

Mind you, average temperature rise will manifest itself in different ways throughout the globe, and in geographic areas where LDCs are located, mainly in Africa and Asia-Pacific, science tell us that temperature will rise significantly above the average temperature rise. So 1.5 degrees globally means 2, 2.5, 3 degrees in some places in Africa as well as in Asia and the Pacific. So there is corresponding adaptation efforts to go along with setting an ambitious goal that will keep us safe.

Another key priority for us is recognizing that loss and damage is a real issue, and needs to be a part of any comprehensive package to deal with climate change. To us, loss and damage is the point at which we can no longer adapt. So those irreversible damages that are done to ecosystems and societies as a result of climate change. We’re confident that at some point they will occur, in some cases they are occurring, and we need to set up the correct infrastructure to deal with those issues.

NS: How has the voice of the LDCs has been able to grow over the years?

GGM: We’ve been described by some as being the moral voice in the negotiations. We have one country that has a slogan: ‘If we save Tuvalu, we save the world.’ And it’s true. So we are engaged, we are better heard, but we still have a long ways to go to entice, to encourage, to facilitate, to promote to type of decision making, the sacrifices, that are needed to be made by us all in order to ensure that in the end we can all be safe in this planet.

NS: How do you want migration to feature in the negotiating text and why?

GGM: Migration may not figure into the text. I describe this process, this year in particular, as being one that is building the architecture to do climate action, not necessarily climate action itself. So what we’re really doing here is building a system to address climate change, not necessarily building action itself.

We recognize migration as being one of the potential effects of climate change. It follows from loss and damage, it follows from decreasing conditions for the continuation of life in certain places. Desertification, loss of land due to temperature rise, loss of arable land, loss of land due to sea level rise will inevitable generate migration flows. So our focus is really to ensure that there is a system in place that guarantees the most mitigation possible.

We say that adaptation is a function of mitigation. The more mitigation we do the less adaptation will be necessary. The more mitigation we do the fewer climate migrants we’ll have.

So I don’t think migration will feature in the draft agreement text, but through adaptation, through mitigation, through loss and damage, we will be addressing all the effects of climate change, including migration.

NS: What support is needed for the LDCs to develop in a sustainable way, financial or otherwise?

GGM: Another feature of the process we’re engaged in is creating an enabling environment for sharing the tools that allows climate action.

So financing, capacity building, the development and transfer of technology are important pieces of the puzzle here. We call them the means of implementation.

LDCs in particular have developed what we call national adaptation programs of action, or NAPAs. Those are documents that characterize our vulnerabilities, and that are meant to be implemented by 2020. There are urgent and immediate adaptation actions. To finance those there is a fund called the LDCF, or the fund for the least developed countries. The implementation of those NAPA projects in the 49 member countries of the LDCs has been estimated to cost about $5 billion. Thus far, about $1 billion has gone through the LDCF, but a lot more needs to be done, particularly considering that we have only five years between now and 2020.

Beyond 2020, we are now engaged in a process called the national adaptation plans, which are medium or long-term adaptation plans that also involve doing some vulnerability assessment. But again, those are conditioned by the mitigation scenarios. The support needed is well documented, but we now need to deliver.

NS: What would success at COP21 look like to you?

GGM: An agreement that is ambitious, that is verifiable, that ensures trust among parties to ensure that we all stay on board, and that is responsive to science.