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The climate cop-out

The climate cop-out
In the early hours of December 13, as I was leaving San Borja in Lima, the venue of the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the negotiators from 195 countries had just been handed over a draft text from the co-chairs for consideration. Twenty-four hours later, by the time my flight landed in Amsterdam, the deal was done and the final text was out. The text, titled Lima Call to Climate Action, this time was from the president of the COP.

In the last 24 hours of the Lima talks, co-chairs were sidelined, their draft decision was rejected, and the COP president Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who is also Peru’s environment minister, was asked by the Parties to prepare a new text, taking into consideration the views of different groups of countries. Ultimately, the Parties accepted the text proposed by the president.

In between the presentation of the two texts—one by the co-chairs and the other by the COP president—both developed and developing countries made compromises. They always do. But the question is who benefited and who lost from these compromises? Will these compromises help achieve an effective climate deal in Paris in 2015? For the sake of clarity, Lima Call to Climate Action does not promise any new commitment from the Parties either on emissions cuts or on finance and technology transfer. It is nothing more than a template for the Parties to continue their negotiations at Paris, where a new global deal on climate change is to be signed to replace the existing Kyoto Protocol from 2020.

Dissension galore
From day one of the Lima talks, the fight was on Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)—climate action plans that countries have agreed to submit before the Paris meeting. Lima COP was to finalise the kind of information that Parties should submit on INDCs so that their contributions could be compared and evaluated. The fight was on what all will go into the information and how the information would be used. (See ‘The Lima diary’) Developed countries insisted that INDCs were only about emissions cuts, or mitigation.

Developing countries, on the other hand, wanted INDCs to include actions they would take in
adapting to the changing climate as well as finance and technology support they would need from developed countries to undertake mitigation and adaptation. Developing countries also wanted the Lima text to reflect their desire to have strong commitments on “loss and damage” in Paris.

At the 19th Climate Conference in Warsaw in 2013, Parties had agreed to establish an international mechanism for “loss and damage” to help vulnerable developing countries cope with impacts of climate change, such as extreme weather events. However, as per the Warsaw decisions, the discussion is scheduled to take place in 2016, a year after the Paris agreement. Developing countries, mainly the least developed and small island nations, however, want stronger commitments, especially financial, in Paris for loss and damage.

They did not want this decision to be left for 2016 and, therefore, wanted the Lima text to reflect this. This fight over what would go into INDCs took an ugly turn and almost derailed the talks in Lima. Developing countries accused the co-chairs—Artur Runge-Metzger from Germany and Kishan Kumarsingh from Trinidad and Tobago—of partisanship and doing the bidding of the developed countries, especially the members of the European Union.

There were other issues in INDCs as well. The vexing issue was related to the ex-ante review of INDCs. The EU had proposed that well before the Paris COP, countries should submit their INDCs, which should be formally reviewed for equity and ambition. It also wanted a review of how all INDCs add up to meet the goal of limiting global warming to less than 2oC.

In the beginning of the second week itself, India made it clear that it did not want any review of INDCs as it feared that such a review would be an unnecessary intrusion into its “national sovereignty”. In simple terms, India considers INDCs as domestic pledges and does not want anyone to say whether its pledges are equitable or ambitious or not. India was supported by the Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC)—a group that includes developing countries as varied as Bolivia, Saudi Arabia and China.

The US also desired such a position. So none of the big polluters, except the EU, had any interest in the ex-ante review of INDCs.

Compromised deal
To partly meet the demand of developing countries, the Lima text includes adaptation and loss and damage. For instance, it affirms (not decides) that the Parties will strengthen adaptation action under the Paris agreement in 2015.

The text also recalls and welcomes the progress made in Lima on Warsaw International Mechanism
for Loss and Damage, but makes no other commitments.

Major compromises were, however, made on INDCs.

INDCs remain primarily about mitigation but countries have the option to include adaptation component. The final text does not mention finance or technology transfer in relation to INDCs.

There has been a major dilution of the provision of information that Parties will submit on INDCs. In the text proposed by the co-chairs, it was a decision paragraph. It stated that the Parties shall provide a certain set of information on their INDCs that will allow clarity, transparency and understanding as well justify how their INDCs are fair and ambitious in light of their national circumstances. In final text, however, it has been converted into an agreement paragraph. That is, Parties, instead of deciding, will now only agree on what information to submit. The list of information to be submitted, though remains the same as the text of the co-chairs, has been made optional. Instead of “shall” it has become “may include”. This gives option to Parties to submit information of INDCs as they think appropriate. For instance, some may think it is inappropriate to justify their INDCs for fairness or ambition, while the others may not.

Parties can now communicate their INDCs by October 1, 2015. Earlier there was a proposal for Parties to submit their contributions latest by May/June 2015 so that it could be analysed and reviewed by all.

lThere is no ex-ante review of INDCs; not even a non-intrusive and facilitative dialogue, as proposed by the co-chairs, for clarity, transparency and understanding of the contributions of different Parties.
l However, all the INDCs will be published on UNFCCC website and a synthesis report will be prepared by November 1, 2015, on the aggregate effect of INDCs communicated by all Parties.

Obligations of rich countries diluted
The text produced by the co-chairs did not mention Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), which puts the obligation to reduce current emissions on developed countries on the basis that they are historically responsible for the current levels of greenhouse gases. The final text contains an explicit commitment for an ambitious agreement in 2015 that reflects the principle of CBDR but weakens it by adding “in light of different national circumstances”. Todd Stern, lead US climate negotiator, has gone on record to say that he and Xie Zhenhua, Chinese chief negotiator, had thrashed out this deal on CBDR on the last night in Peru. They took the line—CBDR, in light of different national circumstances—from the recent US-China climate pact and inserted it into the final Lima text.

Countries like India have claimed satisfaction over the inclusion of CBDR in the final text. But its linking with national circumstances will have far reaching implications for developing countries. For one, they will not be able to demand strong emissions cuts from developed countries nor demand finance and technology support from them. The inability of the US Senate to pass an ambitious climate deal can now be justified as “national circumstances”. The EU can use recession as an excuse when its commitment on finance or technology transfer will come up for negotiation.

Developed countries managed to evade a stronger decision on the issue of increasing their emissions cut ambition from now till 2020, both in the texts of co-chairs and COP president. They avoided any decision on providing means of implementation, including technology, finance and capacity building support for developing countries so that they too could increase their mitigation ambitions from now till 2020.

So, now it is up to Paris to decide whether the world will do more to cut emissions between 2016 and 2020, or remain content with the highly inadequate pledges of developed countries. One must keep in mind that developed countries made no commitment on finance and technology transfer for the post-2020 period either.

Who won, who lost
It is clear that developing countries got some choice words, but no money or technology from the developed countries. The big polluters among the developing countries managed to avoid any serious commit-ment to reduce emissions by diluting the INDCs.

Developed countries, however, gained substantially. They made no commitments to reduce emissions in the pre-2020 period more than what they have already committed (and they have committed very little), nor did they promise money and technology to help developing countries to increase their mitigation commitments during the period. With weak provisions on INDCs, they managed to avoid mitigation as well as financial commitments for the post-2020 period.

It is important to understand that one of the success criteria for the Lima COP was how much money developed countries would put on the table for the Green Climate Fund—a fund set up to support mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.

By the time the marathon talks finished in Lima, developed countries had pledged only $10 billion as climate finance for developing countries for the next four years. The ridiculousness of the number can be gauged from the fact that if $2 were levied as a tax on every international flight ticket, it would generate $2.5 billion a year. The biggest win for developed countries was that they managed to dilute and compromise the principle of CBDR, the cornerstone of climate negotiation. But in this win, the planet has lost big time.DOWN TO EARTH
Chandra Bhushan

Chandra Bhushan

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