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Lima climate change talks: Countries discover the chasm at the end of a week

What makes ministers of more than 190 countries come together once a year to quibble about words, phrases, jargon and sentences like a bunch of super enthusiastic grammar students?  Climate Change negotiations. Lima promises to be no different.

But if the ministers, landing in Lima over the weekend, want to ensure their bosses – heads of states – don’t also end up in the same situation in Paris in 2015 pouring over fine print and syntax to churn out a global agreement, they have their task cut out over next week.

The Lima round of talks began on Monday with three focus areas for the negotiators to work on over the week. They had to find a path by which developed world can do more to fight climate change before 2020. They had to draw together the first rough framework of the 2015 climate agreement – which would then be finalised over next year through several rounds of negotiations. Third and last, they had to figure out the kind of actions different countries would need to list under the 2015 agreement as their commitments. Based on this list of actions, the countries are required to provide targets and information next year which would eventually get locked under the Paris agreement.  

At the end of the five days, the best negotiators could achieve was a realisation that the past year had been spent playing blind the wide chasm that divides countries over some fundamental issues.

Different expectations

Part of the reason for that was the refusal of the two co-chairs to let countries negotiate against each other through the year on the basis of firm proposals on papers. As the co-chairs kept producing their own ideas in formats that had no legal status in the UN talks, countries remained blind to each other’s redlines and views. “You got to know the position each one is starting from to move towards a consensus through negotiations. We instead had the co-chairs produce documents that ignored some parties’ views creating an illusion of common ground,” said a negotiator from the Like Minded Developing Countries.

When eventually the co-chairs relented on the fourth day in Lima, and multiple sources said it happened with the intervention of hosts Peru, the differences burst in to open. “We all could have agreed to it weeks ago – months ago. It took too long to all sides to agree on a too basic thing,” said a negotiator from Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean Countries (AILAC) group.

To list a select few areas of difference now discovered: How do you distinguish between developing countries and the developed? Do you distinguish at all between them and the nature of their future commitments? Do countries commit merely to a plain emission reduction target and then go looking on their own for finance and technology or can they be assured of receiving some in a predictable fashion?

Meena Raman of Third World Network explained just one of the innumerable divides running through the Lima conference – the ‘early harvest’ of targets at Lima by developed countries. “Just as in WTO, here too nothing is agreed till everything is agreed. But the developed world wants to push for decisions on mitigation in the Lima outcome, while leaving the rest of the issues in limbo.” She explained the consequences, “This would ensure that the Paris agreement focuses only on mitigation and the linkage to enabling finance and technology for developing countries is not captured in the agreement. Also orphaned will be adaptation.”

“Indeed, huge areas of differences remain. Mainly differentiation (between developed and developing world and scope (of the new agreement). These will be the two big fights for the last night,” said the delegate from AILAC countries.

India prepared

With an early inkling that negotiations could go down to the wire, the Indian delegation is somewhat prepared. The environment minister Prakash Javadekar and his team have booked their flights a day beyond the official closing date of the talks. When asked on the eve of his departure whether India would stand alone at the climate negotiations too if the need arises, just as in WTO, he diplomatically avoided a straight answer: “There will be no need to. We have many countries with us. We shall lead the negotiations.”

But, at the talks on Monday will test his ability to stay sharp through dozens of rounds of hard-ball negotiations in different formats – closed door bilaterals, with friendly and not-so friendly groups of countries and in open multilateral talks.

“Lima is the penultimate round in some sense. Here one is not looking to seal the deal. But the least we have to ensure is that our concerns, non-negotiables and issues do not fall off the table. They should stay alive for Paris,” said another Indian delegate speaking to Business Standard.

The worry though is that several of Indian redlines, such as the principle of equity and differentiation, face multi-pronged attack at Lima. Starting Monday, Javadekar and other ministers will each give formal speeches at the Lima conference, which media shall pay rapt attention to. But the fate of the Paris 2015 agreement and each country’s redlines would lie in the words, phrases, syntax and climate jargon that eventually populates the negotiating text over next week.

A selection of sticking points at Lima to be discussed during ministerial round next week
  1. Linkage between enabling finance and technology to emission reduction targets
  2. Differentiation between countries in overall shape of new agreement
  3. Differentiation in the kind of actions countries list as their contributions under 2015 agreement
  4. Providing for inevitable Loss and damage as a separate issue or not
  5. Commitments under Paris 2015 agreement should be only on mitigation or all issues
  6. Should countries review whether all commitments under UN convention are being met or should it only review adequacy of emission targets under the new agreement
  7. Will emissions from agricultural sector also be demanded
  8. Will all issues find equal legal footing in the new agreement, not just political parity
  9. Will there be a road map to scale up finance commitment of annual US $ 100 billion by 2020
  10. Will Kyoto Protocol’s second phase get ratified
  11. Will developed countries increase their targets under Kyoto Protocol or outside it
  12. Should countries flesh out the form of a new global carbon trading regime


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