Climate : Fear of a lacklustre outcome in Lima

In an overheated atmosphere (in both the literal and figurative sense), country delegates yesterday began discussing the new text introduced by the presidency of the COP in Lima on the national contributions that countries must make at the beginning of next year with a view to a comprehensive agreement on the fight against climate change. This agreement is to be signed in Paris during the 21st conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The national contributions take the form of statements of commitment by countries to adopt the necessary steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In all, these reductions should be sufficient to keep global warming levels to less than two degrees, according to scientists. The Paris accord will come into force in 2020.

The new text released late in the night of Thursday to Friday by the COP president, the Peruvian Environment Minister Pulgar Vidal, is very short – just seven pages (rather than the approximately sixty pages of its predecessor). It aims to break the negotiations deadlock, given that a decision on national contributions is expected to be the overall legacy of Lima. It does not shy away from some of the more contentious issues, such as developed countries’ contributions to a climate change adaptation fund for the most vulnerable countries, or even the need to present target figures that are binding and higher than the countries’ previous objectives, which has proved frightening for some developing countries.

One also notes in the text the presence of options in some of the key articles such as the manner in which parties must communicate their INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions), and how the data will be verified. These options are open to debate and are considered more or less favourable, according to the interests of each group (the most vulnerable countries, developing countries…).

According to information obtained yesterday afternoon in Lima, the different countries’ representatives were continuing to stand firm on their respective positions, particularly with regard to the division of responsibilities and the submission of data in their national contributions. Developing countries prefer to maintain the traditional divide with developed countries, but the latter retort that there are great differences between those in the group of developing countries, for certain nations bear more resemblance to the so-called developed countries. The text resulting from Lima is therefore expected to be weak, with but few common denominators between the countries; thus postponing the proper debate until a later date.

 ‘Dangerously weak’

Such is the worry too of Wael Hmaidane, director of Can Inernational, a global network of NGOs. In an interview with L’Orient-Le Jour, he laments the lack of clarity in the different climate debates ongoing in Lima. ‘We need to understand how we can manage to finance the period from now until 2020, when the new agreement will come into force’, he says. This detail is crucial in order that work may start on reducing the margin between current emissions levels and those that would allow us to respect our commitment to keep the increase of the earth’s temperature to less than two degrees. The ministerial debates have not offered the expected results here.’

According to Hmaidane, there has also been a lack of clarity with regard to the funding process for beyond 2020, a period for which 100 billion dollars should be on the table. Likewise for national contributions, which are not yet to be subject to common rules (at risk of being confronted with disparate documents presented by the countries and being unable to streamline them). ‘The text on national contributions presented yesterday (Thursday evening) includes options in its key articles’, continues Wael Hmaidane. ‘Depending on which option is chosen, the outcome of Lima will be positive or negative. In the best case scenario, we will have details on funding and national contributions. In the worst, we will remain in the dark on all counts.’

Overall, NGOs have found the text to be on the weak side, even if it does show some improvement on previous ones. For Oxfam, ‘the final day of the talks feels like reading a choose-your-own-adventure novel.’ ‘The text is dangerously weak,’ continues the press release, commenting on the options that go from the vaguest to the most precise. ‘The choices made today will either put us on a barely workable path heading into Paris or doom us to a dangerous future. The ingredients for some progress in Lima are on the table, but negotiators need to have the courage to use them.’

For the WWF, ‘it is good that the text [the final Lima text, and the subject of these discussions] provides details on what is required of the national contributions before being presented in 2015, but these need to be reinforced.’

The publication of the shortened text comes a few hours after a strongly-worded speech by the American Secretary of State John Kerry, in which he called on countries to do the necessary in order to agree on a new deal in Paris, and stressed the changing nature of energy policies. The speech has been welcomed for the most part by advocates of a hard line in favour of drastic emissions reductions. Good intentions – stated or real – could however get lost in the negotiations, for the devil is in the details...