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Lima climate talks: Endgame after a leaked agreement

As Climate talks began in Lima in Peru, Greenpeace activists from seven countries projected a pro-solar message at the Temple of the Sun in Machu Pichu, Peru. Activists have urged all the nations to work for a 100 percent renewable energy future by 2 On Thursday night climate negotiations had turned in to a script for a thrilling film on international intrigue. A document so far held secret, got inadvertently leaked well before it was planned to be released by the UN climate change convention secretariat. That set off a series of high-drama sequences which by night time, when talks were suspended again, had plunged conference in to uncertainty.

The two co-chairs of the negotiations and the secretariat had planned to time the release of the document with the opening of talks on Thursday morning.

The document was a replacement of the original draft agreement text that countries had negotiated over past 10 days. Upon arriving in Lima, all countries had become aware that the agreement in Peru could potentially lock-in critical features and content of the global climate change compact that is to be signed by 2015 end in Paris. These features would decide how the economic burden of reducing emissions, adapting to inevitable climate change and financing the entire exercise over next few decades would shift between developed and developing countries.  

The realisation made all countries negotiate furiously over 10 days to insert their ideas and interests in the draft Lima agreement. Consequently the draft bloated to a 100 page document.

On Wednesday, pointing to the unwieldy draft, several developed countries, including the EU asked that the co-chairs of the negotiations produce a new concise version. Several developing countries, including India objected immediately. They had become wary of the role of the co-chairs. Over past week they had appraised the two (one from EU and another from Trinidad and Tobago) to be biased in favour of the developed countries. Some had said as much in language that bordered on abuse in the world of international diplomacy.

As talks came to end on Wednesday night, the co-chairs remained ambiguous about how they would proceed next morning. The lack of a straightforward commitment that the draft discussed by countries would continue to be the basis for negotiations, aroused suspicion in many developing countries.

“It’s an old game in multilateral forums. Start with a biased document, make countries react defensively to put their clauses in and make negotiations unwieldy and prolonged, then claim lack of time to produce a new document out of thin air at the last moment. This pressurises country in to a take-it-or-leave-it situation. You can then only do so much to protect your interests in the hours that are left,” said a seasoned Indian negotiator at Lima.

But Thursday morning held a twist to this old plot. Just as the meeting was to begin, the G77 and China group asked for a sudden temporary halt to the discussions on the Lima decisions on Thursday morning. They said they were working on a proposal which would break the impasse at the climate talks.

But the real reason was that the G77 had got wind of the co-chairs plans even before the meeting began. They accessed a leaked draft decision text when it was inadvertently put on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change website for a brief while and then withdrawn. It set the alarm bells ringing. A first appraisal made several key G77 countries realise that it was again heavily biased against their interests.

The negotiators assessed that the new document did little to demand higher financial and emission reduction emissions from the developed world in the pre-2020 period. It delinked their existing commitments to provide enabling finance and technology from future commitments of developing world. It let the developed countries escape any solid roadmap to scale up financial support over coming years.

G77+China, which often suffers fissures dividing the 137 country group, came together quickly. As the formal meeting remained held up they strategized to counter the co-chairs secret text. They narrowed down their own differences some of the elements of the agreement to present a united front.

So far the leaked draft was being shared only among select negotiators and advisors. Business Standard accessed and reported on this draft. With the leaked draft now in public domain, the debates became more furious in the gathered civil society groups as well.

When the formal meeting restarted the G77+China showcased how they had reduced their differences and it was possible to do so sitting with the developed countries too over the original document. But EU, Japan and many others hinted or straightforward asked that the co-chairs produce a new text and discard the original one. Everyone’s cards were now on the table. Developing countries knew well that the text had already been cooked up.

But, the leak and subsequent moves by G77 group were only a minor glitch in the plan it became apparent soon.

In a swift move, the host Peru’s minster designated as the President of the talks under the protocol, stepped in. He pleaded for all countries to work together and not let Lima talks fail. He promised to work with transparency. But then he turned around to order that a new workable draft agreement be prepared by 9 pm on Thursday night. To several developing country negotiator’s surprise there was a resounding applause in the room from others. “We have seen this orchestration before in Cancun (in 2010),” a developing country negotiator said later. The meeting closed.

Harjeet Singh, from Action Aid at Lima tweeted, “COP President instructs co-chairs to prepare new #ADP text tonight by 9 pm. Will it be same ‘leaked’ text or a hugely changed one? #COP20.” Another observer at Lima, Doreen Stabinsky a professor at the College of Atlantic tweeted, “Political theatre. Script got rewritten a bit this morning, but they are getting back on track.”

In a couple of more hours, the co-chairs had put a new text on the website. No surprises this time: it was a near replica of the one that had inadvertently leaked out on Thursday morning. But without opening the floor to discussions, the meeting was shut down for the night by the co-chairs.

Asad Rehman of Friends of Earth group tweeted, “8 days no negotiations, accidental leaking of secret text, secret text becomes official – voila rich countries get what they want”.

Equally, there were others in civil society and among negotiators who were not so unhappy with the turn of events.

Now there are only 8 hours of negotiating time left on Friday and the countries have a new draft agreement to sign on to or fight over.

“They have inserted clauses all over that blow punches at the differentiation between countries. Obligations of not just emission reduction but even finance are being hoisted inequitably over developing countries,” said an Indian delegate.

An African delegate said they were worried that the agreement had nothing concrete on the financial commitments of the developed countries. “In fact their commitments are being reduced to focus only on the most vulnerable countries. Even African countries would be left out of the benefits,” he added.

The draft agreement has options to choose from in some sections. But several negotiators Business Standard spoke to said they were false choices. “It’s like forcing surgery on a healthy person and giving him two options – suffer it with anaesthesia or without,” said a negotiator from the Like-Minded Developing Country group.

None of them were willing to talk about the strategic moves their countries would make on Friday, if at all, to claw back in to the negotiations. At the time of writing this report it was 7:30 am at Lima. The talks were to begin at 10 am. Two sets of negotiators said it had been a sleepless night for them. Friday is set for the endgame.

Developing country concerns with the new draft Lima decision text

  • The decision does not respect the existing provisions of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
  • In several places it drills holes in the principle of common but differentiated responsibility
  • It does not bring balance between mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology
  • It forces a review of developing country actions in 2015 itself without the linkage of finance and technology from developed countries
  • No concrete measures in the pre-2020 period to get developed countries to increase their commitments
  • No road map for finance from developed countries
  • Requires even developing countries to provide finance in future
  • Has a mandatory prescriptive list of actions that all countries must take, which includes peaking year and other onerous targets
  • Doesn’t push developed countries hard enough to ratify the second period of Kyoto Protocol
  • Loss and Damage is not set as a separate pillar of climate change talks under the 2015 agreement


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