Five burning issues for Lima climate talks this week

Rough road to Paris lies ahead unless ministers resolve these key issues when they arrive at UN climate talks in Lima 

Co-chair Kishan Kumarsingh follows proposed amendments to the text on the screen (Pic: IISD/ENB)

Co-chair Kishan Kumarsingh follows proposed amendments to the text on the screen (Pic: IISD/ENB)

By Sophie Yeo in Lima

Ministers should not expect an easy ride when they arrive in Lima next week for the final, intense stretch of the UN climate talks.

Negotiators have already spent a week bickering and pouring over texts, but the most important issues remain unresolved.

For smooth sailing towards Paris next year, ministers must make progress on these five burning issues.

1. Loss and damage

For many, typhoon Hagupit smashing through the Philippines will crystallise the issue of loss and damage, or how countries can deal with climate impacts that are so severe that adaptation is no longer possible.

But some countries are still arguing that loss and damage should be considered as no more than an extension to adaptation. Least developed countries and small islands states are arguing strongly for it to be considered as a key part of the new agreement in its own right.

What’s making this difficult is that small island developing countries are not included on the committee dealing with loss and damage. They are fighting for this to change.

Another obstacle, as ever, is finance. The text currently sets out the option of setting up a financial mechanism to deal with the costs of climate impacts. Developed countries are against this, concerned that they could be confronted with a bill for the growing expense of rising sea levels, droughts and storms.

2. Contributions

Countries need to decide on what and how they will have to promise when it comes to tackling climate change in the new UN deal. Parties are calling these “intended nationally determined contributions”.

The crux of this issue is whether countries just make commitments on how they are going to reduce their emissions, or whether they also make promises related to finance and adaptation. Unless this is decided, the process in Lima will be scuppered.

At UN talks in Warsaw last year, countries agreed these targets had to be on the table by March 2015.

Without formal guidance established here in Lima on how these targets will be measured and calculated, countries will be left comparing apples and oranges. It will become almost impossible to tell whether what countries are prepared to do will be enough to stop dangerous levels of climate change.

3. Elements text

At the negotiations in Paris next year, countries will actually need a text to negotiate.

Countries have been working from a “non-paper” this week. This 23-page document sets out all the possible elements to be included in next year’s Paris deal. It has formed the basis of discussions and sparked many a debate, but countries have not formally adopted it as the basis of negotiations. Therefore it has no formal standing in the talks.

The co-chairs of the session will synthesise all the views expressed by country negotiators this week, and release a new version sometime between Sunday and Monday.

Ministers will then discuss this new document in fairly general terms next week. By the end, the aim is to have all the possibilities set out in something vaguely comprehensible that can be formally negotiated when countries meet again in 2015.

4. Review

Everyone is ready enough to acknowledge that what countries say they will do to tackle climate change will not be enough to avert dangerous levels of warming. They are not especially willing to do anything about it.

A formal review of these pledges would make it easy to see who has not pulled their weight, and unlock a process where countries are able to ramp up their commitments in line with what is required by science.

The EU has been the strongest supporter of this approach so far, but other countries have pushed back.

The US favours some general chatter around the ambition of everyone’s commitments, but no formal process to ramp them up. And China has pulled out some of the language relating to such a review. If this is not resolved this week, the numbers could possibly be reviewed after Paris.

5. Commitment period

When countries finally get to the stage of putting forward their contributions to the new climate deal, in what year will they set their targets?

Some countries say that the goals should be made on a five year basis, shaping the world’s response to climate change up to 2025.

This is the view favoured by many NGOs, which say that it allowed it to capture the highest level of ambition at the time. It has also been championed by the Marshall Islands and the Latin American alliance known as AILAC.

But the EU wants countries to base their targets on 2030. This long term vision of climate action will provide certainty to businesses and investors, who will be the ones financing much of the transition towards a green economy.

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