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The Lima Climate Change Conference: will the deadline for a legally binding climate agreement be met?


The Lima Climate Change Conference: will the deadline for a legally binding climate agreement be met?

Willemien Viljoen, tralac Researcher, discusses the outcomes of the UN Climate Change Conference 2014 held in Lima, Peru

The 20th session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) and the 10th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP) took place in Lima, Peru from 1 – 14 December 2014. According to the opening statements of the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Christiana Figueres and the President of COP20/CMP10, His Excellency Mr Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, it was hoped that the conference would lead to a draft of a new universal climate change agreement, set unanimously accepted requirements for information to be submitted on national mitigation plans, scale up the mobilisation of climate change mitigation and adaptation finance, and lead to accelerated climate action prior to 2020.

Most of these issues have been on the negotiation table since the end of 2011 when the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) was tasked with inter alia negotiating the scope, structure and design of the new legally binding climate change agreement. This new agreement is set to be applicable once the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol comes to an end in 2020. In 2013 it was hoped that the climate change conference in Poland, at the end of that year, would be successful in resolving various outstanding matters (mobilisation of finance, launch and construction of the Loss and Damage Mechanism and the clarification of the required elements for a new climate change deal) to ensure a comprehensive new climate change agreement could be tabled in Peru (at the end of 2014) for adoption in France at the end of 2015. However, it seems that countries’ divergent views of essential components needed for a comprehensive, universal and legally binding agreement to address the issue of climate change have derailed significant progress to ensure the deadline of 2015 is met. Although the Peru climate change negotiations produced a document, Lima Call for Climate Action (the Lima agreement), the conference has been criticized for a lack of substantial progress that could be signalling countries’ wavering commitment to adopt a legally binding agreement in Paris at the end of this year.

The Lima agreement consists of a list of decisions adopted by COP20 and CMP10 and an Annex which contains elements for a draft negotiating text as work in progress. It is this Annex and the decision regarding the information to be communicated by countries regarding their national actions on mitigation that have received the most criticism. The Annex is a lengthy document that contains all the proposed options countries have made for provisions to be included in the final text. In the early stages of the Lima negotiations the decision was made not to negotiate on these options in Lima, but rather in five negotiating sessions that have been scheduled throughout 2015. Given the diverse provisions currently in the Annex, it is questionable whether these five sessions will be adequate to ensure a single and complete draft text for adoption in Paris. The severity of the battle ahead to consolidate the various options into a cohesive final text can be illustrated by looking at one of the basic provisions for mitigation action in the Annex. In paragraph 16.5 there are four provision options regarding the basic communication and implementation of mitigation commitments and actions; all with different implications. Option 1 requires unconditional communication and implementation of commitments and actions, option 2 requires unconditional communication and implementation by developed countries, option 3 states that countries have the discretion to specify those commitments that will be fulfilled conditionally and unconditionally and option 4 states that the mitigation actions and commitments of developing countries will be communicated and implemented dependant on the support and capacity building received from developed countries. This is just one paragraph in the 103 paragraphs and sub-paragraphs currently included in the draft text. 

The provision that is seen as being the most controversial is in paragraph 14 of the Lima agreement. According to this provision, countries are no longer obligated to submit detailed information on their national mitigation actions. In previous versions of the agreement countries were obliged to provide additional information regarding their mitigation plans, including information regarding the base year they are using, timeframes for implementation, the planning process, the scope and coverage of their plans and their determination of how their national plans are fair and ambitious given their national circumstances. However, this paragraph was one of the provisions that was changed in the final hours of the negotiations to ensure that a deal could be reached. This resulted in the paragraph changing from being an obligation that countries shall submit substantial information on their national mitigation plans to a voluntary submission requirement that countries may fulfil if it is deemed appropriate. This has led critics to believe that countries have now been given sufficient latitude to make whatever commitments they want without having to abide by the constraint of having to fulfil these commitments within a specific set of rules and timeframes, and without having to demonstrate that their actions are ambitious given their own national circumstances.

Although the Lima agreement has been critiqued it has also been hailed as a success in that it brings an end to the division between developed and developing countries by making no distinction between Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 countries and rather requiring responsibilities to be based on ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities in light of different national circumstances’. This break in the division is seen as the political and operational milestone that has negotiators believing that there is still hope for meeting the deadline for an acceptable agreement at the end of 2015. However, this will not be an easy process and many of the old issues regarding scale up of climate change mitigation action, mobilisation of additional finance, capacity building and the historical responsibility of developed countries will loom over negotiators during the year. The question is, has Lima left too many outstanding issues for Paris that will see a repeat of the failings of Copenhagen?



UNFCCC (http://unfccc.int), BBC News (www.bbc.com), The Guardian (www.theguardian.com)    


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