Lima climate talks: call for action agreed despite old divisions resurfacing

KATIE KOUCHAKJI

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It’s not surprising that the two-week UN climate negotiations in Lima overran by more than 30 hours, given the importance of their outcomes. Decisions made in Lima will frame the future of the international response to climate change for years to come through the agreement that is set to be finalised in Paris in December 2015.

There were two main objectives for the Lima talks. The first was to agree the scope of countries’ so-called ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ (INDCs), which essentially detail what each nation is planning to do to respond to climate change under the future agreement. The second was to come up with a skeleton negotiating text for the Paris 2015 agreement.

Both of these aims were, to a certain extent, achieved and were adopted in the Lima Call for Climate Action – albeit after much wrangling. ‘I feel that it represents a final bout of playing hardball… before the final D-day,’ says Conor Linehan, a partner at William Fry in Dublin, and Vice-Chair of the IBA Climate Change Justice and Human Rights Task Force.


‘The number of options reflected in the final draft decision is deceptive – I’m inclined to think that the positions are not as entrenched or insoluble as people would like you to think’


Conor Linehan
William Fry; Vice-Chair, IBA Climate Change Justice and Human Rights Task Force

Lisa DeMarco is a senior partner at Zizzo Allan DeMarco, a boutique firm based in Toronto, Canada, and has 15 years’ experience of the law relating to climate change, clean energy and technology.  She says: ‘The Lima Call for Climate Action is an essential placeholder. If we didn’t have an agreement, it would have been a disaster heading in to Paris. The content is quite weak, but you can see the issues shaping up for next year.’

The strength of the call for action suffered, it seems, from diplomatic tensions and a resurgence of historic issues, such as previous responsibility for global emissions, which led to a watering down of the text in a bid to find a middle ground that is no one’s ideal but something everyone can live with. An annex to the Lima decision contains the elements for the draft negotiating text, swollen to 39 pages, which will be streamlined over the coming year and must be circulated by May 2015.  

The call for action includes the notions of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ (CBDR) and ‘respective capabilities’ – historic legacy divisions of obligation between developed and developing countries that dates back to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which placed the burden for action on industrialised nations, seen as wealthier and therefore more able to take on an obligation.

These concepts were included following pressure at the Lima talks from developing countries, despite the 2011 agreement of governments that the deal to be agreed in Paris in 2015 would see all countries undertake actions to respond to climate change. There was, however, the addition of ‘in light of different national circumstances’, meaning more advanced economies such as China and India will be expected to contribute to the effort.

This extra phrase was lifted from the US–China agreement on climate action made in November, which ‘hinted that the divide between the wealthy countries of the world and the less wealthy countries of the world might be bridged’, says Robert Stavins, Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government and Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.

 


‘If we didn’t have an agreement, it would have been a disaster heading in to Paris. The content is quite weak, but you can see the issues shaping up for next year’


Lisa DeMarco
Senior partner, Zizzo Allan DeMarco; climate change, clean energy and technology law specialist

‘CBDR is on the way out,’ says Henry Derwent, chief executive of London-based think-tank Climate Strategies and a former climate negotiator for the UK. ‘People will fight to keep the principle, but it seems to me that expectations have changed… the addition of “different national circumstances” doesn’t mean the world is divided into two camps.

‘At least we’re in the position where you can imagine the process looking at each individual country’s circumstances – to me, that’s quite liberating,’ he says. ‘But if we’re not careful, the whole process runs the danger of turning into Alice’s caucus race: everyone has won, everyone must have prizes. [But] I still think that’s better than the world being divided into the people that do stuff and the people that don’t.’

The first Intended Nationally Determined Contributions are due by the end of March – but only by those nations in a position to provide them. The two-week negotiations had considered a draft text outlining six options for the format and scope of the INDCs. In the end, this was condensed into one paragraph, listing what nations ‘may include’, such as the baseline year for calculating emissions reductions, and another paragraph emphasising that each country’s contribution must ‘represent a progression beyond the current undertaking’.

Ban Ki Moon, UN Climate Talks, Lima
© Ministerio del Ambiente 2014

There are also paragraphs calling for developed countries to support the preparation and submission of INDCs by any nation that needs it, and also one enabling least developed countries and small island developing states to focus on low-carbon development in their INDCs, rather than mitigation.

As for the annex to the Lima decision, containing elements for the draft negotiating text, Linehan says the text ‘is a rough outline’ of what’s to come – but adds, ‘as a lawyer, when you’re working with a document, that’s progress.

‘There’s a text, you still have [more than] 190 state parties feeding into this,’ says Linehan. ‘The number of options reflected in the final draft decision is deceptive – I’m inclined to think that the positions are not as entrenched or insoluble as people would like you to think.’

‘It’s inevitable that you will start to see compromises,’ adds Stavins.

The legal form of the Paris deal is also yet to be determined.

‘I think you’ll see something proposed in May, but I think the legal form will be one of the things negotiated in Paris,’ says DeMarco of Zizzo Allan DeMarco.

Derwent says the final Paris agreement may just be a decision taken by the Conference of the Parties to the UN climate convention, ‘given the starting point of where we are now… there’s no time for anything more substantive than a decision’.


Katie Kouchakji is a freelance journalist and can be contacted on katie@kkecomms.com