After dressing down, countries finally get to work

COP president tells participants they have not come just to enjoy the city, must ‘take decisions’

Written by Amitabh Sinha | Lima | Updated: December 13, 2014 6:12:36 am
Activists wear masks of world leaders during a demonstration demanding cuts in global emission at the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima on Friday. Activists wear masks of world leaders during a demonstration demanding cuts in global emission at the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima on Friday.

With just a few hours remaining in the climate talks to come to a close, countries finally got down to negotiating a simple and short text that will determine what and how each country would list as its “contribution” in the fight against climate change.

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A seven-page draft decision text with three options each on the contentious issues was prepared and circulated to the countries late on Thursday night following a deadlock through most of the second week of the talks when countries stuck to their well-stated positions and kept on adding additional options in the earlier draft text that went on to become too unwieldy and large, running into over 50 pages.

The negotiators received a dressing down from the head of this round of climate talks, Conference of Parties, of COP, as it is called, on Thursday evening after he was told that no progress had been made in the negotiations throughout the day. COP President, Manuel Pulgar Vidal, host country Peru’s Minister of State for Environment, lashed out at the negotiators saying they had not just come to enjoy the city and must ensure that they do not go back empty-handed from Peru.

“This is the time to take decisions…we want to give a clear and strong message that we want to take this process forward…you have not come here to just enjoy Lima…we must not accept to leave Lima with empty hands,” Vidal said in an impassioned plea to the negotiators.

Following his intervention, a negotiating text was prepared late at night by the co-chairs of the working group that had been discussing it. Draft texts are generally an outcome of discussions of all the countries in the working group and not presented by the co-chairs but Vidal said he was making an exception and he would take full responsibility for it. The countries sat down on Friday morning to discuss this draft text.

“This text needs significant improvement. The options presented are like a ‘choose your own adventure’ novel. Some could put us on a barely workable path while others may doom us to a dangerous future. Unless the text improves, whatever options negotiators choose over the day will leave many difficult issues unresolved and keep the world headed down to a treacherous road towards extreme warming,” said an Oxfam reaction to the new draft text.

The draft text contains options on what each country’s ‘contributions’ in the fight against climate change should look like. These ‘contributions’, which are supposed to be ‘nationally-determined’ and hence called Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions (INDCs), will form the backbone of the global climate agreement that is expected to be finalized at Paris in 2015 at the next climate conference.

There are serious differences between the countries over what these ‘contributions’ should contain and whether these should be put to an international review. While many countries, especially the developed world, wants only mitigation actions to be put in the INDCs, others, including India, have been arguing that adaptation measures should be counted as ‘contributions’ as well. Important disagreements exist on several other issues related to INDCs and also on the actions that have to be taken by developed countries in reducing greenhouse gas emissions before 2020, the date when the climate agreement currently under negotiation is supposed to come into effect.

Progress on the negotiations has been extremely slow this week and none of the at least five major contentious issues have been resolved. A number of countries expressed their frustration at the painfully slow pace of negotiations which spent a lot of time earlier this week on streamlining the process.

A brief visit of the US Secretary of State John Kerry to the conference on Thursday was expected to force the pace of negotiations but that hardly happened. Kerry made an urgent appeal to the negotiators to reach an agreement that would initiate timely action against climate change.

“I know discussions can be tense and decisions can be difficult. But the fact is we simply don’t have time to sit around going back and forth about whose responsibility it is to act,” he said.

He said future generations would “want to know how we together could possibly have been so blind, so ideological, so dysfunctional and frankly so stubborn that we failed to act on knowledge that was confirmed by so many scientists, in so many studies over such a long period of time”.

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