As the high-level segment of the climate change negotiations at COP-24 launches in Katowice, Poland, the juxtaposition between the priorities and capacities of high and low greenhouse emitting nations is on full display. The very same national climate targets discussed in Katowice were also center stage two months ago in Saint Lucia when UNDP had the pleasure of coordinating the first Regional Dialogue for the Caribbean in partnership with UNFCCC on how country “Nationally Determined Contributions” (aka NDCs or climate objectives) are translating the Paris Agreement into concrete projects on the ground. The issue is particularly critical in low-lying island states such that historically have emitted only a tiny fraction of total GHGs worldwide (about 0.17% for Caribbean nations based on 2011 data), but they also contain some of the populations most vulnerable to climate impacts. This brief reflection highlights the ambition of Caribbean NDCs as well as key discussions during the Regional Dialogue on how best to achieve Paris Agreement targets.

Countries have drafted NDC pledges to reduce the impacts of Climate Change and they are diverse. Some are quite broad, e.g., emission reduction targets set for 30% by 2050 in Grenada and 14% by 2030 in Dominica, and other aspects of the NDCs are very specific (e.g., 20% reduction in transport fuel use in Belize by 2033, 30% reduction in transport emissions in Trinidad and Tobago by 2030, 22% greater energy efficiency in Barbados by 2029).

Of course, for Caribbean nations and other island states where climate impacts are a day-to-day fact of life rather than abstract concept, climate change adaptation or resilience play prominent roles in NDCs as well. You can look towards coastal stabilization targets through mangrove plantations in Suriname, Guyana Forestry Commission committing 50% of its staff to field monitoring of forest monitoring stations countrywide to maintain a low rate of illegal logging, and Antigua and Barbuda’s increase in seawater desalination capacity by 50% by 2025 as a sampling of proposed NDC contributions.

One key distinction now being drawn at COP24 is how countries will delineate What Will Get Done and What Should Get Done. Of course, the answer is centered around access to Finance and is differentiated in the NDCs as contributions that are either unconditional or they are conditional to receiving international support. In addition to mobilizing Finance and Investment, the other main gaps highlighted at the Caribban Dialogue were governance and how to track progress towards achievement of the targets.

As discussions progressed, it was clear these gaps are not mutually exclusive:

  1. Enhanced data tracking can increase political buy-in and support policy-making.
  2. Climate finance can be directed toward enhancing national institutions to help implement NDCs.
  3. Strengthened climate institutions can raise confidence and credibility levels of potential sources of finance and the private sector in the knowing that systems are sustainable and holistic, and indicative of a resilient, enabling environment to encourage climate action and investment.

As temperatures fall in COP24 a half a world away in Poland, Caribbean nations and other small island states around the world are Ground Zero to the impacts of Climate Change right now as the world grows warmer, sea levels rise, weather patterns change, and extreme events grow commonplace. To echo the words of the marvelous HE Minister Gale Rigobert, keynote speaker during the Regional NDC Dialogue, to effectively tackle climate change it is critical our countries work together and lead a people-centered response to this dire global threat. Ambitious plans and policies are insufficient unless leaders lead on the ground, mobilize the people to demand true change, and put systems in place to transition economies so they are low-carbon and climate-resilient.

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