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A modest victory

Lima Call for Climate Action will stand countries in good stead in Paris.

Written by Lavanya Rajamani |
Updated: December 23, 2014 12:04:04 am
Delegates at the climate change conference in Lima. (Source: AP) Delegates at the climate change conference in Lima. (Source: AP)

The Lima conference was an important stepping stone towards the 2015 Paris climate agreement. As French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told diplomats in Lima, “the best way to ensure success in Paris is to start with success in Lima”. While few would characterise the Lima Call for Climate Action as a resounding success, it takes a few tentative yet significant steps towards Paris and thus represents tangible progress.

First, states arrived, as they were required to, at the elements of the negotiating text for the 2015 agreement. The 38-page “elements text” is littered with options and alternatives, though little of it represents agreed language. Indeed, the only reason states agreed to move forward on the basis of this text was a comforting footnote indicating that the elements reflect “work in progress”. Nevertheless, the text puts in place the broad structure, scope and contours of the Paris agreement. Parties will begin negotiating in earnest on the basis of this text in 2015.

Second, states arrived at a truce, albeit temporary, on the vexing question of differentiation between developed and developing countries in relation to the nature and form of their commitments under the climate regime. Although few believed this issue would be resolved before the last night in Paris, many were keen to ensure that the outcomes in Lima were not loaded either for or against differentiation in the 2015 agreement. Admittedly, in the last few years, there has been an erosion of differentiation in the climate regime.

Indeed, the Durban Platform, which launched the negotiating process towards the 2015 agreement, contains no reference to common but differentiated responsibility, a central organising principle of the climate regime thus far. Developing countries were keen to rehabilitate this principle and in Lima, they recorded modest gains. The principle features in an operational provision of the Lima decision, albeit qualified by the clause “in light of different national circumstances”. This language, drawn from last month’s US-China deal, signals the pivotal role these countries play in climate negotiations. As national circumstances evolve, so will the common but differentiated responsibilities of states. This language accommodates the interests of both the developing world, which wishes to see the 2015 agreement built on common but differentiated responsibilities, and of the developed countries, which favour an evolutionary interpretation of the principle that accounts for the rapid growth in many developing economies since 1992.

Third, the Lima decision provides guidance, albeit not as robust as desired, to states as they prepare to submit their “intended nationally determined contributions” next year. States are required to submit these contributions to the climate regime before the Paris conference. Three key questions were to be resolved at Lima to help states prepare their contributions: the scope of these contributions — whether they will cover mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology and capacity building or only some of these, the information that states would need to provide with these contributions and the assessment process that would apply once contributions are submitted.

No resolution proved possible on the scope of contributions. There were a range of views cutting across north-south lines, with some states insisting that contributions should only cover mitigation and others arguing that mitigation and adaptation should be accorded legal and material parity. Many developing countries, including India, argued that if they were required to submit mitigation contributions, which they had been insulated from so far, there must be a corresponding increase in the provision of technical and financial support. This, in their view, could be best secured by requiring developed countries to submit contributions on finance. Needless to say, this proved difficult to secure. The Lima outcome leaves the scope of contributions to national determination. This implies that states can choose not just which contributions to submit but also whether to submit adaptation contributions in lieu of mitigation ones. This also leaves open the possibility that states could submit contributions that are conditional to the provision of support.

On the information to be submitted, the Lima outcome made a modest start by specifying, albeit in a non-prescriptive manner, the types of information necessary, including on how a state considers its contribution to be “fair and ambitious”. This will facilitate transparency and comparability between different countries’ contributions.

In addition, the EU and many developing countries, including the Africa Group, least developed countries and small island developing states, had argued for a robust ex-ante assessment process to consider whether the contributions of states add up to what is adequate to meet the 2 degree Celsius temperature goal and are equitable in light of the capacities and responsibilities of the country in question. China and India, however, argued against such an assessment process and ultimately held sway. But this does not preclude such a process from being included in the 2015 agreement.

Perhaps the most significant achievement of the Lima decision was a provision requiring each state’s contribution to represent a “progression beyond the current undertaking of that party”. Commonly known as the no-backsliding principle, this provision will ensure both that the regime as a whole is moving towards ever more ambitious and rigorous contributions from parties and that there will be continuing differentiation since developed and developing countries, thanks to Kyoto, are at different starting points. Given the deep and enduring differences that plague climate negotiations, the Lima Call for Climate Action, even with its modest victories and tentative agreements, represents progress, and will stand countries in good stead as the drum roll for Paris begins.

The writer is professor, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

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