On Saturday night and almost 30 hours late, the delegations of countries participating in the twentieth UN Climate summit in Lima, Peru, adopted in extremis a text that defines the commitments they must assume at the start of next year, with a view to the comprehensive and binding agreement to be signed in Paris next December.
The negotiations in Lima were arduous, and marked by a significant north-south divide particularly on fiscal issues, the division of responsibilities for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (which are responsible for climate change), and the elements to be included in documentation of country contributions towards the overall reduction of gases in the atmosphere.
The text adopted in Lima was ‘deemed acceptable by all parties’ and ‘will serve as the basis for the Paris summit, outlining the shape that countries’ engagements will take: the scope, the content, and the means of evaluation.’ Mentioned in the text are two demands by developing countries: to include on the one hand adjustment procedures in its obligating documents (the northern countries preferring to limit themselves to activities related to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions), and on the other hand developed countries’ financial support of them. However, these two points are not necessarily mandatory.
‘After an entire afternoon and evening dedicating to sounding out differing positions in private, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the Peruvian Environment Minister presiding over the debates, submitted another text in progress to the parties, who finally adopted it by consensus after only one hour’s reflection’ according to the AFP correspondent on-site. ‘The ghost of Copenhagen is growing distant and the hope of success in Paris drawing closer’, announced Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Affairs minister, referring to the Copenhagen summit of 2009 which had ended in failure. Earlier, on Friday evening, several uncompromising interventions were made in the plenary session by representatives of developing countries. ‘It will be difficult to accept the contributions without mention of funding [in the documents that the developed countries must present]’ the Sudan representative for the Africa group announced. The Malaysian delegate, speaking on behalf of a large group of developing countries, had insisted on the fact that ‘the contributions must take into consideration adaptation efforts’. In response to these speeches, the American negotiator Todd Stern expressed support for the ‘new wording’ but ‘without long negotiations’, knowing that the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will produce an overview for the 1st November 2015 summarising the various commitments.
Scientific emergency abandoned
Commenting at the end of the 20th summit on climate change, CAN, a large network of international NGOs that are closely following the climate negotiations, feels that ‘the outcome of the Lima summit lags behind the global momentum to combat climate change.’
According to these NGOs, the text signed by the governments ‘does not reflect the growing public support for a shift away from fossil fuels [that are responsible for greenhouse gas emissions], nor the urgent need to ensure a transition’ towards cleaner energies. CAN’s press release regretted that ‘many thorny issues that had hampered negotiations in previous years were not resolved’.
‘The negotiations show that governments are disconnected from their people, who are worried about climate risks and who support a transition that would give fresh momentum to national economies’, adds the text. It continues ‘While governments were able to hide in Lima, they won’t have that luxury in Paris, where the world will be expecting from them an agreement, and not idleness.’
For Mohammad Adow, Climate advisor at Christian Aid - one of the network’s NGOs - recent climatic events for instance the typhoons that regularly strike the Philippines highlight such problems as assistance in adaptation for the most vulnerable nations and indemnities (loss and damage) for those that cannot adjust to the changes. ‘There is an elephant in the negotiations room, and we have not yet managed to entice it out. Working out how to fairly share the workload of tackling climate change between developed and developing countries has become the major stumbling block on the road to Paris.’ he continued.
‘Governments crucially failed to agree on specific plans to cut emissions before 2020 [Ed. note: the year when the future Paris accord will come into force] that would have laid the ground for ending the fossil fuel era and accelerated the move toward renewable energy and increased energy efficiency’, said Samantha Smith, director of the WWF Global Climate and Energy Initiative. ‘The science is clear that delaying action until 2020 will make it near impossible to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, yet political expediency won over scientific urgency. Instead of leadership, they delivered a lacklustre plan with little scientific relevancy,’ she continued.
For Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, “there is still a vast and growing gulf between the approach of some climate negotiators and the public demand for action.’ ‘This outcome can only be seen as a call to action to people around the world. Governments will not deliver the solutions we need unless more people stand up to make our voices heard,’ she went on. However, Byanyima noted some progress in the Lima negotiations, specifically that of a reference to a transition from fossil fuels to clean energy in the list of options for the future Paris agreement text.