By Gyan Chandra Acharya, Under-Secretary General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.

The world has often been reminded over the past year that we must leave no one behind as we strive to cement our plans for a sustainable future. The COP 21 Paris talks give the international community the chance to demonstrate that it is indeed leaving no one behind, that all voices are heard and understood. It is a sad reality that while the world’s most vulnerable countries have contributed the least to climate change, they are most at risk from its negative effects and the least equipped to withstand and adapt to it.

Small island developing states (Sids), least developed countries (LDCs) and landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) face tremendous challenges. For them the effects of climate change are disproportionately high. As they stand on the frontline of climate change, the impacts are real and measurable.

Paris must deliver a long-term and comprehensive agreement that caps global warming at less than 1.5C and strengthens resilience to climate-related effects. We must see substantial resources and research invested in a low-carbon economy.

One of the greatest threats to small island developing states is sea-level rise and submergence of territories. For example some climate experts predict a sea level rise of 1.2m by the end of the century. This would flood the atoll island nation of Kiribati, which is already experiencing severe challenges with rising waters.

To mitigate and adapt, Sids must first survive. Combined with an increase in the occurrence and severity of storms, ocean acidification and the pollution of oceans, the very seas that have sustained island communities for hundreds of years are now threatening their survival. Slow onset of adverse climate change effects may appear less dramatic, but this gradual movement may well render some Sids inhabitable before they are inundated by the rising sea. In the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, we should not be in a situation where future generations of islanders look back and ask why we did not tackle climate change with a greater sense of urgency and ambition – especially at a time when the cost of action is far less than the cost of inaction.

For the least developed countries and landlocked developing countries, climate change comes with depletion of aquifers, changing rain patterns, desertification, land degradation, melting of glaciers and many other disasters, all of which harm economic activities and livelihoods, destroying infrastructure and, ultimately, jeopardising the global prospects of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

In the fragile Sahel region, continued food security and poverty challenges are due in part to drought, late rains and poor distribution of rainfall. Farmers and pastoralists have seen their livelihood and production systems negatively affected, contributing to millions of people suffering from food insecurity and causing many to migrate within and across the Sahel.

Landlocked countries such as Nepal also suffer the effects of climate change where rising temperatures cause glacier melting, which can lead to floods, mudslides and avalanches.

Because of what is at stake, LDCs, LLDCs and Sids, from the grassroots level to their political and civic leaders, have lent support and their moral voice to a robust, ambitious and meaningful climate change agreement that is not only cognisant of the challenges they are facing, but effective – and includes mitigation and adaptation measures. The translation of this in Paris should be nothing less than an ambitious outcome that safeguards the future of vulnerable countries and the world at large. Nothing will happen without the means of implementation.

Finance, technology and capacity-building have to be an integral part of the solution, and they have to be as ambitious as our collective expectations, and the scale of the impact of climate change. The Green Climate Fund – which invests in low-emission and climate-resilient development – must be financed as expected and delivered expeditiously and equally.

Paris is vital but it does not stand alone. Many of the new sustainable development goals cannot be fulfilled without reducing global warming and the impact of climate change. The synergy is clear. The climate conference provides a critical opportunity to galvanise the support of financial institutions, development partners and bilateral and multilateral partnerships, to enable vulnerable countries to develop resilience to climate change.

We have to reflect honestly on where we stand and what we are doing as a global community to support the most vulnerable communities and individuals among us. We are at a fork in the road, and it is my hope that COP 21 contributes to making our world safer and sustainable for all before it is too late to take action. This final effort in Paris must pave the way for effective implementation of the commitments we have worked so hard to secure for future generations.


This article originally appeared in The Guardian