A high ambition agenda for COP26: Costa Rica and Marshall Islands speak up

Two leading spokeswomen from the High Ambition Coalition of countries, which is advocating for ambitious outcomes from the UNFCCC talks, have today set out their expectations of what COP26 should deliver for the world.

Andrea Meza Murillo, Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica, and Tina Stege, Climate Envoy of the Republic of Marshall Islands, today held a joint conference where they underscored that:

The highest-emitting countries must strongly enhance their national climate plans, the Nationally Determined Contributions in advance of COP26, to align with the 1.5C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement. At present, although 191 countries are Parties to the Agreement, their collective pledges to cut or avoid greenhouse gas emissions set the world on a pathway to well over 2 degrees of warming (and current policies align to an even hotter world). The onus is on the G20 Group of Nations, they said, whose Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors are meeting today in Washington. Environmental sustainability is on the G20 agenda for the Italian Presidency, culminating in the G20 Rome Summit on 30-31 October.

Finance for climate action must be approached in a holistic, whole-of-economy fashion, in every country. While finance flows for low-carbon, climate-resilient activities must absolutely increase to fill developing countries’ finance gap; it makes no sense if all countries do not also halt investment in polluting activities, including fossil fuel subsidies – as these actively undermine progress toward the 1.5C target. “It’s not just about the 100 billion but doing the transformational work with our system and structure to provide the work needed for our [net zero carbon] transition,” Ms Stege said.

Respect and preservation of human rights through climate-related actions should be a paramount principle as countries re-enter negotiations and step up climate diplomacy – as well as in countries’ domestic affairs. In a landmark decision by the United Nations Human Rights Council last week, the right to a healthy environment was declared a human right.

Together, these requirements call for an ambitious package of outcomes in Glasgow, Minister Mesa emphasised: a package that comprises “action on mitigation and commitment to delivering the resource needed”.

High stakes – and a mood shift

While the stakes are high for agreement on these issues during G20 meetings this month and at COP26 in Glasgow, both speakers noted the perceptible shift in international debates around climate impacts and the need to prevent further warming – above 1.5C.

“While it’s true that countries like mine are affected the first and worse by climate change impacts, now everybody in the world is affected by climate change,” noted Ms Stege.

“Every country has been affected by the different aspects of climate change and this is changing some sensibilities,” Minister Meza reflected.

Even at today’s current levels of warming, the impacts are widespread and incredibly serious (global surface temperature was 1.1 °C higher in 2011– 2020 than 1850–1900, with larger increases over land, according to the IPCC’s latest report). From wildfires in California and a blistering heat dome in north America, to deadly flooding in Germany, nobody is immune. Adaptation has become everyone’s issue.

According to the IPCC, some degree of further warming is inevitable, but urgent and dramatic action may still hold the rise to 1.5C. The window of opportunity for doing so is small.

Finishing the Paris rulebook

While these are the big headlines as countries prepare for COP26 in Glasgow, negotiators are readying themselves behind the scenes for very detailed technical work, also. Minister Meza referred to the outstanding work ahead for climate negotiators to agree the technical rules for international carbon markets under the Paris Agreement. These rules were meant to be concluded in Katowice in 2018 but remained outstanding, due to concerns about how countries could count carbon credits and whether they could carry over any credits from the Kyoto Protocol period.

There is a risk in approaching carbon markets as though they are an end in themselves, Minister Meza remarked. Instead, actors should be focusing on the outcomes they are intended to achieve:

“We need good accountability, we need to avoid double counting (of emissions savings), we need additionality , and new projects to achieve the 1.5C goal – and projects need to have environmental integrity,” she said.

Human rights principles also need to be honoured and upheld through the rules for projects with carbon financing, she highlighted: “It’s important that the projects are really transformational. Each country does a decarbonisation strategy and [carbon markets] are a means to mobilise resources where they are needed.”

“There are also the human rights aspects. With the Kyoto Protocol, we saw that some [carbon finance] projects were not aligned with human rights approaches.”

With COP26 just three weeks away, it is perhaps predictable that some Parties are restating their positions – and gaps in agreement are clear to see.

However, Minister Meza stated her conviction that, with the planet warming and the COP already delayed a year, governments will arrive in Glasgow ready to do a deal:

“I think we need to be optimistic and when we are there [in Glasgow], we will be working very hard to achieve a robust package,” she concluded.

Reporting by Mairi Dupar, CASA

Image: Costa Rica forest, credit Vikramjeet Singh

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