OPINION: Developing countries secure some last minute concessions in Lima; but can a deal without ambition really be fair?
The UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in Lima, Peru leaves us wondering if global ambition to tackle climate change will ever be high enough to avoid many of the catastrophic impacts of a changing climate. If the UNFCCC is to deliver this, then 2015 will need to be an exceptionally productive year. CDKN’s Sam Bickersteth, Kiran Sura and Chris Webb report.
The political momentum whipped up by the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit earlier this year, the initial capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund and the announcements on domestic action from the US, China and the EU provided a [very] positive backdrop for global climate talks in Lima this month.
If any reinforcement were needed of the urgency of the climate problem and the moral responsibility of climate negotiators to find a solution, two publications in the run-up to COP20 provided such support. The UNEP Emissions Gap report showed that even with current emissions reductions pledges we are still a way off limiting climate change to 2 degrees Celsius and a World Bank report showed that even if human emissions of greenhouse gases ceased immediately, the world is already locked in to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.
However these initiatives didn’t prove to be enough for Parties to put aside their national positions and forge an outcome that moves us closer to averting dangerous climate change. On the contrary, we got the headlines that we come to expect after UNFCCC COPs: “there is still much work to be done to deliver a fair and ambitious global climate deal.” So what did transpire in Lima? Are there reasons to be hopeful? Or is the stuttering progress of COP20 a sign of things to come when Parties meet their deadline for a new global climate agreement in Paris in December 2015?
The well-managed talks started on a buoyant note, but the two weeks of negotiations in Lima served to remind us that this is inherently a political process, where the mounting [technical] evidence on what needs to be done too often takes a back seat. Parties reverted to their usual negotiating lines. Expectations for a good outcome withered with every additional paragraph added to text on the elements of a 2015 agreement. The low expectations of many Parties and observers have of course broadly been met: the draft agreement text moves the Parties incrementally forward and provides some clarity on what countries need to bring to the table in terms of climate change commitments (according to the Lima text, countries’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions may include, as appropriate, information on timeframes for implementing activities, scope and coverage, planning processes, and methodologies).
For the poorest and most climate vulnerable countries the ‘draft elements‘ text only edged a little closer to reflecting their priorities for a fair deal. It acknowledged that commitments should reflect different national circumstances (i.e. levels of development) and adaptation elements of a deal should be strengthened.
But what is crystal clear is that the final draft text of the Lima accord leaves much uncertain. Countries are free to choose their level of ambition, and an explanation on how they will deliver this action on the ground. Many are therefore left wondering if the recent domestic commitments to tackle climate change that were announced in November by US, China and EU, whilst a huge breakthrough, have now ‘locked-in’ the broad (and relatively low) ambition level for the Paris climate change agreement.
Given that we are already locked in to a 1.5 degree Celsius warmer world, it is clear why developing countries are concerned that it might now be too late for them to avoid the many devastating impacts of climate change.
We have therefore started to hear a number of murmurings on whether the UNFCCC is now simply destined to be a forum to arbitrate a fairer, but unambitious deal. Indeed, can any deal that lacks ambition ultimately be fair for those developing countries that are bearing the brunt of the impacts of a warming world? We feel confident this is not the case and that both a top-down international framework and a bottom-up process of domestic action is required.
How ambitious could we be?
It was apparent during the two weeks that these negotiations remain in splendid isolation of very relevant and related negotiations on matters such as the sustainable development goals and post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction. 2015 will see new agreements for all of these, not just climate change.
The coinciding milestones in the climate and development agendas offer an unprecedented opportunity for many developing countries to promote climate compatible development: to deliver low-carbon and long-term development outcomes that are resilient to the impacts of climate change. [This was the topic of a recent CDKN working paper, The Sustainable Development Goals: Will they deliver climate compatible development for vulnerable countries?].
To raise awareness of this opportunity, CDKN was part of a group of four organisations that gathered hundreds of development leaders and citizens to call for ‘zero poverty, zero emissions, within a generation.’ The lively interactive sessions and high-level panels highlighted three urgent areas for global action:
1. We must coalesce around a few clear calls to action that will move us rapidly towards ‘zero poverty, zero emissions’.
2. We need low-carbon innovation, driven by science that says zero net emissions are inevitably required.
3. We need new partnerships and institutions to rise to the challenge of ‘zero-zero’.
What’s next for 2015?
In the coming year, many developing countries will continue to do all they can to raise their own domestic ambition, as they recognise that a path of climate compatible development could deliver stronger outcomes for their economies, people and environments over the longer term. Indeed if the new concept of ‘net zero emissions’ introduced during negotiations in Lima gains ground, then developed countries will also need to raise their ambition and reflect this in their domestic policies and programmes.
In the eleventh hour, the COP President, Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal skilfully kept negotiations on track and brought them to a positive conclusion. However, the steps taken forward in Lima were disappointing. Unless there is a shift in the political dynamic, it is likely the Paris conference will also fail to meet expectations. The INDCs will be the first test of Parties’ willingness to put substantial action on the table. But current sentiment is that these will likely be insufficient to avert the climate crisis.
Driving ambition through integrating climate action in to economic development and poverty reduction will therefore require a big effort through 2015 to the Paris conference, and beyond.
Image: Lima, Peru; courtesy Martin Garcia, flickr.com