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23rd Mar 2019

EU aligns with 79 developing states in Paris on climate

  • A climate activist in Paris (Photo: 350.org)

A group of 79 developing countries from Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, made a joint declaration on climate change with the European Union on Tuesday (8 December), in a sign that the EU is wielding its diplomatic clout in Paris.

The EU and the group of countries known by the acronym ACP agreed that the climate deal in Paris should be “legally binding, inclusive, fair, ambitious, durable and dynamic,” that it should have a long-term goal, and include a five-year review mechanism.

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The EU-ACP declaration was announced in the margins of the climate conference, where almost all the world's countries, plus the EU, are trying to reach a deal to slow potentially catastrophic climate change.

One sticking point is how climate action will be differentiated among various countries. Under the Kyoto Protocol, the only international climate treaty which requires greenhouse gas reductions to date, only developed countries were required to take action. This issue is being discussed in Paris under the name “differentiation.”

The EU thinks the division developed/developing has become increasingly outdated, with the rise of strong economies in China and other parts of the world.

“These negotiations are not about ‘them’ and ‘us’,” EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said in a statement.

“These negotiations are about all of us, both developed and developing countries, finding common ground and solutions together. This is why the EU and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries have agreed to join forces for an ambitious outcome here in Paris.”

For his part, Vivian Balakrishnan, the minister of foreign affairs of Singapore, who with his Brazilian colleague was charged with identifying progress on differentiation, sounded another note. He said on Tuesday evening: “It's very clear that the fault lines remain.”

Climate negotiations traditionally see countries group into alliances, and there is something of a tug-of-war going on between the most powerful countries or groups.

According to Michael Jacobs, a former climate adviser to then UK prime minister Gordon Brown, aligning with ACP was a smart move by the Europeans.

He said the 2011 climate conference in Durban, South Africa, saw a similar alignment of the EU with developing countries.

“The EU has not been as good at explaining its narrative in the media … [where] an important part of this is played out,” he told a handful of journalists at a meeting in Paris organised by the European Climate Foundation, an NGO.

“If you read the Indian press, you get a very particular view of the developed countries, which is not very favourable,” said Jacobs.

“I think the EU has not been forward enough at explaining what it's trying to do and show that it is building alliances. Today, this announcement with the ACP, was a bit more forward, and I'm pleased about that personally. I think that's a good thing.”

Jacobs said there are “lots and lots of small countries,” i.e. poor countries. “They don't count very much on their own, but they count in groups.”

The former diplomat noted these countries “are beginning to align themselves with the EU - and interestingly with the US - for what is generally known as a high-ambition agreement.”

He added that the EU-ACP declaration may also mean the EU is open to accepting a reference to a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature rise ceiling in the text.

So far, the EU has said that global average temperatures should not rise more than two degrees (it has risen by 0.8 degrees since pre-industrial times).

But Jacobs noted that “1.5C” is an important goal for many ACP countries, and for the EU to align with them may also indicate a possible shift.

“The EU could agree to it,” he said of a mention of “1.5C.” “The EU, I think, would not stop the agreement because it was there,” he added.

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