December 14, 2014 / 10:14 AM / 3 years ago

Lima climate talks fall short, making 2015 breakthrough less likely

Delegates talk during a plenary session of the U.N. Climate Change Conference COP 20 in Lima December 13, 2014.Enrique Castro-Mendivil

LIMA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Lack of real progress at a climate conference in Lima that ended in the early hours of Sunday morning harms the chances of reaching a global agreement next year that effectively curbs climate change and deals with its impacts, experts said.

Countries are meant to reach an agreement on how to deal with climate change beyond 2020 at a meeting in Paris at the end of 2015. A deal would impact global energy, transport and development policy for decades to come.

Lima had a straightforward agenda: agree the scope and schedule for the Paris agreement.

But countries split on both big fundamentals and many of the details of a future agreement, and the meeting ended with a far more modest agenda than many had hoped for.

Developing countries fear any agreement that will require them to set ambitious targets to cut carbon emissions, arguing that this is unfair because they should be allowed to develop.

Rich countries, who have produced most of the world’s climate-changing emissions so far, say it is now time for everyone to help.

The final decision in Lima, reached after negotiations overran their two-week schedule by more than 30 hours, watered down an earlier version, deleting any review of country pledges which would have made them more rigorous.

It also deleted a technical review of financial support for developing countries.

Developing countries insisted on an explicit reference to the differences between them and the developed world, shooting down an earlier suggestion that some poorer countries should take on much bigger responsibilities for limiting emissions.

If developing countries agreed to that move – the UN calls it “self-differentiation” – rich nations said they would give more financial help.

“We still live in a world of deep inequalities,” said Jose Antonio Marcondes de Carvalho, lead negotiator for Brazil. “The notion of self-differentiation is tantamount to the annihilation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

Several developing countries did contribute to a new Green Climate Fund, which surpassed $10 billion in Lima, including Mexico, South Korea, Peru and Colombia.

China also said prior to the talks that it would only allow emissions to grow until 2030, then reduce them.

The UN talks have the uphill task of driving consensus not only between developed and developing countries, but also between those most vulnerable to climate change and oil exporters that may lose out from tougher curbs on carbon emissions.

Small island states at risk of being drowned by rising seas insisted in Lima on an explicit reference to catastrophic harm that they cannot adapt to. They want assistance to deal with that, which is called “loss and damage” in UN jargon.

The most ambitious agreement in Paris could, in theory, launch a diplomatic process which regularly increases targets for carbon emission cuts to meet the long-term goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions later this century.

Small parts of the Lima decision pointed towards such an agreement. It committed countries to make new, more ambitious proposals, and required the UN climate secretariat to assess the world’s collective ambition.

Countries in Lima also agreed a very early stage draft negotiating text for a Paris agreement, which included multiple choices for almost every item.

Many observers outside the negotiations expressed frustration with the slow pace of talks. Business and financial leaders said they needed firmer signals from a climate agreement, including long-term emissions targets, to begin to invest billions of dollars in low-carbon projects.

“We’re looking for a regulatory and policy framework to help us,” said Kevin Moss, a corporate social responsibility executive at the British telecommunications firm BT, on the sidelines of the Lima conference.

“This is a growth opportunity. We’re looking for a price on carbon.”

Aid and development organizations similarly said the Lima deal would not effectively help poor nations struggling with worsening climate impacts.

“UN climate talks in Lima have delivered nothing for people in developing countries who are most vulnerable to climate change,” the charity ActionAid said in a statement.

“There is no (adequate) finance to help them adapt to climate impacts, no reference to a mechanism to help them deal with loss and damage, no urgent  emissions cuts to lessen those impacts, and no assurance that developed countries will live up to their obligations,” it said.

Reporting by Gerard Wynn; editing by Laurie Goering

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