Q&A: 'There has been a shifting of goalposts at COP23'

Joseph Mithika Mwenda, secretary general of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance. Photo by: Jean-Marc Ferré / United Nations / CC BY-NC-ND

BONN, Germany — The Pan African Climate Justice Alliance made headlines early at the COP23 climate talks taking place in Bonn, Germany, when its members demanded the U.S. delegation be removed from the negotiations. The United States is still participating in COP23, despite President Donald Trump's announced intention to withdraw from the Paris climate accords struck two years ago.

Now in the second week of the discussions, the coalition of African civil society groups has continued to be a strident voice, calling on developed countries to make more concrete commitments of funding for adaptation and to combat climate change before 2020, when the Paris Agreement officially begins.

Devex spoke to Joseph Mithika Mwenda, secretary general of the alliance, about the role his organization is staking out at Bonn and what he hopes will emerge from the negotiations. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How is the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance approaching the negotiations?

We are the largest platform of civil society working on climate in these negotiations. We believe our voice should be heard. Africa is the continent that is the most impacted. We really want those who have caused the problem of climate change to take responsibility and deliver on finance to enhance adaptation, mitigation and, of course, technology transfer, so that we can help our people who are on the frontline of the climate crisis.

After the ratification of the Paris Agreement, we believe that we need everybody. In [the 2016 negotiations in] Marrakech, we talked about all of us being together in this journey. But we are seeing, actually, there is no interest. There is a lot of inertia on the part of the industrialized countries. In fact, they are shifting the goalposts and we are really worried about whether they're committed to the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Worse still is the withdrawal of the country we thought would provide leadership. We want to see another country taking leadership, because really, the issue of climate change is a crisis. We cannot meet the Sustainable Development Goals without addressing climate change.

“We want to see another country taking leadership, because really, the issue of climate change is a crisis.”

— Joseph Mithika Mwenda, secretary general of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance

Do you stand by your call for the U.S. delegation to be kicked out of the negotiations?

We want the U.S. to be out of this. You cannot be in a place where you do not want to be. Why do you come and sit in the halls of negotiation and pretend to negotiate and mock us when you want to withdraw?

Under the convention, there may be a legal imperative for them to be here. They have a right to be here. But morally, we don't think they should be here.

We have been clarifying that it is not U.S. citizens we are telling to exit these negotiations. It is Trump and his government. It is just one individual and his government.

We believe that we have to work together. We have to walk the talk. Climate change is such an enormous issue that you cannot address it alone.

What are your other demands?

One of the things we have noticed is that there is a lot of shifting of goalposts in terms of financial goals. We were looking forward to the delivery of the pre-2020 commitments of $100 billion per year [from developed countries to pay for climate mitigation and adaptation in the developing world]. But when you look at what has been delivered, we have not seen new money. We have not seen additional money, which is climate finance, and this is a big concern for us. We want transparency of these actions and these funds and where they are going.

Secondly, the issue of adaptation. As a continent that relies on weather — rain-fed agriculture — adaptation is essential for us. But you realize industrialized countries are only concerned about mitigation. For them, adaptation has no return for investment. And they can only invest and put money on big hydropower, big solar panels, big wind power. Though we really support the investment in climate change, we believe that adaptation should equally be an important aspect of climate action, just as mitigation is important. But we are not seeing this happening, which is really a big disappointment for us in these negotiations.

What would success coming out of Bonn look like to you?

Success is agreement on a global goal on finance, a global goal on adaptation and agreeing on the way forward in implementation. What is most important is before we even start implementing the Paris Agreement, what about the 2020 ambition? That is what is a concern. We can see the industrialized countries are avoiding that, so by the time we reach 2020, they'll say that is forgotten.

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About the author

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    Andrew Green

    Andrew Green is a Devex Contributor based in Berlin. He writes regularly about global health and human rights issues. He has also worked as Voice of America’s South Sudan bureau chief and as the Center for Public Integrity’s web editor.