By Sam Goodman and Adrian Martinez
This year’s PreCOP meeting took place during the second week of October at the National Convention Center in Heredia, Costa Rica, with delegates from over 90 different countries working to find common ground on key issues ahead of the Santiago Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Chile.
Costa Rica hosted this unconventional conference, giving a much larger platform to civil society than previous events of its kind and helping elevate the dialogue of social inclusiveness. The country’s ambitious climate achievements and recent decarbonization plan were showcased throughout the conference.
Its climate leadership helped set the stage for three days of fruitful discussions on key issues such as loss and damage, market mechanisms and human rights, paving the way for a productive round of negotiations in Santiago.
Costa Rica “Punches Above its Weight”
Costa Rica’s many climate champions, including former UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, President Carlos Alvarado, First Lady Claudia Dobles Environmental Minister Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Lorena Aguilar and Costa Rica Limpia Director Monica Araya, delivered powerful opening remarks at the conference’s plenary and helped set a tone of urgency.
“What we are facing with climate change is nothing less than humanity’s existence as we know today,” said Figueres.
Figueres encouraged other countries to follow the leadership of Costa Rica, a nation that has run on over 98 percent renewable energy over the last five years and recently released its decarbonization plan that, among other things, lays out concrete steps to decarbonize the transportation sector.
“We are one small country with high aspirations and big ideas,” Figueres told the audience, adding that Costa Rica “punches above its weight.”
The conference’s hosts highlighted the importance of nature-based solutions for fighting climate change. Nature-based solutions use ecosystem-based approaches to meet societal challenges, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand carbon sinks.
“The Costa Ricans have spent a lot of energy and thinking into how to reflect the importance of nature-based solutions for the duty of keeping temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius, below dangerous levels of increase,” said Sebastién Duyck, Senior Attorney at the Center for International Law. “What we really need to see happen is making sure that governments put them in the core of the future of their climate commitments, something that we hope to see in the next months leading to COP25 in Santiago and COP26 in Glasgow next year.”
Article 6, Loss and Damage Loom Large
Two of the most important topics discussed at the PreCOP were Article 6 of the Paris Agreement and loss and damage, both of which have been highly contentious issues raised during previous rounds of negotiations.
Loss and damage refers to irreparable damage or irreversible losses from the adverse impacts of climate change. While loss and damage could be considered a third pillar of international climate policy, in addition to mitigation and adaptation, it has not been given equal weight in previous negotiations. However, progress was made on how loss and damage should be addressed.
“My impression is that, for the first time, there has been a breaking of the ice in relation to the discussion around loss and damage,” said Climate Action Network-Latin America Coordinator Alejandro Alemán.
The discussion focused on the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, the principal vehicle used to address this issue. Negotiators considered whether the mechanism will fall under the Paris Agreement or the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) governance process, as well as the need to provide finance for loss and damage. These details are of crucial relevance to providing meaningful action for the most vulnerable populations across the globe that will be suffering from these irreversible impacts.
Negotiations about Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which deals with market mechanisms, delivered less promising results. A resolution on Article 6 was derailed last year when Brazil, with its massive rainforest cover, pushed for the double counting of their carbon credits. This could undermine the integrity of the system.
Nations such as Brazil and Poland continued to be major obstacles toward a positive resolution on Article 6 during the PreCOP negotiations. At this point, no resolution on Article 6 may be preferable to a bad one since loopholes, double counting and weak safeguards from a bad decision could undermine the Paris Agreement.
The Escazú Agreement Takes Center Stage
Human rights and the Escazú Agreement, a regional environmental treaty among Latin American and Caribbean nations to protect the human rights of environmental defenders and provide public access to information, played an important role at the PreCOP. The signatories of the Agreement held a working meeting in Costa Rica following the PreCOP to discuss the modalities of public participation, the enforcement and compliance committee, and the financing or voluntary contribution scheme for the implementation of the Agreement.
The Agreement will go into effect once 11 countries have signed it. Six nations have already signed.
“I think the space at PreCOP was very positive for helping the ratification process,” said Costa Rican ex-Vice-Minister of Environment Patricia Madrigal, who played a key role in the Agreement’s development.
While Costa Rica has signed the Agreement, its legislative body has yet to ratify it. Carolina Schmidt, Chile’s Environmental Minister and president of this year’s climate conference, has previously said that Chile will not be signing the Agreement on the grounds that it would violate her nation’s sovereignty.
The Agreement is a critical issue this year with the climate conference returning for the first time since 2014 to Latin America, the most dangerous region in the world for environmental defenders. The PreCOP’s events helped raise the profile of this important Agreement.
First Work Meeting Signatory Countries of the Escazú Agreement
Inclusiveness a Key Theme
Costa Rica’s work toward giving civil society a larger role at this year’s PreCOP helped elevate the dialogue of social inclusiveness. Members of non-government organizations, indigenous groups and youth organizations hosted numerous side events on public participation in the climate governance process.
“Effective climate action requires effective public participation and procedural rights,” said Duyck.“There is a growing recognition of the fact that effective policy requires effective public participation, access to information and protection of those seeking to participate in climate policies.”