France climate chief admits Lima talks may not deliver clear result

Hosts of Paris summit start to flex muscles behind scenes, as hopes of clear outcome in Peru fade

(UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)

(UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)

By Ed King in Lima

France’s diplomatic machinery is starting to ramp up the gears, 12 months before countries are scheduled to sign off a UN climate deal in Paris.

Since arriving in Lima this week foreign minister Laurent Fabius and ambassador to the climate negotiations Laurence Tubiana have been engaged in a hectic round of meetings with countries they deem to key to a global agreement.

On Wednesday morning Tubiana, a climate negotiations veteran, was introducing Fabius to series of delegations and civil society leaders on the sidelines of the summit.

The pair – part of a huge French delegation here – also met ministers from India and Ethiopia, two critical players in the mosaic of 192 countries who will have to agree on a climate deal next year.

More meetings are planned on Thursday. It’s likely Fabius will discuss the talks with US secretary of state John Kerry, in Lima for a brief if significant visit.

At the moment Peru is running the show, but come the next significant UN meeting in February that will change, when the French step out from the shadows.

The question this week is what challenge will they be facing in early 2015. Will there be the basis of an agreement on the table, or will there instead be a giant raft of proposals but little clarity?

Speaking at an event on the sidelines the talks on Wednesday, Tubiana said she was being “pragmatic” when assessing progress in Peru.

“Some issues will not be resolved here, but it’s fair enough, if they are too big it’s about changing the real ambition of the whole world. But we can have clarity,” she said.

“On the elements text I think we will have a draft, and I think it will be reasonable enough so we can negotiate effectively on February 8.”

The “elements” text she referred to is the basis for the 2015 deal, a rapidly expanding document released on December 8, outlining a series of options that could form the basis of an agreement.

Speaking to reporters lead US negotiator Todd Stern said work on this package was “basically done”, but stressed discussions over what types of commitments could be in a global deal are ongoing.

‘Berlin wall’

These nationally determined contributions to the 2015 deal, Tubiana admitted, are likely to be a headache that lasts beyond this meeting.

In the past countries were split between Annex I (developed) or non-Annex I (developing) but the text for a new agreement stipulates that unlike the Kyoto Protocol all countries must adopt commitments, not just the rich.

The deal being discussed would hold developed countries to account for historical emissions but also place carbon controls on emerging economies.

The problem for negotiators this week is working out what exactly replaces that clear cut division. A coalition led by Venezuela, India, Saudi Arabia and China wants the original split to remain intact.

Others, including the EU, US and a Latin American alliance of Chile, Costa Rica and Colombia say it’s time to acknowledge that the world has moved on since the annexes were created in 1992.

EU Energy and Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete, who is in close contact with the French, expanded on these theme. Some countries were “reverting to type” he told reporters.

“Of course we have to push as hard as we can to have clarity,” said Tubiana. “Maybe differentiation is too difficult a problem to be solved here.”

Rocky pathway

Clear thinking may be harder to come by as Paris approaches and the pressure mounts. The scale of the challenge facing the French is huge.

“We’re talking about a deep transformation in the 21st century, we’re not talking about papering around the margins,” said Jeffrey Sachs, an economist and climate specialist at Columbia university.

The French plan for the talks involves four main “pillars”, according to an observer close to the delegation.

These are a tough legal framework, clear commitment rules, a radical shift towards green investments and a space for business and civil society to participate.

Planning started over a year ago, but according to Yvo de Boer, UN climate chief at the ill-fated Copenhagen summit, the main challenge for France is not to set an ambitious agenda, but to radically simplify the agreement on offer.

In the snows of Denmark in 2009, delegates were faced with a set of proposals a UK diplomat describes as large as a “bible”. For de Boer, a text that won’t kill someone if you dropped it on their head is a must.

“We’re now at a stage where there is a negotiating text on the table, where everyone is tipping their ideas into the text,” he said.

“It will get longer every second the clock ticks, and the risk is you leave this conference with a document that is several hundred pages long.

“The main challenge for the French is – in a long document – to identify the four or five key issues that politicians will really need to focus on in order to unblock the logjam.”

That will require careful diplomacy and a little courage. The signs are in Lima that the French are frantically working their backroom contacts, keen to steer clear of the acrimonious talks taking place at more public forums.

Yesterday Fabius reiterated his plea for more “urgency” in a meeting with fellow ministers.

It was delivered in his usual smooth style, which insiders say is unlikely to change much as the talks heat up.

And both he and Tubiana seem determined to learn from their Peruvian hosts, who, notwithstanding trouble within the talks, have managed to create a remarkably happy atmosphere – a far cry from the last two meetings in Warsaw (2013) and Doha (2012).

“The way that the presidency is working will be a big achievement. For us it’s reassuring this process is so well managed,” she said.

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