Climate negotiations have been a challenge for the LDC group due to various factors, but the situation is slowly changing
Climate change impacts are mostly defined by an increase in global mean temperature, affecting ecosystems and communities with increasing droughts, floods, cyclones, melting of glaciers, and increased sea level rise globally. The Least Developed Countries (LDC) are the most vulnerable victims, who omit the least emissions and who also have the lowest adaptive capacity.
LDCs are a group of nations defined by the UN as a group of countries listed in November 1971, based on three criteria - low per capita income, high economic vulnerability, and weak human assets which are essential indicators of nutrition, health, school enrollment, and literacy rate.
Currently, the LDC group comprises 47 countries, which are a wide variety of nations - 9 countries from Asia, 1 country from Central America, 33 countries of the African region, and 4 countries from Oceania.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted at the Rio Earth Summit held in 1992 recognized under Article 4.9 that the parties to the Convention would need to take full account for the specific and special needs of the LDCs with regards to the transfer of technology, funding, and other supports. The Paris Agreement also offers preferential treatment to the LDCs in supporting their activities, particularly for adaptation.
Under the UNFCCC process, parties to the Convention negotiate as groups. Initially, the developing countries formed the G77+ China (as an associate member) negotiating group, and this bloc led negotiations with the developed country parties.
However, during the first decade of the Conventions life, it was evident that the major developing countries, such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa began to lead, mainly projecting their own needs, which were found to be somewhat different from the needs of the LDCs and the small island developing states (SIDS).
Though the major developing countries are also affected by climate change, their prime interests were mobilizing support for mitigation and promotion of renewable energy. On the other hand, the LDCs, for example, are primarily concerned with climate change impacts and the need for adaptation.
With their adaptive capacity being extremely low, they needed financial and technological support from the developed countries. Gradually, it was evident that in the negotiations LDCs needs were seldom prioritized within the G77 where the bigger developing countries dominated.
As a result, during 2000-01, the LDC group was formed as a separate negating bloc, though they still continue to remain within the G77. This allows the LDC group to influence both the G77 group and also act as an independent voice projecting the real concerns and needs of the LDCs.
In the seventh session of COP in 2001, the LDC needs were highlighted and a separate LDC Work Programme was adopted for implementation. With two other funds, COP-7 also established the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) to specifically support the LDC Work Programme. The LDCF also pledged to support the implementation of the preparation of National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA). In 2005, COP-11 mandated the LDCF to fund the NAPA implementation.
However, climate negotiations have been a challenge for the LDC group due to various factors. For example, the negotiators and delegates who engage in dialogue are often required to cover not just issues related to climate change, but also to many other environmental concerns.
The challenges faced by the LDCs are institutional, financial, technical, and human resource constraints. The LDCs have faced under-representation, however gradually, they have been able to increase their representation and clout in the negotiations.
The leadership in the LDC group is rotating among the African and Asian regions. The current Chair of the LDC group is Sonam Phuntsho Wangdi (Bhutan). Since 2001 International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), a think tank in London, has supported senior LDC negotiators through organizing capacity-building workshops, supporting the enhanced representation of LDC negotiators, providing logistical and administrative support, and helping establish an online presence for the group.
The key strategies utilised by the LDC group within the negotiations are as follows. Firstly, group activation and engagement have led to greater coordination among LDC countries and increased the mode of effective participation in deliberations with UNFCCC.
Secondly, the role of Chair with improved institutional memory of past negotiations and concern has led to a greater presence of powerful political figures of LDC nations. Both of these strategies have ultimately enabled a critical mass that has garnered an increased endorsement of LDCs positions in climate concerns.
Thirdly, the LDC group with other like-minded groups, such as the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) work effectively with the EU bloc, the progressive group of the developed countries, which have been able to turn their combined voices across the corridors at the COPs. Finally, the increased media visibility has led to better clarity of the LDCs position and outreach with other negotiators that managed to catch the eye of international media.
One example of their political sway in the negotiations is reflected in the global acceptance of an aspirational goal of not allowing the increase in global temperature to more than 1.5C under the Paris Agreement.
A submission led by Nepal on behalf of the LDC group for the 2015 agreement argued that if the global mean temperature reaches its 3.5 to 4C prediction, adaptation will not be feasible for vulnerable nations due to their exposure to sea-level rise or shortage of production of food. This example reflects the LDCs’ ability to collectively build power and influence the negotiations.
The Paris Agreement also recognized the need for increased funds and the importance of loss and damage for LDCs, which was a key issue for them. The funding for loss and damage was a topic that lacked agreement from developing and developed countries.
However, COP25 held in Madrid in 2019 requested the Global Climate Fund (GCF) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to increase their funding for projects related to Loss and Damage (LnD). Despite the lack of continued funding directly for Loss and Damage compensation.
In conclusion, despite being vulnerable, and lacking both funding and resources, the LDC group has been quite successful in the UNFCCC negotiations. However, they still face many challenges including their capacity to negotiate because of their small size of the negotiating teams.
The group, however, needs to do more homework on each and every agenda of the UNFCCC. One of the positive developments is that the current Chair of the LDC group represented by Bhutan is very active in promoting the LDC causes. But this is still an endeavour that needs combined effort and LDC will need more support from the developed countries.
Noshin Saiyara is a student of the biological sciences department of Connecticut College. Her research interest lies in understanding the development sector of the developing world that impacts health & climate. She can be reached at [email protected]
Prof Mizan R Khan is Deputy Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD)