Click here to view this article and hear select audio clips from the interview on The Summit, the Monitor's special feature on the Paris climate talks.
When it comes to international climate negotiations, the spotlight shines most brightly on superpowers – the US, Europe, China, and, increasingly, India. But one bloc of nations is increasingly influential as the effects of a warming planet become more readily apparent.
The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are 48 nations identified by the United Nations as facing severe, structural obstacles toward sustainable development. They are the nations most vulnerable to climate change, yet they have contributed virtually nothing to the problem, and they are the least equipped to deal with the impacts.
The Monitor spoke with the chair of the LDCs, Giza Gaspar Martins, on the sidelines of the Paris climate talks, where negotiators are finalizing an agreement to shape global efforts to curb climate change after current pledges expire in 2020. Mr. Martins is a longtime Angolan diplomat, elected to chair the LDCs at the Lima climate summit last year.
The conversation took place Thursday afternoon on an empty lot behind the conference site's Hall 6, where Martins spent much of the day in closed-door meetings. The full exchange is transcribed below, lightly edited for clarity. For an overview of the technical, climate-negotiation terms used below, please see the French government's glossary of terms or click the hyperlinked words and phrases.
Q: What do the LDCs want out of the Paris agreement?
A: A few things: Firstly, that we have an agreement that has the correct directional travel – that we set ourselves in the right direction. And to us, that directional travel is [greenhouse-gas emissions] mitigation-centric. We are asking for a temperature goal of 1.5 degrees [Celsius]. That has implications that follow on in the mitigation section, in the adaptation [to climate impacts] section, the types of finance [for sustainable development] that we need to put in place, the types of technology that we need to deploy and the types of assistance that needs to be given to those least capable to contribute to get us to that goal. That's a sort of a guiding principle in our key asks.
A second big ask out of the agreement is that we recognize the fact that loss and damage is a real subject matter within the discourse of climate action. That's another big feature.
The third one of course is that there is a recognition throughout the agreement of the special needs and circumstances of groups of countries such as the LDCs. You recognize that by the provision of finance, by the way in which that finance is provisioned. You do that by having special attention to the fact that we need to build the capacity of those countries in order to be able to participate – sometimes even to report on their participation, as well as on technology and on funding for adaptation. These are our three core asks.
Q: There was a lot of hype coming into the conference – lots of bold statements on day one from the heads of state. So far, do you see that translating into the negotiating room? Are we seeing the progress you want see?
A: Yes and no. In some areas, we are making a little bit of progress, but I have to tell you, we have a deadline of Saturday to deliver a draft text with very few political issues that could be the subject matter of negotiations at the high political level during the second week. But, at Thursday at 4pm, we're not quite there, and we may be moving too slowly in some places where we could have been much further away. But we understand this is a negotiation. Negotiations are taking place in probably 30 different rooms simultaneously. They are all linked together. There are negotiation strategies on parts of parties that all have a role in how fast and how slow we move. So we are fairly entangled, fairly stuck in many issues, but I'm confident that within the next few hours and tomorrow, we will be moving on where we are able to at our level – at the technical level.
Q: What parts of the agreement need to be legally binding from the perspective of the LDCs?
A: For our intents and purposes, the whole agreement needs to be legally binding.
Q: INDCs [individual country climate pledges] included?
A: INDCs are a must. And it's just not INDCs ... there's a little bit of a nuance there. We want a legally binding obligation on all parties to communicate INDCs, but also to implement them. And that's what some parties are saying they can't do. And we frankly don't understand why they wouldn't because INDCs are nationally derived. They are derived out of national processes, consultations, rules, regulations, what have you. I mean, countries are free to put forward their best effort, and they arrive at their best effort nationally. Nobody imposes anything.
Because of that nature – they're bottom-up – we don't understand why any party would have difficulty with implementing it. It's as if we pass national legislation and then we say 'no we don't want to implement that legislation. It's a rule that nobody needs to follow.' But, the reason why ... a commitment – a legally binding commitment - to also implement [INDCs] is so critical to us ... is because we understand that we're not doing climate action at these talks. We're building a system to do climate action over time.
A key feature of that system – is that it inspires the trust and the confidence of all parties. So it is important that all parties be confident that we are all going to participate. One way to safeguard against that is, of course, you make those commitments legally binding.
Q: What are you seeing in Angola and the rest of the LDCs in terms of the impact of climate change already?
A: One of the inspiring outcomes of the leaders event is that there is now clearly unequivocal recognition that climate change is real. The science has been 99.9 percent undisputed for a long time, but even then there were some policy doubters. So a great outcome of that was that there is unequivocal recognition that it is real, and we have a small window to do something about it and that window is now.
What do we see in places like Angola? We see more severe cycles of droughts and floods. Angola is a country that has a long coastal line so we see risks to fish stocks, to settlements along the coast. Half of Angola's population lives along the coast, so the economy is very sea-dependent. So we see risks there.
With droughts and floods, there are risks of decreasing crop yields and loss of arable land. In some cases we see that already. Southern Angola right now is experiencing, for the last two years, a severe drought. There is a humanitarian emergency looming. These are the things that we are seeing, and we know from the science that climate change will only exacerbate that.
We have an opportunity to do something about it now. Collectively, we must do it. And we can only do it at this level. The nature of climate change is such that no one party alone can protect itself from its effects. So we must collectively tackle the causes so that we diminish the effect at the local level, and we must also collectively address the effects. And this is the place and the time to do it.