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Bangkok climate talks: key outcomes on the Paris Agreement ‘rulebook’

12 September, 2018
Jocelyn Timperley, Carbon Brief

Bangkok Climate Change Conference, UN Conference Centre

Bangkok Climate Change Conference, UN Conference Centre, Thailand
The Bangkok Climate Change Conference 2018, UN Conference Centre, Thailand | © UNclimatechange/Flickr [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

Time is running short for countries to decide the practical details of how the Paris Agreement will be brought to life, known as the Paris “rulebook”.

Negotiators meeting in Bangkok have just concluded another round of climate talks. The key aim was to whittle down a series of lengthy documents into a set of clear options for politicians to choose from when they meet later this year.

As the talks concluded on Sunday, Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the talks, told reporters “uneven progress” had been made at an extra set of talks in Bangkok. It is now “critical to achieve balance” across all the different aspects of the rulebook, she said.

The diplomats leading the talks have been tasked with taking this process forward in the run-up to COP24 in Katowice in December, where the rulebook must be finalised. However, the knottiest aspects of the rulebook will only be resolved once higher-level diplomats and politicians get involved.

Good progress was reportedly made in areas such as carbon markets, but progress stalled in some others. Disputes included whether rich and poor countries should include the same types of information in their climate pledges, how developed countries should report on their contribution to climate finance, and where to include the sensitive issue of “loss and damage” in the rulebook.

Setting the rules

The Paris Agreement on climate change was struck in 2015. By 2016, it had been ratified by enough countries to bring it into force, but it will only apply from 2020. The talks last week, which ended on Sunday evening, aimed to continue hammering out its finer details, known formally as the “Paris Agreement work programme” (PAWP) and informally as the Paris “rulebook”. This instruction manual must be finalised by the end of this year.

Yamide Dagnet, project director on international climate action at the World Resources Institute, says the rulebook is important for the credibility of the multilateral climate regime. She tells Carbon Brief: “We know this is very important. We’ll need it not only to guide a country’s action on the ground and help them to enhance their NDCs [Nationally Determined Contributions, or country climate pledges] by 2020, but also to really hold accountable parties who commited to adopt those rules by this time.”

There was a lot to get through, with slow progress in the previous negotiating session in May in Bonn having led to this additional Bangkok session being scheduled. In a joint “reflections note” released ahead of the talks, the diplomats leading the talks wrote: “The main objective of the additional session in Bangkok is to reach an agreed basis for negotiations for all PAWP items, reflecting clear and streamlined options, and with sufficient detail for the outcome of the session to be swiftly turned into draft decision text. If Parties do not achieve this in Bangkok, a satisfactory outcome in Katowice will be in jeopardy.”

These pieces of UN climate jargon (“reflections note”, “agreed basis for negotiations”, “streamlined options”, “draft decision text”, “informal notes”) are all different ways to describe pieces of text. The coded language refers to different levels of progress on the journey from collections of disparate country proposals through to universally agreed legal decisions. Roughly speaking, proposals are organised into “informal notes” or “tools” and then “streamlined” until they are concise and clear enough to form an “agreed basis for negotiations”. These are then crafted into “draft decision text” which looks like a final legal decision, but includes a range of clearly articulated different pieces of language in square brackets, for example, giving legally binding or indicative instructions as “[shall][should]”. Finally, negotiators settle on a single formulation and adopt the legal decision text.

Negotiators in Bangkok had less than a week to make progress. The main task was to streamline a series of informal “tools” – basically, documents setting out all proposed options by different parties – as much as possible. These tools were set out in a series of nine documents, together running to 189 pages, published ahead of the talks by the Ad-hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement, or APA – which is responsible for most of the Paris rulebook.

As the talks concluded on Sunday afternoon, a 307-page “informal note” was published by the UNFCCC secretariat in a bid to sum up the status of negotiations. This text draws in the additional areas covered by the other two UNFCCC groups, namely SBI and SBSTA, which also have responsibility for some elements of the rulebook. However, this summary text still lacks the clarity some hoped for, as a basis for smooth negotiations at COP24.

The co-chairs have now been asked by parties to prepare another joint “reflections note” setting out progress made and identifying ways forward ahead of COP24. This should include “textual proposals that would be helpful for advancing parties’ deliberations”, the request says. This will allow the chairs to translate informal notes into legal language and identify potential compromises ahead of COP24, Climate Home News reports.

Mohamed Adow, international climate lead at Christian Aid, notes in a statement: “We have fortunately avoided going off the cliff edge. Governments have empowered the co-chairs to turn the progress made so far into a more solid basis for negotiations in Poland. It is now vital for the co-chairs to change the course of the negotiations from diplomatic doldrums towards a win-win approach and craft middle ground options that the whole world can get behind at COP24.”

Paris pledges

A key element of the Paris rulebook is to set out the rules for how countries should format their climate pledges, known as NDCs. This is currently one of the areas of that needs most streamlining, according to Dagnet, with a new version of the NDC “negotiating tool” released at the end of Bangkok running to 35 pages. Key issues include whether guidance should cover mitigation (emissions reductions) alone, or also adaptation, climate finance and “loss and damage”; and how accounting for mitigation actions would best allow their impact to be understood. Alongside the mass of small-scale technical discussions that need to be resolved on this topic, several political issues stood out at the talks in Bangkok.

Most significant was a dispute over whether rules on NDCs should be common to all or split into differentiated versions for developed and developing countries. This “two-tier” rulebook, pushed by China and its allies, would mean some elements would only be compulsory for developed countries. However, the idea was opposed by the EU and blocked by the US and its allies from the negotiating table in Bangkok.

Another issue was how often the NDCs should be updated. Options on the table included five years, 10 years, or a rolling “5+5” of firm plans and indicative targets subject to review. A proposal from the like-minded developing countries group (LMDC), meanwhile, suggested an option that would see common time frames only for developed countries.

Camilla Born, senior policy adviser at green thinktank E3G, tells Carbon Brief this last issue is not that complicated on the technical side, but now needs political oversight, which was not available at the more technical talks in Bangkok.

Transparency

Transparency negotiations for the rulebook cover how compliance with the Paris Agreement will be monitored. This “transparency framework” covers a range of issues, including methodology for reporting on national greenhouse inventories, tracking progress, climate change impacts, adaptation and the support provided by developed countries to poorer nations.

In Bangkok, negotiators developed a new version of their “negotiating tool”, running to 75 pages. Dagnet tells Carbon Brief the tool includes attempts to streamline the options and refine country proposals. As with climate pledge guidance, Dagnet says the “hottest topic” remains “flexibility’ – what will be common to all parties and what is differentiated between developed and developing countries.

Transparency is also strongly linked to discussions of the “global stocktake”. This is a process embedded in the Paris Agreement set to take place every five years, beginning in 2023, to inform each round of climate pledges. A final iteration of the global stocktake “negotiating tool” ran to just 13 pages.

Finance

Climate finance to help developing countries meet their obligations was, as always, a key sticking point at the talks. Speaking midway through the week on behalf of the LMDC at a stocktake of progress to date, Iran noted that: “For us, within the LMDC, it is clear without any positive movement on finance, positive movement as well in the Paris Agreement work programme will not be possible.”

Concerns from developing countries relate to current flows of finance, which they say is not yet high enough to meet a promised $100bn per year by 2020, as well as the position of finance in the rulebook, where there are several points of dispute. One key dispute is over the predictability of financial flows from developed to developing countries. This “ex ante” reporting Is required under Article 9.5 of the Paris Agreement and is supposed to set out every two years “indicative” or “projected” levels of finance that will be given in future. Developing countries argue a process for this reporting is crucial to help them plan effectively for climate action. But developed countries say there is not a mandate to discuss this issue at the current time, according to Joe Thwaites, associate at the finance center of the World Resources Institute.

Another point of dispute, carrying on from the Bonn meeting in May, was a push by developing countries to start discussing a new climate finance goal, which is due to kick in from 2025. “All they’re trying to decide on is when they will start discussing what the process will look like of deciding the 2025 goals,” says E3G’s Born. But developed countries again argued the issue was currently out of scope for an already packed agenda.

According to Born, both of these finance issues will need political guidance, making them difficult to resolve at the more technical talks in Bangkok. Discussions will continue at a diplomatic level in Katowice. However, talks did advance on these and other areas of finance, says Thwaites: “By the end of the session, some finance negotiating tracks advanced close to legally written negotiating texts, with clearer options where there are areas of disagreement.” Hanging over the finance discussions was also the pending replenishment of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), an important vehicle, diplomatically, for delivering climate finance. The GCF has come under criticism after its latest board meeting failed to approve any new projects amidst reports of antagonistic relations between donor and recipient countries.

Carbon markets

The Paris Agreement establishes a voluntary “mechanism to contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable development”. Some progress was made on this market mechanism in Bangkok.

Ongoing discussions include accounting standards for reporting emissions reductions which are transferred between countries. Negotiators are also discussing whether to repurpose the existing Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the Paris framework. The CDM was established under the Kyoto Protocol to allow projects in developing countries to earn emission reduction credits. NGO Carbon Market Watch has called for the CDM to be scrapped altogether, arguing its use of offsetting systems is highly problematic.

The Paris Agreement also recognises the importance of “non-market” tools, such as sharing technology, for how countries cooperate with each other. Venezuela and other countries also made a push at the talks for similar progress to be made on these other approaches.

Looking ahead

With the conclusion of the Bangkok talks, COP24 is the next (and final) opportunity to complete the details of the Paris rulebook. There is still a vast array of complex technical issues for countries to decide.

One small but important decision was to open the COP24 talks a day earlier than planned, giving negotiators a vital extra day to begin smoothing out the final shape of the rulebook. However, there will also be other opportunities ahead of this during some of the key events listed in the table below. For example, the Global Climate Action Summit will be taking place in California this week and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels is due in October.

Another noteworthy event set to take place in October will be the Brazilian elections. Far-right congressman Jair Bolsonaro, who was injured in a knife attack over the weekend and is currently polling second, has vowed to take Brazil out of the Paris Agreement if he wins.

Eyes will also be on how Poland handles its presidency of the COP this year, amidst reports of lacklustre leadership in Bangkok. Adow said in a statement: “Poland as the referee needs to get their head in the climate game. Otherwise someone else will need to step up and limit the damage to the negotiations and the world’s poorest people. As COP 24 president, it is Poland’s responsibility to ensure fair play and prevent big polluters from shifting the goal posts of the Paris Agreement.”

One test of Poland’s presidency will be the design and success of the “Talanoa dialogue”, an informal stocktake of international progress towards Paris goals. This has been taking place all year and is due to end in a political phase at the COP this year. Dagnet tells Carbon Brief: “I think what we also want the presidency to pay attention to, more than the logistics, is to make sure that the output and outcome of the Talanoa dialogue are significant. If there is going to be a production of a report that is just going to be noted and shelved, that’s going to be seen as insufficient and discouraging for many, developing countries especially.”

 

[This article originally appeared on carbonbrief.org]

ArticleClimate Diplomacy
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Topic
Adaptation & Resilience
Climate Change
Climate Diplomacy
Development

Region
Global Issues

Topics

Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Cities

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Co-Benefits

Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Development

Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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Energy

The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Finance

Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.

Forests

Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender

Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Security

Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.

Water

The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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Regions

Asia

The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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Europe

As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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