The 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20), held in Lima from December 1 to 13, 2014, closed with the adoption of a set of 32 documents, which summarize the main outcomes achieved by the UNFCCC Parties in the two weeks of negotiations.
Like the Conference held in Warsaw the year before, the Lima Conference was meant to advance negotiations one step forward towards the global climate agreement expected to be reached in Paris in 2015. Optimism was quite high before work started, as 2014 provided a number of events and documents stating the need for effective climate actions. In particular, the IPCC completed the agenda of its working groups and released in late October its 5th Assessment Report, which pointed out that substantial, sustained reductions of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are crucial if we want to limit the risks of climate change. A similar message emerged from three of the reports released annually in November, such as the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook, the UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report, and the World Bank’s Turn Down the Heat.
Again, the New York Climate Summit, organized by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in September , along with the march organized by citizens’ groups, contributed to stirring political momentum in view of the forthcoming climate talks. On the policy side, the joint announcement of China and the US about their post-2020 emissions reduction goals, as well as the 2030 climate and energy targets under discussion within the European Union, encouraged expectations on a fresh wave of political willingness. Some days before the Conference closed, even Pope Francis called for the adoption of decisive measures for dealing with climate change.
However, the long-awaited compromise reached in COP 20 seems to satisfy no single ambition.
The “Lima Call for Climate Action”
The centerpiece of this round of talks is the “Lima Call for Climate Action”, a 4-page text which contains the elements that will guide the work in Paris. It is the result of a broad political debate that took place under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) whose aim is to develop a protocol, another legal instrument, or a legal outcome under the Convention applicable to all Parties by 2015.
Overall, the main elements of the document include:
- an initial concerned statement about the wide emission gap between the Parties’ mitigation pledges for 2020 and the aggregate emission pathways consistent with a global temperature increase below 2 or 1.5 °C;
- a list of elements to be addressed by the future outcome, namely, “inter alia, mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, capacity-building and transparency of action and support in a balanced manner”;
- a renewed commitment to reaching an ambitious agreement in 2015 that reflects the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances;
- an urgent request to developed countries to “provide and mobilize enhanced financial support” to developing ones, to enable them to undertake “ambitious mitigation and adaptation actions”;
- an invitation to all Parties to communicate their domestic targets – now called Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) – well in advance of the 21st session of the Conference in Paris. In the case of least developed countries and small island developing States, INDCs may reflect national circumstances, while all parties are invited to consider the inclusion of adaptation actions;
- guidance on what INDCs may include in order to allow comparability and verification of efforts (i.e., scope, coverage, base year and other time reference points, methodological approaches etc.);
- a 37-page outline text of the 2015 Paris agreement, including a wide range of options that would be the basis for the future negotiating draft to be released by May 2015.
Beyond the words: differentiation, ambition and finance at the COP20
In the words of Manuel Pulgar Vidal, Peru’s Minister of the Environment and President of the COP20, the “text is not perfect, but it includes the positions of all the parties”. However, discussion on the main elements was underpinned by a controversial debate among countries whose views continue to differ on a number of key issues.
In particular, the issue on how differentiation will be included in the future deal permeated the talks. According to most developing countries, the 2015 agreement should maintain differentiation in obligations in line with the principles of the 1992 UN Framework Convention, while developed countries preferred to talk about different capabilities.
Indeed, the central element of the Lima Call for Climate Action, namely the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), places on an equal footing the plans of both developed and developing countries for dealing with climate change from 2020 on. Although a reference to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) was included in the final hours, there is no mention of the longstanding division between Annex I and non-Annex I parties, which defined countries’ obligations within the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol. Also, the CBDR principle now reads “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities in light of different national circumstances”. This broader option leaves the door open to differentiation of responsibilities for poorer nations, such as the least developing countries, but also can imply a major role to play for those countries that now have the capability of undertaking climate actions. It should be said that, in the case of the Kyoto Protocol, Annex I countries were required to implement “reduction commitments” while future negotiations will be based on the wider but weaker “intended contributions”, which, at least for now, allow countries to submit whatever they will deem appropriate.
This confirms another radical transformation that is going on within the UNFCCC process. Contrary to the Kyoto top-down approach, the future agreement will result from the bottom-up approach launched with the Conference of Copenhagen in 2009, which foresees a “pledge and review process”. For this reason, another crucial point of discussion that emerged from Lima were the rules for harmonizing individual pledges. If on the one hand developing nations wanted INDCs to include financial commitments from developed to poor countries and adaptation at the same level of mitigation , on the other industrialized countries called for the inclusion of common detailed information about emissions objectives, in order to ensure transparency, verification and comparability. To this aim, the United States and the EU called for the inclusion of an ex ante review process of countries’ plans.
However, Parties’ inability to find an agreement on these issues led to the adoption of a weak text that “invites all Parties to consider communicating” adaptation plans and that includes a non-mandatory list of what INDCs may cover, which actually fails to define a minimum level of common information to be provided by parties. Despite the daunting challenge, the UNFCCC secretariat will do its utmost to combine all the contributions into an aggregate target by October 2015.
The text seems also to leave the pre-2020 action aside. Indeed, the main Lima document does not go beyond a tepid call for enhanced ambition. Neither the mechanism nor the forum – proposed to assess progress from all Parties – made it into the final text. Although the first round of the Multilateral Assessment (MA), launched in Lima to evaluate current emission reduction policies of 17 developed countries, was claimed a success, further action is required to enhance efforts and close the oft-mentioned emissions gap. In this regard, it is noteworthy that only a handful of countries ratified the Kyoto Protocol’s amendment so far.
A similar situation characterized the debate on finance, which remains one of the most controversial issues. The Lima Conference closed on a positive note due to the fact that the Green Climate Fund (GCF) reached its objective of collecting US$ 10 billion as a first small step in mustering the 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 pledged in Copenhagen. In addition, a dialogue between UNFCCC and the GCF got under way to identify sources of financial support for the development of adaptation plans. It should be stressed, however, that the GCF pledge meeting held in Berlin in late November played a key role in scaling up new financial pledges, leaving it to the Conference to complete the task. Besides this aspect, the Conference demonstrated once again the inability of Parties to converge on a shared view about allocation of financial resources, with developed nations reluctant to commit to transparent economic aid to developing countries’ actions and an overall disagreement on what kind of activities should be prioritized.
By defining some of the basic elements of the agreement to be finalized in Paris next year, the 20th session of the UN Climate Conference accomplished its task. However, in the attempt to reach the compromise, the text emerging from the last days of the Conference failed to include the most ambitious options. On the other hand, the Lima outcome contributed to progress towards the breakup of the dualistic division that has characterized negotiations so far and that now appears more and more unsuitable as the larger emerging economies have become major carbon emitters. This is an encouraging sign for the Paris agreement to include a broad range of contributions from all current advanced economies.
Overall, the UN climate talks in Lima show that countries still have very different views on key historical issues such as the level of ambition, the sharing of responsibilities and climate finance. Nevertheless, the majority of decisions on these issues have to be made in less than one year.
UNFCCC activities are scheduled to reconvene in Geneva, Switzerland, next February. Crucial events, however, are expected to take place outside the UN aegis. One major target for the coming year will be to clarify the extent to which the US pledge would be maintained in the new political environment that has emerged since the recent mid-term elections. Moreover, the future evolution of oil prices, which are dramatically plummeting, will have a strong impact on climate and energy policies: if on the one hand low oil prices may be a setback for the deployment of low-carbon technologies, on the other they could trigger cuts in fossil fuel subsidies.
Following a year that will be remembered as one of the hottest ever recorded, 2015 has a challenging task to accomplish. In Paris countries will need to reach a compromise that not only unites the ambitions of individual Parties but that also provides solid foundations and encouraging signals for the adoption of sound climate policy choices from all economic actors.
Image: Delegates during a break at a plenary session of the COP 20 in Lima December 12, 2014. REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil