Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)

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International Policy

General features

AOSIS has been one of the most active regional grouping under the UNFCCC. It was established in 1990 under the leadership of the Maldives and Trinidad and Tobago at the Second World Climate Conference in Geneva. This move was intended to consolidate the voices of Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) in the international arena, given their relatively similar development challenges and extreme vulnerability to climate change (especially sea level rise). Nevertheless, there are also quite enormous differences between members of AOSIS: Whereas several countries are classified as least developed countries by the United Nations, such as Comoros, Haiti and Vanuatu, for instance Singapore is one of the countries with the highest value in the Human Development Index (5th in 2015) and in GDP per capita according to the World Bank. Their vulnerability to climate change is also not even as the elevation of the island states varies. Moreover, the AOSIS members are very diverse with respect to the environmental problems they face, their resources, perspectives and cultural backgrounds. This has led to tensions and allegedly to the consideration of all regional priorities instead of a proper prioritisation. Nevertheless, AOSIS has been credited to have significant influence on the multilateral climate negotiations. This is to a large extent linked to their moral leverage resulting from their high vulnerability to climate change. But AOSIS has also been successful in forming ties with other vulnerable countries, civil society and science, which emphasises its diplomatic efforts and achievements.

The Alliance has no formal charter, budget or secretariat, and it operates through coordination and consensus. Members primary work together through their New York Diplomatic Missions to the United Nations and major policy decisions are taken at ambassadorial-level plenary sessions. The current chairmanship is held by the Maldives.

Despite SIDS communities representing the 20% of UN’s total membership, they are home to just 5 % of the world population and contribute less than 1 % to anthropogenic GHG emissions.

Members

The alliance comprises 39 members and 5 observers, grouping low-lying coastal and small island countries located in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. The full list of current members is available here (external link). Most of AOSIS members are also part of the G-77 and China.

 

Negotiating position

AOSIS has historically played a major role within climate change negotiations, being instrumental to the creation and adoption of the Convention. Moreover, the Alliance was the first proponent of a draft text in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations.

Before COP21, AOSIS called particularly for limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 °C; it even labelled the below 2°C target as “wholly inadequate” in the light of the results of the 2013-2015 review (this review addressed the adequacy of the below 2°C target in the light of the ultimate objective of the Convention to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”). In addition, AOSIS advocated for a legally binding Protocol under the Convention applicable to all Parties. This means that the principles and provisions should be at the bedrock of the Agreement, including CBDR (common but differentiated responsibility) and equity. While ambitious mitigation targets should be undertaken by developed countries for taking the lead, AOSIS also supported quantifiable commitments by developing countries. In Paris at COP21, AOSIS thus still demanded legally-binding, quantified mitigation commitments despite the successful bottom-up INDC process. Also the parity of mitigation and adaptation has always been an important concern of AOSIS members.

AOSIS members call for support in terms of finance, capacity building and technology; some of them exhorted developed countries to contribute up to their 2% of GDP to this aim. Especially the upscaling, predictability and additionality of funds based on the US-$ 100 billion pledge by developed countries is highlighted. Three key negotiating objectives pursued by the group include i) risk management approaches and the climate proofing of infrastructure, ii) insurance support for dealing with extremes and iii) a compensation mechanism to deal with unavoidable losses arising from climate change. As for the latter, the establishment of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (Loss and Damage Mechanism) established at COP 19 was as a first remarkable result. In AOSIS’ view, the issue of loss and damage is qualitatively different from that of adaptation, which is why AOSIS called for a separate article on Loss and Damage in the Paris Agreement.

After the successful adoption of the Paris Agreement, AOSIS keeps a high profile in its positions in the negotiations on the Paris rulebook:

  • Additional guidance is necessary in the mitigation section to facilitate the compilation and analysis of NDCs and to track process
  • Cooperative mechanisms need to promote sustainable development, safeguard environmental integrity and ensure additionality with clear accounting frameworks, safeguards and governing configurations. The new sustainable development mechanism shall lead to substantial shares of proceeds to support adaptation efforts.
  • Minimum information requirements should be defined for the adaptation communications
  • The mobilisation and provision of support needs to take a high profile in the negotiations. Particularly adaptation finance with direct access modalities needs to be increased. In general, a common definition of climate finance has to be agreed upon in order to provide clarity for the financial accounting as existing methods are inadequate. Baselines have to be created to prove additionality to existing ODA flows.
  • Transparency is another focus of AOSIS. The existing transparency system under the UNFCCC should be complemented with new common guidelines, enhancing the transparency arrangements under the Convention. Reporting and transparency should improve over time, which constitutes flexibility for developing countries. Nevertheless, the special circumstances of SIDS and LDCs need to be taken into account.
  • The global stocktake is seen as an important element of the wider ambition cycle of the Paris Agreement. It should have both a backward- and a forward-looking component. Moreover, it should not only cover mitigation and adaptation but also the means of implementation. With respect to the latter, the global stocktake should also comprise an assessment of the adequacy and effectiveness of support.
  • Pre-2020 ambition needs to be enhanced and the facilitative dialogue as a precedent of the global stocktake in 2018 must lead to an increase in overall ambition

In general, AOSIS is a strong supporter of the multilateral approach to tackle climate change under the UNFCCC. The small island states attach great weight to the talks and advocate for binding and ambitious commitments/contributions as well as strong modalities, guidelines and provisions. Due to their particular vulnerability, they can be seen as a progressive power in favour of strong action. This does not only relate to mitigation, but also to adaptation as well as loss and damage. Additionally, irrespective of the developmental stage, AOSIS expects action from every country based on the common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC). Therefore, AOSIS reveals a rather progressive notion of the Convention’s principles and the issue of differentiation. However, its strong standpoints are often met by concerns over national sovereignty and asymmetrical interests of other, more powerful countries.

 

Useful resources

Submissions of AOSIS are available on the Submission Portal of the UNFCCC.

AOSIS website: http://aosis.org/

Águeda Corneloup, I. and Mol, A. (2014), Small island developing states and international climate change negotiations: The power of moral “leadership”, International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp. 281-297.

Betzold C., Castro P., Weiler F., (2012), AOSIS in the UNFCCC negotiations: from unity to fragmentation?, Climate Policy, Volume 12, Issue 5, pp. 591-613.

Chasek, P. (2005), Margins of Power: Coalition Building and Coalition Maintenance of the South Pacific Island States and the Alliance of Small Island States, Review of European Community and International Environmental Law, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp. 125-137.

Herold A. et al., (2014), The development of climate negotiations in view of Lima, EP Policy Department, Brussels.

Larson, M. (2003): Low-Power Contributions in Multilateral Negotiations: A Framework Analysis, Negotiation Journal, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp. 133-149.

Yamamoto L., Esteban M., (2014), Climate Change Negotiations and AOSIS, in “Atoll Island States and International Law”, Yamamoto L. and Esteban M. eds., Springer Heidelberg New York Dordrecht London