Lima endgame: Old divisions surface as climate talks drag on

Agreement in Peru remains elusive as emerging economies hold ground in negotiations stand-off

Peru president Ollanta Humala addresses a high level session in Lima (Pic: Flickr/Presidencia Perú)

Peru president Ollanta Humala addresses a high level session in Lima
(Pic: Flickr/Presidencia Perú)

By Megan Darby in Lima

It was late Thursday when some important news trickled through.

No decision had been taken on decision making at the UN climate talks.

Instead, after two weeks of talks, this particular decision was postponed until the 2015 Paris talks in 12 months time.

It seemed in keeping with the Lima summit. Despite a warm atmosphere and positive build-up, little appears to have changed.

As of 10pm on Thursday night delegates were still waiting in the conference area’s giant tents, waiting news on a new set of proposals for an agreement here.

It is day 10 and UN climate talks in Lima are entering their endgame. But old habits can be hard to ditch.

In 1992 rich (Annex I) and poor (non Annex I) countries were separated into two groups, obliging developed nations to take steps to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and offer support to others with less resources wishing to do the same.

Last year countries agreed to move forward together and and agree a climate deal “applicable to all”.

But despite the recent US-China climate pact, which saw this wall between the two sides crumble, negotiators don’t seem to have noticed.

“When the US president and the Chinese president announced their agreement a few years ago, they didn’t call each other annexe I and non annexe I,” said Saleemul Huq, a Bangladeshi climate expert with a long history at these talks.

“That’s negotiator language. They’re insisting they need language that is now out of date.”

Critically, as Huq also pointed out, finance promised to developing countries has not materialised at the level required.

This has a knock-on effect throughout the process, damaging trust between parties trying to work out a compromise by the time the Lima talks are scheduled to close in less than 24 hours.

As of Thursday, the draft text had swelled from 6 pages to 50, before annexes, as countries push their competing agendas. Options are on the table – as many as 17, for some parts of the agreement.

Negotiators are now engaged on the process of whittling that down to a common position, to be signed on Friday or – more likely – Saturday.

It will lay the groundwork for a global climate deal to be struck in Paris next December.

ANALYSIS: What are the main blockages?

The Paris deal will be built up from intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), due to be published in the first quarter of next year.

In Lima, the critical decision is the scope of those national contributions.

All countries are expected to make a contribution, according to their capacity and historic responsibility.

The BASIC group of India, China, South Africa and Brazil are keen there is still "differentiation" between the two annexes

The BASIC group of India, China, South Africa and Brazil are keen there is still “differentiation” between the two annexes

Rich countries will be expected to be the first to make deeper cuts to their greenhouse gas emissions.

Emerging economies could follow China’s example and set carbon intensity targets, cutting emissions compared to “business as usual”.

Even the 48 least developed countries could be asked to make commitments, perhaps conditional on support from the international community.

Half of them hope to have graduated out of that category by 2020, when a Paris deal kicks in.

Then there is the question of how to bridge the inevitable gap between what countries put forward and the emissions cuts needed to limit global warming to 2C – the previously agreed goal.

Targets set by the European Union, US and China put the world on course for 2.9-3.1C of warning, scientists at Climate Action Tracker have calculated.

Countries are not falling over themselves to volunteer steep emissions cuts. While a plethora of reports show delays only make climate action more costly, going green still has upfront costs.

There is talk of a review of the national plans before Paris, but China has objected that would take too long and could hamper the process.

Cash machines

Progress hinges on finance. The developed world has promised to mobilise US$100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries respond to climate change.

The would-be recipients want to see clearer plans for this before they make any concessions – such as submitting to greater transparency.

Major developing countries also stress the need for adaptation in national plans – they want to shame the rich into putting up more cash.

Mitigation, adaptation and finance are interwoven.

The more emissions are cut, the less drastic measures will be needed to adapt to the changing climate.

The more finance can be raised, the less poor countries will be tempted to base their development on polluting coal plants.

But there is little to suggest in recent history that developed countries have the political will to radically ramp up their offers, notwithstanding the $10 billion now pledged to the UN-backed Green Climate Fund.

This issue that will need to be resolved before Paris, otherwise hopes of all the world’s countries signing a legally binding climate pact look slim.

INTERVIEW: SOUTH AFRICA’S ENVIRONMENT MINISTER

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