Switzerland made history back in February as the very first country to submit to the UN its ‘INDCs’ – planned cuts to national carbon and equivalent emissions – ahead of the COP21 UN climate change conference in Paris, with its goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels). Over the course of 2015, most of the rest of the world followed suit.
With the conference now underway, Nicaragua wasted no time in throwing a spanner into the heart of the UNFCCC’s machinery, with its lead envoy, Paul Oquist, announcing that the Central American country will refuse to follow the 184 countries that have submitted INDCs, stating that ‘voluntary responsibility is a path to failure’.
‘It’s a not a matter of being troublemakers, it’s a matter of the developing countries surviving,’ argues Oquist. ‘We don’t want to be an accomplice to taking the world to 3 to 4 degrees and the death and destruction that represents. 4°C is not a survival track in the Sahel with the Sahara advancing. It’s not a survival track for India or Pakistan with the glaciers melting in the Himalayas.’
“The INDCs are deliberately designed to draw in contributions from the world to better resolve the climate crisis. For those who are poor and vulnerable that is the best outcome”
Oquist also claimed that Venezuela would follow in its footsteps and refuse to submit any INDCs either. Neither Nicaraguan President Ortega nor any Nicaraguan representatives spoke at the Leaders Event on the opening day of COP21.
James Cameron, chair of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), feels that the Nicaraguan argument completely fails to grasp the entire purpose of the INDCs. ‘This totally misunderstands the process and the law,’ he argues. ‘This is no way to achieve a just, fair or effective agreement. The INDCs are deliberately designed to draw in contributions from the world to better resolve the climate crisis. For those who are poor and vulnerable that is the best outcome. Some elements will be binding like reporting, some will not but the contributions will be scrutinised by governments and civil society. They will be binding in national law when implemented in a way that fits their political and legal culture.’
“This may cause procedural issues at the conclusion of the negotiations since within the UN these negotiations aim for consensus decision-making”
While Nicaragua is certainly not a major emitter of greenhouse gases, its refusal to join the UN’s INDC process could cause a few headaches as negotiators attempt to pull together a final binding agreement for combating climate change.
‘It is very well possible that these countries will not sign up to the final agreement and that this may cause procedural issues at the conclusion of the negotiations since within the UN these negotiations aim for consensus decision-making,’ says Arthur Petersen, Professor of Science, Technology and Public Policy at UCL STEaPP.
‘It may also lead to a continual review of the two degrees target – to be revised downwards – though that seems unlikely now that the two degrees target itself is not within reach. The only way to convince these countries would then be to define a credible mechanism for reviewing and increasing rich country emissions reduction pledges.’