LIMA: United Nations-sponsored climate talks in Lima have ended in agreement, but whether it sets the stage for a new treaty strong enough to compel sufficient collective action to address the threat of climate change remains an open question.
Scheduled to finish on Friday, the COP20 climate talks here went a day and a half overtime as delegates battled fatigue to navigate stumbling blocks and reach consensus. The text finally agreed to was met with applause and relief by delegates very early on Sunday morning.
However, reactions from NGOs range from disappointment to condemnation. Alden Meyer, from the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said the decision was disappointing, especially given the expectation and the momentum coming into Lima. Meyer said the deal was the ‘bare minimum’ needed to get agreement on a new climate accord in Paris in 2015.
‘There were storm clouds on the horizon well before negotiators arrived in Lima,’ said Meyer. ‘There are deep and long-standing divisions on major issues including climate finance, which countries are more obligated to take action to reduce emissions, and whether to give greater priority to adaptation. These divisions nearly derailed the process in Lima; if they aren’t addressed, they threaten to block an agreement in Paris.’
For the first time, adaptation has been formally agreed to as part of the UNFCCC process. When it was first opened for signature in 1992, the convention was built on mitigation.
Galling for many less-developed countries, and a major block in the debate, is that there is no agreed path to raising finance for adaption and clean development, and no formal mechanism to deal with ‘Loss and Damage’. That is, assistance to poor countries to help them deal with the unavoidable costs of extreme weather events in circumstances where adaptation is not possible.
Loss and Damage was first raised at COP19 in Warsaw and despite and impassioned plea from the least developed countries and Pacific Island states has not been advanced, though it remains in the preamble to the agreement.
The question of differentiation of responsibility for climate action split nations roughly along traditional North–South lines, with many African, Asian, and Latin American countries railing against what they saw as them for a problem they did not cause.
However, the Lima agreement is being seen by some observers as a step, albeit a small one, towards overcoming this traditional divide. Economic growth in the last two decades means that many countries once considered developing are now in a stronger position to contribute. Still, many developing countries argued that to demand action from their part was to re-write the Convention itself.
Countries, like China, that were anxious that they were being asked to be subject their pledges and plans to 2020, due early in 2015, to international scrutiny. The agreement, by replacing the single word ‘shall’ with ‘may’ appears to relieved them of this anxiety and facilitated consensus but falls short of the accountability needed, according to NGOs.
Meyer believes this weakens the ability of countries to scrutinize each other. ‘There is now no formal scrutiny of the offers that countries put on the table; that is now left up to civil society, media, and universities. There is no way to gauge the adequacy of countries’ collective effort.’ said Meyer.
However, Meyer and others agree that even though the language is less strict it does put an expectation on governments to be open. The United States and China are likely to be responsive to requests from each to examine the other’s proposals.
Crucially, the so-called ‘elements’ document—replete with options and alternatives not yet agreed to—has been attached to the decision as an annex, giving it legal status, which means those options can be discussed in Paris. This is the document that includes limits on global warming below 1.5 or 2 ˚C, deep cuts in emissions by 2050 with zero net emissions by 2100, and economy-wide reductions. It also includes an affirmation of carbon pricing as a key and cost-effective method of achieving these goals.
The good news is that the world’s three largest emitters—China, Europe, and the US—have already committed to ratchet up their efforts, with others expected to join them.