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Lima climate talks: Countries begin to put differences on record, in detail

As the high-level segment of Lima climate talks began on Tuesday with ministers expected to make generic, encouraging and positive statements in public domain, negotiators poured over new negotiating drafts behind closed doors discovering the differences between them in fine detail. As one developing country negotiator put it, doing the real stuff.

Media reports that John Kerry, US secretary of state was likely to make a special appearance on Thursday at the Lima negotiations lit up conversations about how that could change dynamics of political bargaining if talks ran to the wire.

The new negotiating drafts presented to countries on Monday had led to acrimony in the morning with the developing countries complaining of continued bias in content and procedure by the co-chairs of the talks. But by second half, all of them had got down to plugging the texts with what each believed had been left out of the drafts or what they thought should not be in the drafts. These draft texts contain the first blueprint of the 2015 global climate change agreement.

As countries began to discuss the draft texts threadbare – the documents began to bloat with ideas, and words. If a particular line idea did not find favour with country X it asked the line be put under brackets. It instead asked that another line be added. If country Y did not like the new line introduced by X, it asked that this new line also be put under brackets. Putting brackets around the texts indicates that the particular line, paragraph or word does have the approval of all the countries. Brackets are removed only when a consensus language on the particular idea or element is figured out. A complete document is approved only after all brackets have been removed through such a process of negotiations.

By the time the session was suspended for the day at 9 pm, only a few early paragraphs of the negotiating texts had been discussed and dozens of brackets had popped up. “Basically it was the first chance countries got to tell specifically what they agree with and what they disagree with and not just have a general chat about it,” said an Indian negotiator.

“We are spending the first half of the second week discovering differences. We were supposed to spend this time resolving these differences,” said the negotiator.

“Practically there is only one bit of these negotiations that needs to reach finality before we finish at Lima – the nature of intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) that countries will have to submit starting next year. The rest can be taken forward half-baked in to next year,” said another developing country negotiator speaking to Business Standard.  

He was referring to the need for Lima to list out what kind of actions countries should detail out as their commitments under the Paris 2015 agreement. These are referred to as INDCs and countries are required to submit these actions starting March 2015.  “Because the process of submission of INDCs are to begin March next year we need to be clear by the end of Lima talks what are these INDCS,” he added.

Three fundamental differences prevailed even in this one part of the entire package being drawn up for Paris agreement. One, how should differentiation be done, if at all between countries in the nature of the INDCs countries submit under 2015 agreement. Two, should the INDCs be only about mitigation or also be mandatorily talk of adaptation, finance and technology too. And third, should there be a review of the adequacy of the mitigation targets in 2015 itself without linking them to the provision of finance and technology.

“Resolving just the difference of INDCs is extremely difficult. Right now we have not even begun to think of resolution. We are only ensuring differences are sketched out in absolute detail and put on record,” said a negotiator from Africa group.  

On Tuesday the negotiators were slated to sit again after lunch till 9 pm to put the differences on record, moving serially from the beginning of the document to the end. “The co-chairs wasted a lot of time in the first week. We have three to four days. Let’s hope this delay was not deliberate and we don’t see new draft being airdropped in to our laps at the last moment to take it or leave it,” the African negotiator said.

The news of John Kerry’s unscheduled visit to Lima only increased the intensity of conversations about the possibility of a last minute political deal-cutting at Lima between powerful countries.


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