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OPINION: Will the Lima climate conference sustain progress toward a strong climate deal?

Will the UNFCCC’s COP20  deliver a year-end high for what has been an extraordinary year for climate change? Or will we find ourselves looking back on two weeks’ worth of talks in Lima to find some glimmers of hope? Sam Bickersteth and Kiran Sura of CDKN report. See CDKN’s programme of activities at COP20 on

The countdown began in Warsaw in December 2013 for the much-anticipated UNFCCC meeting in Paris in December 2015, at which Parties are due to agree a new global accord. Parties arrived in Bonn during the first half of 2014 with a renewed sense of purpose, cooperation and collaboration. In September of this year the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit put climate change firmly on the political and business agendas, and sparked civil marches in cities across the world calling for real action on climate change. President Obama even went so far as to force climate change on the G20 agenda, despite Australia’s best efforts to demote it to a lesser priority. Whilst meetings in Bonn in the latter half of 2014 took on a more subdued tone and reported little progress, the announcement of the bilateral climate agreement between the US and China, and the capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund to the tune of $9.3bn have, to some degree, answered calls from those looking to developed countries to commit to domestic action and support the efforts of others.

All this has taken place against the backdrop of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5); it has stated, more strongly than ever, that humans are causing the world to warm, and that the window for averting dangerous climate change is closing quickly. There are increasingly strong calls for immediate ambitious action to reach zero emissions by mid-century rather than by 2100 in order to remain within (relatively) manageable limits.

So with all the pieces seemingly falling in to place, Lima should deliver progress on a draft text for the 2015 agreement, clarity on national contributions and continued progress on pre-2020 action. But will COP20 set the stage for an historic, meaningful and fair deal in Paris in just 12 months?

What progress do we expect Lima to deliver?

The draft text for a 2015 agreement needs to be in place at least six months before COP21 in Paris. Given this sense of urgency the ADP Co-Chairs released an ‘omnibus text’ bringing together elements of 2015 agreement, national contributions and pre-2020 ambition. While this could be viewed as a constructive, scene-setting move by some, others may think this is too soon when countries have yet to discuss and agree on how the principles of the Convention will be implemented including the interpretation of ‘applicable to all’, the legal form of an agreement, and equity. While progress on the draft text is difficult to predict, what is certain is that many negotiators are preparing for talks to extend well beyond the official final day of the conference (12 December) in order to agree the next iteration of text from the ADP Co-Chairs.

Many countries have started to prepare their national contributions to a global 2015 agreement, and we expect COP20 to deliver greater clarity on information required in their intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) – which at minimum will incorporate emissions reductions pledges. Some observers have commented that the aggregate of these contributions will deliver, at best, around 50-60% of the reductions required to keep us within 2 degrees Celsius of warming – putting the onus on a ratcheting up mechanism in subsequent periods. Indeed the newly-released Turning down the Heat report finds that we are already locked into 1.5 degrees Celsius warming even if emissions halted tomorrow. But any numbers will carry little weight if the associated language around these targets is vague, and if there is limited credibility that these numbers will translate in to action on the ground.

What do the talks need to deliver for developing countries?

COP21 in Paris needs to deliver a fair and ambitious international climate agreement, and this requires the needs and priorities of all countries to be heard. (Least) Developing countries have risen in prominence and influence in international climate negotiations and we expect these countries to continue to have a strong voice in Lima. Indeed some of the most climate vulnerable countries, such as Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have demonstrated great climate leadership at the UN Small Island Developing States Summit (Samoa)  and the United Nations’ Secretary General’s Climate Summit (New York)  this year, committing to ambitious action despite contributing least to global emissions.

INDC preparations are underway in many developing countries providing an opportunity to ground the remote negotiations process in the needs, priorities and capabilities of developing countries.   We expect there to be much discussion around the scope of these contributions, and clarity on this issue will be important to encourage others to start preparing their numbers. For developing countries it is important that countries to come forward with contributions that are integrated into national plans for economic growth and poverty reduction. Supporting low carbon and resilient economic growth in developing countries will be key in the fight against climate change and critical to delivering the post-2015 agenda.

On finance, developing countries will be looking to build on the initial capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund, having previously called for at least $15 billion by the end of 2014. They will also be seeking further contributions to the Adaptation Fund and the Least Developed Countries Fund to unlock ambition.    Countries will be moving quickly to establish national implementing entities to manage these funds as well as a credible portfolio of investable projects.

The hope…

The positive steps taken by some of the world’s biggest emitters in recent weeks suggests the talks may have turned a corner. But there will also be blockers who see their national interests threatened by the need to further de-couple economic growth and development from greenhouse gas emissions. And much more needs to be done to engage consumers and voters to demand their leaders make the necessary commitments in Paris. Let’s hope the optimism of this year’s COP host is infectious: as Manuel Pulgar Vidal, the Chair of COP20 and Environmental Minister of Peru says “I think that the world knows that we can’t fail like we failed in Copenhagen. I’m completely sure that we are going to have an agreement in Paris by the next year.”



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