The long and winding road to Paris

News, 19 December 2014
As the dust settles after the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20), IIED sifts through the events in Lima.
COP20 chair Manuel Pulgar Vidal, centre, was highly praised for his efforts to produce the Lima Call for Climate Action

COP20 chair Manuel Pulgar Vidal, centre, was highly praised for his efforts to produce the Lima Call for Climate Action (Photo: UNclimatechange via Creative Commons)

In the run-up to the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20), held in Lima, Peru in December, there was an air of optimism and a sense that some much-needed momentum was amassing behind the need for climate action.

In September, during the UN Climate Summit in New York, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) set the tone for their continued negotiations. They led the way with some ambitious climate pledges, demonstrating their view that fighting the impacts of climate change is a shared responsibility.

Then in the Bonn negotiations in October, the European Union (EU) agreed to cut emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030. November brought the starkest warning yet from scientists, in the form of the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) on the perils of continuing business as usual. This was swiftly followed by a series of strong financial pledges to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and a confidence-boosting bilateral emissions deal between the world's two biggest polluters: the US and China.

Consequently, the mood as Lima's COP20 began was a good one – full of hope for what could be achieved. But this was set against a global media backdrop where much was made of the idea that Lima was a "COP in waiting" and that all the real work would be done in Paris in 2015. 

Perhaps that idea was the stumbling block to achieving more this year.

Going in to Lima, the LDCs had clear hopes for the outcomes of the negotiations; ratifying the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, working to give the Paris Agreement the strongest legal force possible, and ensuring climate adaptation language – along with clear means of implementation – made it into the Paris Agreement text.

But as time went on, tired negotiators from all countries found themselves working hard to keep alive their initial COP20 hopes, with words such as 'sluggish' being used to describe the progress of the first week. It was felt that there was too much focus on the ways of working, rather than tackling the substantive issues the world requires of its climate change leaders.  

The arrival of the ministers, signalling the start of the high-level section of the COP, momentarily revived flagging spirits. 

There was a watershed moment as Australia announced a financial pledge to the GCF, 24 hours after winning the unenviable title of 'world's worst performing industrial country' on the 2015 Global Climate Change Performance Index.  

But negotiations began to falter and, with just one day to go before the end of the COP, consensus had only been reached on one paragraph of the draft Paris text. Things were going awry.

The highly respected Peruvian chair, environment minister Manuel Pulgar Vidal, was keenly aware that he did not want another Warsaw on his hands, having previously stated to the press in the run-up to COP20 that "the world will not accept another failure".

Perhaps with this in mind, in the early hours of the final day, after witnessing country after country reject the draft Paris text, Vidal took charge of the situation, asking for an extra day to try to turn things around. Working all day and into the night, consulting countries, he produced the Lima Call for Climate Action.

Although there have been reports that the resulting text is too weak, appealing to the lowest common denominator, conversely if it were not for Vidal, there is a chance that there may not have been any agreement at all. In his own words, "it's not perfect, but it includes the positions of [all] the parties". 

The text at least creates a basis for an agreement in Paris next year, inviting all countries to share their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 31 March. After that date, a legally binding international agreement on how to get below the 2°C threshold will be drafted and made available to all countries for comment by May 2015.

According to the IIED team that attended COP20, the fossil fuel-dependent countries were an effective and serious block to making meaningful advances in Lima. 

Additionally, the final text's language around adaptation has been heavily weakened – on this point, the LDCs fought a good fight but ultimately lost, which is a concern moving forwards through the coming negotiation days between now and Paris.

IIED senior fellow and director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) director, Saleemul Huq said: "There is a lot to be fought over between now and Paris. Nothing will really be given up until the last minute, which heavily undermines the whole negotiating process. 

"My concern is that there will be a similar stalemate next year and we really can't afford that. I left Lima with questions around whether the climate negotiations should continue in their current form, yet it is the only global governance forum where there is a seat at the table for the LDCs. Paris 2015 will be the ultimate test for the UNFCCC framework, there is no room for it to fail."

There is also the question of what will happen in the five years between the Paris Agreement being confirmed in 2015, and the point at which it kicks in in 2020. 

A secondary, but still important, issue at Lima, was the ratification of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which would cover that five-year hinterland of climate action. 

However, at the time of going to press, only 22 countries have ratified the Doha Amendment. You could argue that this would not make much of a difference, but at a point in history when countries need to work together, this does represent a loss of trust. And it does need to be resolved. 

There are some positives from Lima, however, not least the resolute actions of the Peruvian chair, who should be acknowledged for his role in rescuing a terrible text that no country was willing to sign up to – albeit for a multitude of differing reasons.

The civil society movement before and throughout COP20 was incredibly positive and actions such as divestment from fossil fuels are gaining traction. 

IIED's Development and Climate days, hosted with our partners Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), focused on the theme of 'Zero Emissions, Zero Poverty'.

Participants at D&C Days inside the solar powered, light-than-air sculpture developed from used plastic bags (Photo: Climate Centre, via Creative Commons)

The D&C Days garnered a huge amount of enthusiasm and goodwill from the many attendees, showing that wider society still very much expects action on climate change: action that is not only swift and proportional to the threat we are facing, but also capable of delivering fairness and social justice.

The warnings from the IPCC are still fresh in people's minds and there is hope that outside of the UN process, we may see more work undertaken; perhaps in the form of bilateral agreements, such as the one made between the US and China, may help further ambitious country plans around cutting emissions. 

The final Lima text does contain reference to 1.5 degree target and the ultimate objective of the convention. IIED hopes this will serve as an important reminder in the face of growing concern that 2 degrees may be unachievable unless much more is achieved between now and Paris 2015.

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