Leisurely in Lima: COP20 climate talks show little urgency

Five days into the last conference before Paris, the big questions for a global climate deal remain unanswered

(Pic: UNFCCC/Flickr)

(Pic: UNFCCC/Flickr)

By Megan Darby in Lima

From Ban Ki-moon’s summit of world leaders in New York to a historic US-China emissions pact, the last few months have been about building momentum.

These events were supposed to inject urgency into the formal negotiations towards a global climate deal to in Paris next year.

After five days of UN climate talks in Lima, there is little sign of this renewed enthusiasm.

It is the last big conference before countries hope to reach a consensus to save the world from catastrophic global warming.

Yet the biggest breakthrough so far has been an agreement to show the draft text on an overhead screen in the negotiating room.

LIVE IN LIMA – DAY 5: UN COP20 climate change summit

This is more significant than it might sound. It is a victory for developing countries, who argued this would make sure every voice was heard.

As Greenpeace expert Ruth Davis explained, the danger with this approach is you end up with a text “of baroque proportions”.

The alternative was a more streamlined, but, countries like China, India and Pakistan argued, less transparent process led by the negotiation chairs.

EU chief negotiator Elina Bardram said at a press briefing on Friday: “The conference has got off to a relatively smooth start… We’ve been able to overcome quite a few challenges.”

But on the substantive issues, there remains much to thrash out next week.

Short term

As China’s lead negotiator Su Wei explained on Thursday, the developed world needs to deliver in the short term to build trust for a Paris deal.

The first ask is to commit to emissions cuts pre-2020, the period before a new deal would kick in.

The second is to stump up cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change and set their economies on a low carbon path.

The Green Climate Fund is just shy of its US$10 billion start-up target, after Norway doubled its contribution to $230 million.

But Su warned “we don’t have any clear roadmap” to reach the US$100 billion a year target set for 2020.

These are the side dishes. The main course is a draft text for the Paris deal – and negotiations have now started in earnest.

Building blocks

Countries are expected to submit national plans early next year that will form the building blocks for Paris.

Historically, the talks have revolved around mitigation – cutting emissions. Now, developing countries are anxious to make sure protection from the inevitable impacts of climate change – adaptation – and financial support are formally included.

A report from the UN’s environment body on Friday backed up concerns about the cost of adaptation, which it said could be two to three times previous estimates.

Bardram said the EU did not want to see these elements in the national plans, but was open to including them in some other way.

On mitigation, some have already signalled long-term commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The European Union is targeting “at least” a 40% cut from 1990 levels by 2030. The US promises 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2025 and China will peak emissions “around 2030”.

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These numbers do not put the world on a trajectory to limit temperature rise to 2C, the goal agreed in 2009.

That raises the question of how to close the gap between what countries volunteer and what the science demands to avert runaway climate change.

The US favours a process to “ratchet up” ambition every five years, which fits with its 2025 goal. Europe prefers a 10-year commitment period, in line with its 2030 goal.

Su sided with Europe: “It costs a lot of time and energy to negotiate every five years. Ten years provides some stability for the market to follow.”

Then there is the question of the deal’s legal status. Europe is pushing for legally binding commitments, but the US would be unlikely to ratify such a deal.

All these debates are set to get more intense in week two, when ministers arrive – from two out of three countries, at least.

Manuel Pulgar Vidal, president of the conference, insisted he was happy with how the first week had developed in a video interview with RTCC.

“I am completely sure we are maintaining our enthusiasm and optimism,” he said.

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