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Lima climate talks: Setting the ground for a Paris agreement in 2015

A 17-member government delegation, led by environment minister Prakash Javadekar, is set to negotiate at the coming United Nations (UN) climate change talks at Lima, Peru. Even as the government draws up the formal strategy, which needs Cabinet approval, some of the negotiators have left for Lima to begin talks with partner countries before the formal fortnight-long negotiations begin on December 1.

The Lima round of talks will set the broad parameters of the nature of commitments India and other countries will have to take to address climate change under a new agreement, to be signed in Paris next year and implemented from 2020.

BIG QUESTIONS TO BE ANSWERED AT LIMA
  • Will developed countries do more in the pre-2020 period and how will their actions be assessed?
  • Will developed countries commit to a road map for the $ 100-billion annual fund?
  • What is the form and content of contributions to fight climate change that countries shall formally make in early 2015 to the UN for the new agreement?
  • Will the 2015 agreement be focused primarily on mitigation and emphasise less on adaptation, finance and technology?
  • On what basis will countries differentiate between their responsibilities under the 2015 agreement?
  • How will countries gauge whether the contributions of countries are adequate to keep climate change under check?

In Lima, India faces two key questions — how strong an oversight the new global climate change regime could have on its economic trajectory and how much of the burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to be shipped from the developed world in the pre-2020 period, to be borne by all in the post-2020 regime.

All expectations that the 2015 agreement will led to ambitious requirements of countries to fight climate change in the short run have already been dashed by a US-China pact, with the two collaboratively deciding their respective emission-reduction targets for the near future. While the US has announced a target for 2025, China has done so for 2030, with little expectation that the two will scale these up in the near term. Earlier, the European Union (EU) had set the tone by taking a less-than-ambitious route, too.

The Lima talks will run on three parallel tracks and as usual, one can expect the negotiations to be carried out in dozens of hard-fought meetings and hundreds of closed-door confabulations through the fortnight, each taking up specific pieces of the puzzle to partially resolve it by the end of the fortnight.

Track one: Pre-2020
One track of negotiations will engage on what more can be expected of developed countries to fight climate change between now and 2020, or the pre-2020 track. Earlier, countries had agreed the commitments in the pre-2020 period would be enhanced. In this period, the focus is on developed countries to not only enhance their emission-reduction actions but also provide more finance and technology. Both the EU and the US, along with other developed countries, have shown reluctance to do more. The less the rich nations do up to 2020, the more the burden shifts to the post-2020 era, when large developing countries such as India will also have to take on some of the commitments.

India, along with other developing countries, is expected to push that the pre-2020 commitments of developed countries be assessed against a coming formal review of the UN climate convention in 2014-15 and a recent report of a UN scientific panel. It’s common understanding that developed countries have fallen far short of what was expected of them and will prefer to back-load and distribute all responsibilities to the 2015 agreement.

Lima provides the last chance for developing countries to push for more action from the rich world in the pre-2020 period. A final decision on this will emerge at the meeting.

Track two: What to commit
The second track of negotiations will focus on the nature and form of the commitments countries must put up under the 2015 climate agreement. It was earlier decided all countries would contribute to fight climate change under the new agreement, starting March 2015; this was termed ‘intended nationally determined contributions’, or INDCs. The US, China and the EU have already indicated the emission-reduction contributions they will formally propose as a part of their INDCs to the UN in the coming months.

But the developed world is keen that such contributions be limited to emission reduction and not talk of financial and technology-sharing commitments; in other words, the Paris agreement be primarily about mitigation, not the other pillars of UN talks — adaptation, finance and technology. Most developing countries are pushing that the other integral elements of INDCs be committed as firmly, too.

The Lima meeting is bound to see a big fight over the form and nature of these INDCs, which have to be frozen by the end of this round of talks, with India and other developing countries looking for parity and the developed world almost united in giving primacy to mitigation.

This track will also see debate over whether the form in which INDCs are given to the UN should include the method and parameters to review their adequacy. On this, the US is keen not to have a review process built into the Paris agreement, which will force it to enhance targets. In that case, China and India will prefer to side along rather than get locked into an oversight arrangement that binds their growing economies too tightly. This comes with the awareness that neither the EU nor the US and its umbrella partners will permit a strong equitable measure by which the review is to take place.

Track three: Elements of 2015 agreement
In Lima, the countries will also shape out the elements and nature of the Paris agreement of 2015, under which the INDCs are to be anchored. This track is only beginning to take off and has, so far, hinged on UN officials driving the process, rather than countries negotiating based on formal texts.

Developing nations have repeatedly expressed disagreement with the proposals of UN officials and demanded the negotiations be driven by proposals and texts given by countries. Many developing countries, including India, seek parity between different pillars of climate action in this track. They will prefer that the linkage between finance and technology from rich countries to the actions of the developing world not be weakened and the provisions of the UN convention not be rewritten by stealth. Here, again, the question of review of the contributions of countries and the principles of differentiation and equity will come into play.

But this track is expected to only see an early draft of ideas, to be turned into a negotiable text by February 2015. The form and structure of the INDCs, how these are anchored and what the first draft of the 2015 agreement is will together decide how onerous the new global regime is for India.

The climate matrix
Each of these three tracks has dozens of specific questions. The Lima negotiations are meant to seek common grounds on these, to eventually shape the 2015 Paris agreement. Should countries cut emissions from agriculture right away? What kind of market mechanisms should exist in the new regime? How should the Green Climate Fund function and how should developed countries show they are really committed to providing at least $ 100 billion a year from 2020? These are only some of the questions that promise to see heated arguments. What makes the negotiations so difficult is the fact that each country seeks a balance based on trade-offs at the same time and across all these issues, even as they look to protect their red-lines, or non-negotiables.

As the negotiations run on consensus, allies on an issue can easily be foes on another or indifferent friends on yet another. This makes the matrix of negotiations difficult to crack.

As for the focus on India making an international announcement of the kind the US and China already have, the deadline for a formal submission to the UN is next year. India has begun domestic groundwork for that.

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