Reason, compromise prevailed in Lima and saved COP20

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 22 January 2015 (ClimDev-Africa) - Although COP20 began with the same kind of tough talk that has come to characterize all climate talks, it was with an air of satisfaction that, in the end, reason and a sense of compromise prevailed and saved COP20 from collapse. This analysis, shared by a delegate from Ethiopia aptly reflects the atmosphere among African Parties as most of them left Peru after two weeks of UN climate talks. The compromise was largely inspired by a U.S.-China deal on emissions targets which came less than a month prior to the talks.

The final document agreed in Lima took note of the principle in the 1992 U.N. climate change convention that countries have "common but differentiated responsibilities" to tackle climate change. This was a point that African delegations considered essential.  However, the Lima text, which forms the basis of this year’s climate change agreement to be discussed in Paris takes note of the U.S.-China deal, which stipulates that "common but differentiated responsibilities" should be seen "in light of different national circumstances," suggesting countries’ responsibilities change over time as they develop. Experts had predicted even before Lima kicked off that the U.S.-China deal was a precursor for China’s readiness to assume a bigger role in the global response to climate change.

Although China is the world’s biggest carbon emitter, it has always belonged to the group of developing countries in climate negotiations. The fact that for the first time, it had set a fixed target to peak emissions by 2030, sent a positive signal to the US and the rest of the world on the fact that it takes the issue of rising global temperatures seriously. 

One of the issues that dominated the talks was the so-called "Intended Nationally Determined Contributions" or INDCs about whose interpretation African countries had been quite wary. These are contributions to the new legal agreement in Paris, which will form the basis of new legally binding commitments. At one point the issue of INDC almost wrecked the talks, according to some negotiators. In simple terms, what INDC means is that countries decide (on their own) what and how they will have to promise when it comes to tackling climate change in the new agreement.

For Africa, the sticking point on this issue is that, left as initially presented, Annex I countries might just make commitments on how they are going to reduce their emissions, or whether they also make promises related to finance and adaptation.

It would be recalled that in Warsaw last year, countries agreed that these targets had to be on the table by March 2015, but that did not happen. Without formal regulation established in Lima on how these targets will be measured and calculated, it would have become ‘impossible to tell whether what some countries are prepared to do would be enough to stop dangerous levels of climate change’, according to some analysts.

Another negotiation topic which provoked heated debate from African delegations was on loss and damage, or how countries can deal with climate impacts that are so severe that adaptation is no longer possible. It prompted very heated debate both at plenary sessions and in the corridors among negotiators. While Annex I countries insisted that loss and damage should be considered as part of  adaptation, African countries, and indeed all the least developed countries and Small Island Developing States argued for it to be a new part of the Paris Agreement as had been agreed in Warsaw (2013).

Climate finance, a perennial sticking point of the climate talks took the centre stage in the Lima negotiations, yet again; precisely because the text proposed for negotiations suggested the setting up of a financial mechanism to deal with the costs of climate change impacts – a point agreed to by developing countries, Africa included. Developed (Annex I) countries challenged it for fear of being forced to pay for costs such as those associated with rising sea levels, droughts and storms.

A delegate from the Gambia, Dr. Sidat Yaffa welcomed the progress made on climate finance in Lima but said he had hoped that the Least Developed Countries would call for the immediate replenishment of the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF), pointing to the fact that LDCF has received less than 1 billion USD to implement National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs), which were meant to respond to Africa’s most urgent and immediate adaptation priorities.

Annex I countries resisted the inclusion of information on the provision of finance in developed countries’ INDCs, because they don't want to be responsible, as it were, for making any meaningful financial commitment under the Convention. It is fair to say, however, that the $9.3 billion contributions made to the Green Climate Fund, just before COP20 brought an air of seriousness to the negotiations.

Agriculture, on which most Africans depend, was not on the agenda items under discussion in Lima. The agreed text on agriculture is that the working group on it would continue to make two Party Submissions and organize two workshops before a possible work programme can be negotiated. These Submissions and Workshops will go on until 2016.

When delegates said that Lima was an important step towards a concrete agreement next year in Paris, it was because at the negotiations at COP21, countries will actually need a text as a basis for negotiations. For most of the first week of the Lima talks, negotiators bickered on a 23-page “non-paper” text proposed by co-chairs. The document shortlisted some elements likely to be included in this year’s Paris deal.

It sparked a lot of animated debates, in part, because representatives from Africa requested inputs into the text to be done on the screen while co-chairs of the session preferred to synthesize all the views expressed by country negotiators into a new version with their secretariat. To avoid an imminent deadlock, the ‘work on the screen’ proposal carried the day. This shortened the debate time on the new document presented to the ministers at the high-level segment. The result is a nebulous document that will be debated on again in May 2015, before the next COP.

In some ways, COP20 was one of the most successful conferences for Africa, many delegates agree, because Africa scored a strategic victory by finally electing a representative to the powerful and restricted caucus of co-chairs, those who set the agenda and table issues for debates at COPs. Algeria will represent Africa in that group. There will also be a representative from Africa among the group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

Issued by the Climate for Development in Africa (ClimDev-Africa)