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From Lima to Paris 2015 – Working towards a climate deal

23 Dec From Lima to Paris 2015 – Working towards a climate deal

The SIIA attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 20th Session of the Conference of Parties (COP20) at Lima, Peru, from 1st to 12th December 2014. This article recounts the proceedings of the two weeks conference and provides an insight on the outcome of this year’s negotiations.

The annual climate negotiations concluded in Peru with an agreed statement titled the “Lima Call for Climate Action.” This statement is an important document that reflects the agreed outcome over the two-week negotiations, and is based on a consensus reached by all 196 countries that are signatories to the Framework Convention on Climate Change. This year, the text will set the foundation for next year’s intended goal of delivering a global climate target beyond the Kyoto Protocol, which will cease its second commitment period in the year 2020. But the success of this year’s conference is limited.

Misplaced priorities

In the eyes of the civil society movement, Lima lacked both the urgency and the commitments that were expected from all the events building up to it.

First, on the lack of urgency. Trivialities such as whether the statement should be shown on a big screen preceded the actual negotiations on the text regarding their post-2020 commitments. The argument was that having the text up would help those who did not have English as their first language to follow the proceedings better. Other countries argued that the intent and context behind the proposed text was more important.

Throughout the two weeks, countries reiterated their national positions, but few discussed the text of the statement. This was despite many reminders by the co-chairs to do so. It was only during the high-level segment in the second week where a sense of urgency kicked in as state representatives scrambled to broker an acceptable outcome.

Second, on the lack of commitments. Many issues were left unaddressed and pushed to next year. This included decisions such as how much emissions to cut, how historical obligations should be sorted out, and how much adaptation measures should be in place to handle the impact of climate change on countries that are or will be affected. These questions will now have to be left to the 2015 conference in Paris. The only commitment from this year’s conference was that initial contributions of US$10 billion (S$13.15 billion) were confirmed for the Green Climate Fund, which led to its successful launch. The fund is a United Nation’s affiliated piggy bank that aims to finance climate change related projects around the world, especially in developing countries.

Political realities

One needs to come to terms that negotiations are a political process. One would think that countries should cast aside their individual vested interests and work hand in hand to resolve this global problem. But the reality is far from it. There is a gap between the science and politics of climate change. Protecting national interests remain a priority, and remains one of the key reasons that have slowed climate negotiations, resulting in several deadlocks and walkouts.

In that light, the meetings in Lima do provide some grounds to be positive about. To begin with, one should bear in mind that the Lima talks were originally meant to be less ambitious. Countries were to only decide on the kind of information they would like to include in the prospective new global agreement, and to provide a basic sketch of ideas for this new agreement. Therefore politically, countries have pretty much taken a step forward in Peru in two key aspects of the negotiation text.

First, a strong focus on the ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ (INDCs) could see improved commitments that may be revised by states, which will hopefully motivate developing countries to follow suit. The INDCs are a set of actions or targets that all countries will volunteer by next year, to fight climate change under the new agreement.

Second, countries have taken a step forward on the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR). This principle has been the cornerstone of negotiations that have been used by developing countries to justify their emissions, and for developed countries to take on more responsibilities given their historical emissions. But things took a positive turn in the outcome statement at Lima where it was mentioned that this should be done “in light of respective capabilities”. A position which the US and China were both happy with. So while the onus is still on historically wealthy countries to take action first, the change in tone could compel countries with high per capita GDP to take on more ambitious efforts.

Working towards a 2015 Paris deal

The sense from both civil society members and governmental officials is that the world will reach a climate deal in Paris 2015 and agree to some sort of emission targets post 2020. But whether or not this will be in time to address the impact of climate change remains unclear.

The impacts of global warming, which are affecting an increasing percentage of human populations around the world, are forcing governments to take a closer look at climate issues. There are also signs of a closing gap between the science and politics of climate change. However, until we can truly bridge the gap between the two, our best chance resides in addressing the respective political motivation of each state, and to work towards a climate deal.


Official Text: Lima call for climate action (Decision CP.20)
 [UNFCCC, 14 Dec 2014] [PDF]

Lima Climate Change Conference (Summary and Highlights) [International Institute for Sustainable Development, 1-12 Dec 2014]

Lima Call for Climate Action Puts World on Track to Paris 2015 [UNFCCC, 14 Dec 2014]

‘Lima Call for Climate Action’ Falls Short of What Science Urges and People Demand [Huffington Post, 15 Dec 2014]

Lima climate change talks avert a disaster [Business Standard, 15 Dec 2014]

Image Credit: UNFCCC