'The time to act is now': a former G77 negotiator on COP26

By Dr Paulette Bynoe

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Paulette Bynoe

Dr Paulette Bynoe is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Guyana’s Faculty of Earth and Environmental Sciences. She has led a distinguished career in teaching and research in the field of environmental impact and policy and previously served as the G77 and China lead negotiator.  

Global climate change is an existential threat that continues to undermine the development gains of small island developing states (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs) that have already been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has further exposed the underlying vulnerabilities of the health and social systems of these countries and the fragility of their economies, while increasing their debt and diverting scarce resources to address health, social and economic consequences of COVID-19.

It also soberly reminds us that climate change will have more long-term and far-reaching consequences. Therefore, there is no room for delayed actions or backsliding on commitments. 

The unequivocal, scientifically-backed fundamental truth is that the world is at a critical juncture which - whatever we commit to - will mark our collective success or failure in delivering on our common objective to hold global average temperatures to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Falling short of efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels will set in motion irreversible climate breakdown. The choice is ours to make.

Already, global temperatures are on track to rise as much as 3.2°C by the end of the century. In fact, greenhouse gas emissions should have begun falling by 7.6 per cent each year starting in 2020, if the world is to meet the 1.5°C maximum target called for in the Paris Agreement[1].

Let us be reminded of that old saying from Lester Brown: We have not inherited the earth from our forefathers, we have borrowed it from our children. The time to act is now.

As the 2020 Lead Negotiator/Chair of G77 and China Climate Change Group, I am delighted to be part of that action by mentoring some of the 26 rising-star researchers of the Commonwealth Futures Climate Cohort programme. In the run up to COP26, this unique cohort will bring local knowledge to a global stage, build their skills in leadership, knowledge exchange, and policy influence, and work with experts to identify opportunities to engage with issues related to climate and environment.

COP26 provides a window of opportunity to act. It is imperative that Parties to the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement maintain the centrality of the present and future climate crisis. Experience from previous COPs underscores the need for consensus among Parties not to derail progress and to achieve decisions on the outstanding issues from previous COPs (especially Article 6 of the Paris Agreement on cooperative implementation).

There should be consciousness on the part of developing countries that we have our persistent needs to improve of the living standards of our peoples. Therefore, Parties should adopt and apply a systems approach that promotes an understanding and appreciation of the inter-relatedness of issues that are being negotiated.

For example, raising ambition must be considered critical to all fronts: in mitigation, adaptation support, finance, technology, and capacity building. Importantly, in each case, the process of setting ambitious targets must be informed by the science, rather than simply economic or political expediency.

Further, Parties should have a collective resolve to reset economies based on lessons learned, and to rebuild in a way that tackles both existential threats. Recalling that this is the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, Parties should clearly articulate their unequivocal support for a green recovery and resilience building, while ramping up commitments towards our net-zero ambitions by 2050.

As we recall the words of the late President Nelson Mandela that “Our experience has taught us that with goodwill a negotiated solution can be found for even the most profound problems”, let us remain optimistic that change will come, even as we welcome the decision by the US to re-join the Paris Agreement and their commitment  to achieve very ambitious emissions targets by 2030.


[1] Emissions Gap Report, 2019.