Lima, a new low for climate action

“The failure of Lima lies in not arriving at a level playing field for a new deal.” Picture shows (from left to right) President Barack Obama, Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, China's President Xi Jinping, India's Narendra Modi, Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.   | Photo Credit: Martin Mejia

After nearly a fortnight of prolonged talks, some of it acrimonious, there was little that made anyone happy — except perhaps the developed world which was not called on to make any more clear-cut mitigation or financial commitments — in the >Lima Call for Climate Action.

Twenty-two years after the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and five assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) — the last report of the IPCC perhaps being the most conclusive on human impacts on climate change — the world is still waiting for decisive action. As the Lima talks were going nowhere, the Peruvian Environment Minister and president of the Conference of the Parties (COP), Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, was called on to lead the consultations a day before the conference ended. Earlier, he had made a strong emotional appeal for consensus which received sustained applause from countries which had gathered there to further a new treaty in Paris and decide the scope of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC)s. After nearly 10 days of negotiations — which the European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete, described as “exceedingly slow” — the seven-page text which emerged on December 18 was pulled out after protests, and Mr. Vidal called for a new text.

No matter for celebration

In the first week, the process of going through the text and making additions was finally accepted by the two co-chairs of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP). With countries making many additions, the text almost reached 60 pages. But in the lean seven-page version that was later revised more than once, most of the additions were left out. Mr. Vidal later apologised for introducing a new brief text on December 12 without consultation, which angered developing country blocks. After a flurry of revisions, the final text or the Lima Call for Climate Action which was agreed upon seemed to be more the result of a need for some bare consensus to get ahead, and was low on commitment and ambition. The final text only “underscores” its commitment to reaching an ambitious agreement in 2015 that reflects the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, “in light of different national circumstances”. It also “urges” developed countries to provide and mobilise enhanced financial support to developing countries for ambitious mitigation and adaptation actions.

There was much jubilation over the Green Climate Fund (GCF) crossing the $10 billion mark, but this is hardly a matter for celebration since the original target was to reach $100 billion by 2020. Countries have pledged various amounts for four years and GCF will disburse funds for projects from 2015. The developed countries were reluctant to commit to a year-on-year financial road map or mitigation actions to cut emissions. A lack of transparency and equity, apart from deep divisions between developed and developing countries was reflected in the final text.

A ‘Sputnik’ moment

As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s impassioned speech for a climate deal clearly indicated, the onus was on all countries to curb emissions. “We have to remember that today more than half of global emissions — more than half — are coming from developing nations. So it is imperative that they act too,” he said while addressing the press in his brief stopover in Lima. The whole principle of polluter pays and historical responsibilities has been diluted over the years and developing countries now face a double burden, that of reducing their pollution and, since there is inadequate financial flows from the developed world, also raising funds to pay for climate actions. The new deal, which will be negotiated in Paris, is unlikely to have a strong base to ensure any binding commitments from the developed countries post 2020.

The failure of Lima lies precisely in not arriving at a level playing field for a new deal. It is left to each country to come up with what it can do in its own capacity, which will not even be subject to scrutiny of any sort. As climate adaptation expert Dr. Salimul Huq pointed out, we need to ask: “Are the targets of each country adequate and are there enough funds?”

The global response is limp, even as the world suffers one extreme climate event after another. During the climate talks, typhoon Hagupit was another harsh reminder of what the Philippines has to undergo year after year. As always, the debate has been hijacked by some of the rich and powerful, who are now not only seeking to shrug off their responsibilities but pass it on to the developing world. Even mitigation efforts in the developing countries cannot take place without finance, as Lidy Nacpil of Jubilee South Asia Pacific pointed out. With U.S. President Barack Obama making climate change a priority, the U.S. seemed to be keen, for once, on moving ahead and achieving a new agreement next year. As a senior negotiator remarked, this is a “Sputnik moment” for the U.S.; it cannot let China take the global lead in climate change.

Optimistic position

India and other developing countries, while making strong points at first, could not leverage their collective position to demand stronger commitments. On the final text, the Indian position was one of optimism. Minister of State for Environment and Forests Prakash Javadekar had said that India was committed to protecting the interests of the poor. Even though the final agreement in Lima was against that spirit, he expressed happiness that it had addressed the concerns of developing countries and that the efforts of some countries to rewrite the UNFCCC have not fructified. It gives enough space for the developing world to grow and take appropriate nationally determined steps, he added.

According to the agreement in Lima, the UNFCCC will publish on its website the INDCs as communicated, and prepare by November 1, 2015, a synthesis report on the aggregate effect of the INDCs communicated by countries by October 1, 2015. This would form the basis for the new treaty in Paris. While there is a brief mention of loss and damage in the text, the idea was to link it with adaptation which was opposed by developing countries. The climate summit in Warsaw agreed to create a separate mechanism for loss and damage and groups like the Alliance of Small Island States want this to be anchored in the 2015 agreement, distinct from adaptation.

In the background of the climate talks in Lima were issues related to the killing of environmental activists who are demanding rights in the Amazon, apart from the destruction of forests and easy concessions for mining and oil exploration. A new climate deal has to take the future of the planet into consideration. This cannot be achieved by endless squabbling but by accepting responsibility and acting decisively. Lima marks a new low for climate action and while the multilateral process has been kept alive, there needs to be a real and immediate momentum for change on the ground.

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 5:06:29 AM |

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