Less than four years after being recognized as a state party at the United Nations’ climate change negotiations, Palestine is now leading the UN’s largest group of developing nations.
The COP, which stands for Conference of the Parties, is the supreme decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). For the past 25 years, parties have met on an annual basis at different locations around the world to negotiate strategies related to the implementation of the Convention. It includes 197 parties that have committed to submit national strategies serving the ultimate objective of the Convention, to support the global response to the threat of climate change. In light of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special reports that highlight the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and committing to not exceeding global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels as a target, this year’s COP25 is held in Madrid where parties meet in hopes of delivering urgent climate action.
Palestine in Climate Negotiations
Being the newest party of the UNFCCC, Palestine has only started having an “active” role in climate negotiations for the past four years. Below is a brief history of Palestine’s status in climate negotiations; moving from an observer entity to a state party.
- Prior to 2012: Palestine was an observer entity at the UNFCCC.
- November 29th, 2012: Palestine becomes a non-member observer state, after being granted a non-member observer state status by the UN General Assembly. With an observer status, Palestine can still not participate fully in the talks.
- December 13th, 2015: Palestine submits the instruments of accession to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the last day of COP21 held in Paris.
- March 17th, 2016: Palestine becomes a state party at the UNFCCC, making it the newest party to join the Convention. The decision was politically sensitive and was granted with the backing of France in 2015. The aspects of human rights and injustice heavily affected by climate change in Palestine were highlighted to push for full membership of the UN’s climate body.
- April 22nd, 2016: Palestine signs and ratifies the Paris Agreement.
- November 11th, 2016: Palestine submits its Initial National Communication Report and its National Adaptation Plan (NAP) to the UNFCCC, making it the sixth country in the world to submit their NAP under the guidance of Least Developed Countries Expert Group
- August 12th, 2017: Palestine submits its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). NDCs are the efforts each country is committed to participate in the international efforts in dealing with climate change. This includes reduction of national emissions and adaptation to the negative impacts of climate change, and it is a request by the Paris Agreement of 2015 that all signatory parties prepare and communicate their NDCs.
Palestine is a member of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) that includes 48 developing countries highly vulnerable to climate change. Palestine is also a new member in the NDC partnership, an international platform of developed and developing countries that enhance the NDC implementation and it is a unique opportunity for Palestine to do so. On the ground, Palestine is currently working on including climate change into Palestinian legislation says Mr. Nedal Katbeh-Bader, climate change advisor at the Palestinian Environmental Quality Authority and representative at UN talks.
Being part of the Eastern Mediterranean, Palestine is considered among the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world. Being under military occupation does not only create political instability, but also a lack of sovereignty over its natural resources and national borders, leaving it severely hampered in adapting to climate change and implementing climate change plans and strategies. Despite having the vision, knowledge, plans, and strategies of what is required for climate action, Palestine lacks the proper means of implementation in the form of capacity building, technology development and transfer, and finance.
On December 3rd, 2019 during the COP25, the French Development Agency (AFD) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) officially signed a Fund Flow Agreement for the project worth 45 Million Euros on water banking and adaptation of agriculture in Northern Gaza. It aims to improve farmers’ resilience and water use efficiency. Gaza suffers from freshwater and groundwater scarcity and deteriorated quality, with 90-95% of its water being contaminated and unfit for drinking or irrigation in reference to WHO standards. Palestine is one of a few Arab countries to have received a fund from the GCF, after Egypt and Morocco. The GCF is an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the UNFCCC and is the primary channel for international public finance supporting developing countries in responding to climate change efforts of the UNFCCC. In addition to this project, Palestine was selected to receive support from the NAMA Facility for the project “Low Carbon Olive Value Chain” with a total value of 15 Million Euros. NAMA Facility is a body established following climate negotiations in Doha in 2012 to support developing countries and emerging economies to implement ambitious Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMAs). Other funding projects related to water supply and adaptation in the West Bank have been conducted before, however, according to Zena Agha from Al-Shabaka network, no projects will achieve a lasting impact so long as the occupation continues and Israel maintains control over the majority of water sources.
The Largest Bloc of Developing Countries Chaired by Palestine
Apart from the Palestinian delegation participating in this year’s climate negotiations, Palestine is the chair of the G77 and China, the largest single coalition of developing countries at the United Nations. The group now includes 135 nations that negotiate as a bloc in the UN and represent 80% of the world’s population.
Being a state representing the bloc is a powerful boost for Palestine’s presence in the international arena. Chaired by a Palestinian delegation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs led by Ambassador Ammar Hijazi, several parties of the G77 bloc have praised the Palestinian delegation’s balanced, transparent, inclusive, and participatory approach as a coordinator for the group.
Moreover, being a chair of the group creates intriguing political implications for Palestinian politicians in international negotiations. It puts Palestine on equal footing with full member states of the UN and forces states that don´t recognize the state of Palestine to sit and negotiate with it as equals. This undoubtedly is a big advancement for Palestinian diplomacy. For Palestinian participants of the COP it is encouraging and revitalizing to see their political leaders in the role of active negotiators rather than victims.