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Uncertainty looms over Lima climate change meeting

After having argued frenetically till past midnight at the Lima climate talks, the negotiators went back to their hotels to catch a nap, bracing for the uncertainty that hung over climate change negotiations. How would consensus emerge in 48 hours when the gathered 190 plus countries had spent the past 10 days in only discovering the differences between them?

Countries at Lima negotiations have to reach consensus on one decision document by Friday. When the co-chairs of the negotiations floated the document on Monday it had 18 pages. By Wednesday midnight it had bloated to more than 100 pages with disagreements so wide-spread that some elements of the document had as many as a dozen options tabled by different countries sitting unresolved.

By the standards that climate negotiations have set over past years, this Lima decision document was meant to be a rather simple affair. Countries were to decide what kind of information they must showcase as part of their preliminary package of actions to fight climate change under the agreement that is to be signed in 2015 but operationalized from 2020. The agreement itself had to be negotiated through 2015 and sealed up by the end of next year. This preliminary package is referred as the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs

But, by Wednesday night, the INDCs decision document had practically become a rough draft of the 2015 agreement instead. The developed countries had taken the lead, partly helped by the co-chairs of the negotiations, to insert provisions fixing the nature and content of the 2015 agreement through the back door using the caveats, conditions and details that were originally never meant to be negotiated at Lima.

Developing countries, concerned that the one-sided document would set terms of the 2015 agreement against them even before it is actually negotiated, countered to insert their own interests in the INDC document as well. In a tit-for-tat that went on over three days the INDC document stood bloated to 100 pages by Wednesday night and still open to more insertions from countries.

Concerns rose in developing countries again as some developed countries asked that the document teaming with ideas that militated against each other, now be pruned back in size by the co-chairs of the negotiations. With no real consensus on most of the issues, pruning would necessarily mean discarding one or the other side’s views. The other, reasonable but now seemingly impossible, option remained to go back to a simple one page text just detailing the information required under INDCs – what was originally required from this decision at Lima.

The first week of talks had left many developing countries lacing trust in the co-chairs to do their work without bias. So, they countered to demand that the negotiations continue to be driven by countries. India was one of those who voiced these demands. But by the end of Wednesday night uncertainty prevailed on what the penultimate day of the negotiations would bring. By Thursday the negotiators have to seal the document on this track of talks and on Friday hand it over to the larger overall gathering – called the plenary of the Conference of Parties- where the document would be adopted by all countries. On Wednesday night, a successful Friday decision that all countries can live with looked a week away.


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