From Lima to Paris

From December 1-12, leaders from governments and civil society around the world came together in Lima, Peru for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) (also more succinctly referred to as the UN Climate Negotiations). This year’s meeting was important as the last COP before countries meet again in Paris in December, 2015 to finalize a new global agreement to combat climate change.

The negotiations followed months of build-up demonstrating global support for action on climate change. In September 2014, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon hosted a UN Climate Summit in New York City to galvanize support for climate action. The summit was attended by over 100 Heads of State and over 800 leaders from business, finance and civil society. Additionally, climate marches were organized by activists all over the world, with more than 400,000 marching to demand action on climate change in Manhattan alone. At the Summit and in the months that followed, countries upped their commitment to financial support for climate change, with the Green Climate Fund (GCF) reaching its $10 billion goal during COP20. In addition, a joint announcement made by the United States and China to each boost their commitments to reducing emissions reinforced the sentiment that developed and developing countries are both committed to fighting climate change.

Despite the buildup of momentum leading up to COP20, the negotiations themselves proved to be a slow and grueling process. After the first week of the two week conference, little had been accomplished, and it was evident that historical divisions between developed and developing countries persisted. A major sticking point was the concept of “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities” (CBDR) that was a cornerstone of the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change. This concept, which has informed all climate agreements up to now (including the rather ineffective Kyoto Protocol), puts the onus of emissions reduction on developed countries while recognizing that the priority of developing countries needs to be on economic development. While most countries now recognize the importance of all countries committing to emissions reductions, how to determine each country’s emissions reduction levels is a contentious topic. Many developed countries want to do away with the CBDR notion, while several developing countries are adamant that it remains.

An air of distrust could also be felt between developed and developing countries on the issue of climate finance. Despite surpassing the $10 billion goal to fund the GCF, many developing countries (the beneficiaries of most of the funds) continue to be skeptical that countries will meet the next goal of providing $100 billion/year by 2020. Ahmed Sareer, a negotiator from the Maldives, highlighted this distrust: “How many COPs will it take for us to really see any tangible results? We have been going from COP to COP and every time we are given so many assurances, and expectations are raised, but the gaps are getting wider,” he said. While the final Lima Decision “urges” developed countries to commit funds to the GCF, it does not make it a requirement.

Recognizing after the first week that a significant breakthrough on an agreement was unlikely at Lima, the COP President and Peruvian Minister of the Environment Manuel Pulgar-Vidal focused the negotiators’ attentions on two important documents: determining the elements of the 2015 agreement, and outlining what will be included in the Independent Nationally-Determined Contributions (INDCs) that each country will submit prior to Paris. The INDCs are a compromise on the issue of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities, and allow each country to set their own emissions reduction goals.

For the first time in the past 20 years of negotiations, climate change adaptation was raised to the same level of importance as mitigation. The negotiating sessions on climate change adaptation were standing-room only, and some of the most heated debates were about whether adaptation efforts could be included in countries’ INDCs. The final decision allows adaptation to be included as an element of a country’s contribution, but does not provide much guidance on what adaptation information should be provided. Another strong movement on the adaptation front concerns the issue of Loss and Damage – degradation from climate change that goes beyond what can be adapted to. Building off of the decision at COP19 in Warsaw in 2013, the Lima Decision affirmed a work plan on Loss and Damage to map out activities and support needs, develop analytical tools, and share best practices between countries.

A second interesting and newly contentious issue at COP20 was gender sensitivity. Despite international acknowledgement that women are disproportionately affected by climate change, several countries, led by Saudi Arabia, led an effort to remove any language promoting gender-sensitive action from the agreement text. Several country delegations (led by Mexico) and civil society organizations continued to push for gender equity in the negotiations in an effort to guarantee women’s rights in all efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The final Lima Decision maintains recognition of gender-sensitivity in climate actions as one of the text options to be finalized in Paris next December.

Overall, the COP20 climate negotiations, which stretched into the early morning hours of the second day after the conference was scheduled to end, provided the bare minimum going into Paris: a baseline text to build a new climate agreement in 2015. Countries agreed on the need for long-term mitigation, and the importance of action from every country. Still, slow progress at Lima means that significant work is left to be done at the UNFCCC intersessional meetings throughout 2015 if we are to enter the Paris talks with a draft text ready to be embraced by all countries.


Image Credit: Micah MacAllen via wikimedia commons.  


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