COP19: What’s at stake?

Suh-Yong CHUNG is an Associate Professor in the Division of International Studies at Korea University and Director of Center for Climate and Sustainable Development Law and Policy (CSDLAP,, Republic of Korea. His most recent publication is Post-2020 Climate Change Regime Formation (Routledge, 2013). 


1. What can be achieved at this year’s COP19?

To complete the negotiations on the new post-2020 climate regime, countries need to agree on the key issues to be included in the regime and also have their own stance prepared by this year’s COP19. This will form the basis to start discussing the negotiating texts which can lead to the adoption of a new treaty or another type of a legal agreement in France at COP21 in 2015.

In this context, it is extremely important in the climate change negotiations that a balance is achieved between the top-down approach and the bottom-up approach. This can result in a modality which both the major emitters and the developing countries can agree upon.

2. What are some key issues on funding to be discussed at COP19 and especially the Green Climate Fund, which is hosted in Republic of Korea?

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) has advanced to a certain extent this year such as selecting the Inaugural Executive Director of the Fund. Now the key issue for the Fund will be how to mobilize resources and raise USD 100 billion fund by 2020. This has been discussed at the UNFCCC under the long-term finance aspect and for the GCF it will be important to raise finance from the public and also attract the private sector. If risk seems too high for investment from the private sector’s perspective, there is a chance that they will not participate at all in raising finance for the Fund. Considering this, Parties must discuss concretely how to lower the economic risk as well as the political risk in the funding aspect.  

Climate finance must be mobilized, striking a balance between mitigation and adaptation. The 2009 Copenhagen Accord’s section on long-term finance mentions only mitigation but since the Cancun Agreement, we have to take into account that Parties have stressed long-term finance for climate change adaptation. It seems finance for both mitigation and adaptation will be discussed this year, but it will have to be carefully balanced that developed and developing countries do not sway towards one end due to political reasons.

3. You have been part of the Korean delegation to the COP for many years now. Do you see an increased presence of human mobility issues (migration, displacement, refugees) in the climate change negotiations? And where are some entry points to voice and integrate migration issues in the negotiations? 

Human mobility issues are being discussed but most recently at the climate change negotiations. Human mobility was mentioned in the paragraph 14(f) of the Cancun Agreement and also in the decision on loss and damage in Doha (decision 3/CP.18 paragraph 7(a)(vi)). The likelihood of sea-level rise, high intensity precipitation and desertification are all becoming more frequent and severe globally, so it is only natural that the impact of such environmental changes on the move of people is being considered and discussed at the climate change negotiations. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) has strongly voiced the threat of sea level-rise which is an important starting point for further negotiation on the human mobility dimension of climate change.    

Outside of the UNFCCC, the UN Security Council is discussing “climate security” and mentioned the human mobility issue which underlines the importance of the issue. In Seoul this year, a Climate Security Conference was convened where migration was discussed in an independent session and IOM and other international organizations, NGOS, and various stakeholders talked in depth of the issue. Taking this and all circumstances into account, the issue of human mobility and climate change adaptation will gain greater significance in the coming years.   

4. As a legal expert, what are some provisions necessary to provide protection and assistance to environmental migrants?

There is no simple answer to this question. In the context of the UNFCCC, decisions on climate change adaption and capacity building could provide some legal basis for protection and assistance to environmental migrants. However this will not be enough for environmental migrants crossing borders. If states are not obligated under a legal agreement to receive environmental migrants, there is a large possibility that the migrants will not receive protection in emergency situations. 

To provide protection and assistance to environmental migrants foremost a legal definition of “environmental migrants” is essential. At present, no document in the international law provides such definition. Secondly, for cross-border environmental migrants, legal obligation must be clearly set for the receiving countries. A third point for those that are internally displaced for environmental reasons - we could assume that they will be dealt under the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement - however, criteria on who can be considered as person displaced by environmental factors and how much protection provided by whom must be precisely defined. 

To clarify and define the points made above, a legal text, whether this may be a treaty or a “soft” legal instrument, must be provided. One option would be to reach an agreement under the UNFCCC framework, or, if this issue is dealt with before 2015, it could be included as an article in the legal text of the 2015 climate agreement – which could be in the form of a protocol or another. Second option would be to negotiate the terms outside the UNFCCC and aim for an agreement on an international convention such as the Refugee Convention or other types of international legal text.

5.  What can IOM do to support the work of UNFCCC?

IOM should be providing precise evidence on environmental migrants. This will provide the basis for the issue to be discussed under the UNFCCC and IOM will be able to provide technical assistance to the negotiations as the organization with expertise on the topic. IOM should have the expertise to assist on legal and political aspects, as well as operational expertise and response measures to protect and assist environmental migrants. Simultaneously, in this process, it is critical that a cooperative mechanism is provided to fill in the financial resources needed for IOM and UNFCCC (and in the near-future for the GCF) to support environmental migrants.  

Interviewed by Sieun Lee and Choa Youn