The international community—including many developing nations—are extremely concerned about the ways in which climate change impacts will undermine their security and prosperity, according to a report by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) issued last week.
With less than a month to go before the formal opening of the climate negotiations in Paris, the focus of the international community is increasingly drawn toward smoothing the way for a universal, durable, and ambitious agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).
Most recently, French President Francois Hollande, the host of the talks, journeyed to Beijing to ink an agreement with China’s Xi Jinping to ensure that a global climate deal includes automatic increases in emissions cuts every five years. This follows similar bilateral engagements that have occurred over the past few months, including an announcement by China—the world’s largest GHG emitter—of a peak emissions year, as well as a United Nations negotiating process that has taken years to choreograph.
One of the more critical elements of this process has been the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), or the plans that individual nations submitted to the UNFCCC governing specific actions, to be undertaken domestically, on climate change mitigation. One hundred nineteen such plans were submitted before the October 1 deadline (there are one hundred ninety-five parties to the Convention, though the EU’s plan covers all twenty-nine member states). The U.S. INDC, for example, offers an economy-wide GHG emissions reduction of 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.
To help states contextualize what the INDCs could accomplish, the UNFCCC recently released its inelegantly titled “Synthesis report on the aggregate effects of the intended nationally determined contributions.” Updating their models with what the INDCs collectively offer, the UNFCCC forecasts the likely impact of the pledges on GHG levels.
The top-line findings on the mitigation side are cause for cautious optimism. Assuming that the plans are implemented as outlined from now until 2030, the UNFCCC concludes that although global emissions “are expected to grow until 2025 and 2030, the growth is expected to slow down substantially, to 11-23 percent in the 2010-2030 period compared with 24 percent in the 1990-2010 world.”
Christina Figueres, the UNFCCC’s Executive Secretary, made headlines with the release of the synthesis report by saying that “[t]he INDCs have the capability of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7C by 2100,” exceeding the Copenhagen goal of 2 degree Celsius but less than projections of a 4 to 5 degree increase. As ThinkProgress’ Joe Romm points out, however, it’s important to underscore the assumptions on which those projections are based—guaranteeing that warming is arrested to that degree requires a lot of aggressive follow-up action after Paris this year and certainly in planning post-2030 targets, which the synthesis report does not consider.
What has not garnered as much attention is what the synthesis report has to say about global adaptation needs. Particularly for least-developed countries, adaptation needs are critical to ensuring those nations can cope with the climate change effects already “baked into the system,” in addition to avoiding future emissions growth.
Of the one hundred parties whose INDCs have an adaptation component, the vast majority are located outside of North America or Western Europe. Many of these nations see climate change as an all-encompassing threat: “[adaptation goals] are closely intertwined with development objectives such as poverty eradication, economic development or improvement of living standards, security and human rights.”
On the security question in particular, UNFCCC parties are beginning to clarify their fears about the consequences of dealing with climate change as a potential driver of conflict, especially in terms of water and food security—issues which have long been articulated by the United States in national security strategy documents. In the aggregate, UNFCCC parties see flooding, sea level rise, and drought as the three most pressing concerns, all of which threaten not only economic prosperity, particularly for agriculture, but also peace and security.
Management of transboundary water issues, to take one specific example, has implications for both national and regional security and stability, as the synthesis report clearly states. To take one prominent recent example, highlighted by the International Crisis Group’s Ayo Obe, the Lake Chad is a body of water crucial to Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. Obe’s essay makes specific references to the significant changes the Lake Chad basin will face due to climate change and highlights the need for external support to manage those changes, as described in the INDCs submitted by Chad and Niger. Obe skillfully ties the stability of the region to urgent efforts to replenish the lake and ensure the communities living in the four riparian states can maintain equitable access in the future.
Why does this matter? I have written previously on how climate assistance must be made conflict-sensitive. It is apparent from the INDCs that this is also a clear need identified by parties to the UNFCCC themselves. Most parties are in the process of formulating vulnerability assessments and developing adaptation plans that will be just as important as the emissions pledges hammered out in Paris in December. It only serves to underline how important credible and transparent commitments to financial pledges to support emission reductions and adaptation programs are from developed nations to developing ones. And just as important, efforts going forward must focus on building capacity in low-income nations so that they may be able to spend that money appropriately, especially for those conflict-afflicted states.
Those discussions will take center stage at Paris in December. Whatever agreement is hammered out then will have to provide credible, long-term plans for meeting the needs identified in the synthesis report.