Climate negotiations: a long road from Lima to Paris

On Sunday, December 14 at 3:30 AM the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) in Lima, Peru limped across the finish line. The deadline for the acceptance of the treaty that failed in Copenhagen will be next year at COP21 in Paris. Lima was supposed to create an ambitious agenda propelling the last phase of negotiations forward. The Peoples Climate March and UN Climate Leaders Summit were all about injecting momentum into Lima. Still, COP20 fell far short of what is needed.

The Peruvian Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal had chaired the Lima COP attempting innovative approaches. In a dramatic departure from UN culture, he actually chaired expecting negotiators to show up on time and conclude their work to deadline. The “official” adjournment had been scheduled for Friday afternoon, December 12. Pulgar-Vidal tried to maintain on-going consultations in various backrooms. He adjourned sessions at reasonable hours to allow delegates to be well-rested. But the sub-group negotiating the key text (the so-called ADP group standing for “Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform”) held protracted sessions which amounted to collecting comments more than shifting positions. Pulgar-Vidal tried to find the right balance through his consultations and a re-write. When his text was presented Friday it was met with massive unhappiness from developing countries. For the next 36 hours the COP teetered on the brink of falling apart.

The draft decision failed to reinforce fundamental principles of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) within which the COPs take place. The text omitted key issues of vital concern to developing countries, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable. They insisted that any text make it clear that the poor and the rich cannot be treated exactly the same way. Even issues like reporting requirements place an unfair burden on smaller countries with weak capacity if those countries are not offered some assistance.

On the other hand, the promises from industrialized countries were watered down. In the last COP in Warsaw nations agreed that pledges would be tabled well ahead of the deadline negotiation in Paris, COP21. No one wanted a repetition of Copenhagen with last minute, non-binding political targets.

Copenhagen was a train wreck of an event. It sowed deep seeds of distrust as President Barack Obama took a handful of big industrialized countries, plus China, into a hotel room – outside the integrity and transparency of the UN process – and cooked up the bogus “Copenhagen Accord.” It was accompanied with a blatant attempt to bribe the developing world into not protesting rising seas and droughts by providing a new Green Climate Fund, to ramp up to $100 billion/year by 2020. Long after world leaders had jetted home, the Copenhagen targets were analyzed and shown to have no chance, even if fully implemented, of shooting past the agreement’s goal of avoiding 2 degrees C global average temperature increase.

The Warsaw commitment at COP19 to table pledges (in UN-language “intended nationally determined contributions” or INDCs) within the first quarter of 2015 emerged from Lima as:
Reiterates its invitation to all Parties to communicate their intended nationally determined contributions well in advance of the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (by the first quarter of 2015 by those parties ready to do so)….

Clearly the bolded wording above creates wiggle room for foot-draggers like Canada to delay. With Canada having no hope of coming near its Copenhagen pledge of reducing 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, the tabling of what we will do by 2025 and 2030 is an open question. The success of the Paris treaty depends on having far more ambitious pledges and that those cuts be achieved.

The tensions created by Copenhagen are still with us. At COP20, industrialized countries wanted the developing world to be happy with texts that leave out such annoying promises, while giving the developed world a weak set of self-selected targets of dubious enforceability. The Lima negotiation’s overtime hours only slightly improved a weak decision. References to assistance to developing countries and a call for more action for industrialized countries were mere sops to the chorus of complaints.

Before next year’s COP in Paris, Canada’s elections will likely deliver a new Prime Minister with a Parliament with a greener hue. It is my hope and, in fact, my commitment that the new Parliament, post-2015 election, place Canada in the lead. We can be the country that saves the Paris talks. We know how to do this. Canadian negotiators, given proper instructions to negotiate the clear, aggressive and equitable climate treaty the world needs, can do it! Between now and December 2015, we have to hold all parties and politicians to account and insist that climate be a key issue in the upcoming election.

Originally published in Island Tides.