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Vulnerable nations accuse West of dodging climate commitments

Participants attend the COP24 U.N. Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland December 11, 2018.
Participants attend the COP24 U.N. Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland December 11, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Grzegorz Celejewski via REUTERS

Countries at greater risk of climate change have urged their Western counterparts to do all they can to avoid a mediocre outcome from the COP24 conference in Poland, as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warns that "time is running out to stop runaway climate change."


"We are bearing the torch for those vulnerable to climate change," Hilda Heine, President of the Marshall Islands and current chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) told ministers and delegates on Thursday at the 195-nation United Nations forum tasked with beating back the threat of global warming.

"We represent a number of nations, like my own, that face extinction," she said of the group of 48 of the most vulnerable countries on the planet. "Species of all kinds also face existential risk."

The Marshall Islands in November took the lead in becoming the first country to submit new, binding climate targets to the UN, hoping this would spur other countries to commit to more ambitious emissions cuts.

Those hopes have been undermined by attempts by the United States and Saudi Arabia to downgrade scientific evidence of climate change.

"The eyes of the world are upon us," UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in an impassioned appeal on Wednesday for nations to overcome their divisions over how to tackle global warming.

"To waste this opportunity would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change," he said.

Guterres, who had not planned to return to the talks after addressing the opening plenary 10 days ago, returned in the final hours to emphasise the urgency of this opportunity.

Diluting Paris Agreement

But some are still dragging their feet.

"Developed countries are trying to dilute their obligation to provide support for developing countries especially in terms of new and additional finance," said Emmanuel De Guzman, the former chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum.

"It is really important that we replenish climate finance in the Green Climate Fund," he told RFI.

Wealthier countries have so far mobilized only 4 billion of the 100 billion US dollars they promised to raise at the Copenhagen summit in 2009.

"The texts in many of the discussions remain bracketed so far," continued Guzman, "there is discussion on old issues (...) but the debate should be over."

Developing countries insist they need the money to invest in low-emission and climate-resilient development schemes. Rich countries however, want guarantees that the money will not be squandered.

US President Donald Trump, a fervent critic of the Paris Agreement, said in a tweet last Saturday, "People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment."

Dodging responsibility

"They're shifted the burden to the developing countries," says Guzman, who is also the secretary and vice chairperson of the Philippine Climate Change Commission, although he stops short of naming any names.

"But these developing countries are already burdened with chronic poverty problems and the resources of developing countries are already invested in adaptation, so we could survive," he says.

The talks in Katowice have centred on devising a rulebook for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement and raising countries’ level of ambition to counter climate change.

However, former climate champions like Australia have refused to cut emissions above the Paris pledge and this has provoked the ire of activists.

COP24 host Poland has also been reluctant to pressurize countries to raise their ambitions, given its own ongoing reliance on coal.

"I don't think everyone can be happy with everything," saidJan Kellet, a special adviser on climate finance with the United Nations Development Programme.

Decades of apathy

That does not mean the talks are doomed however, he insists.

Differences are "actually just part and parcel of getting the job done.

"There's still a definite chance for this to be successful. But, within this, there would need to be compromise from both sides in order to reach an appropriate figure in terms of financing and how that financing is spent," he told RFI.

Time however, is running out. Delegates have barely 48 hours to come up with new targets by 2020 to limit temperature rise.

A recent scientific report warned that humankind has only 12 years left to keep the 1.5C limit that would avoid catastrophic climate change.

"Right now there's no clarity," said Guzman. "Developed countries must really demonstrate their leadership resolve. The decades of apathy and procrastination must end here in Katowice."

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