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UN Climate Talks Go Into Overtime: On the Road to Lima (Part II)

Climate Talks and the UN in Lima

Continuing straight through Friday night and into Saturday, the Warsaw climate talks met the bare minimum of progress to keep parties on track to sign a climate agreement in Paris in 2015 (read all the decisions and a summary). As I wrote previously (here and here), this year’s meeting had to (1) lay out a framework for negotiating the 2015 agreement; (2) deliver on climate assistance by creating clarity on long-term finance and new commitments up to 2015; and (3) establish a mechanism to deal with “loss and damage” from climate change. Warsaw addressed each of these, but the lack of ambition was noted by all parties, setting the stage for a difficult road to Lima where the next round will be held in December 2014.

 COP 19

Still going strong on Saturday evening after 30 hours of negotiation (Credit: Michael Davidson)

2(b) or not 2(b)

The Durban Platform discussions on the 2015 agreement stretched the final day of the conference into a 30-hour marathon. Countries zeroed in on the most contentious aspects of the deal, which relate to the nature of post-2020 commitments and are contained in paragraph 2(b) of the decision text. What would be the requirements of developing countries vs. developed countries (known as differentiation)? What would be the type (e.g., absolute vs. intensity) and scope (economy-wide or sectoral) of the commitments? Unfortunately, not much progress was made on the first, as countries watered down “commitments” to “contributions”. On the second, parties agreed to identify the necessary information by Lima.

Parties also debated when the commitments would be put forward. The European Union and the island states had called for an accelerated timetable for the first “stage” of these commitments, by Lima in 2014, to allow for an assessment and revision of the targets by Paris 2015. The US wanted slightly more time: by the middle of 2015. The final text calls for the first quarter of 2015, “for those parties ready to do so.” This allows some flexibility for the least developed countries, but the BASIC group (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), who had lobbied for a more flexible deadline, will have difficulty in explaining why they can’t be ready by then. As at Copenhagen, this can be a forcing event for the big developing countries. China, for example, will likely announce its 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) targets.

The late-night session was broken up by a number of “huddles” where as many as twenty parties retreated to corners of the room to make textual compromises. These suggestions were cobbled together afterward, and the resulting 2(b) sentence ran a Kerouac-esque 116 words. As one co-chair put it: “We are not trying to win the Nobel Prize for literature.”

 UN Climate talks

A #COP19 #huddle (Credit: Michael Davidson)

Clear progress was made on a particularly contentious issue from Copenhagen between the US and China: how to measure, report and verify emissions reductions. Developed countries had agreed to detailed reporting but there was little guidance on what developing countries should do. Finalized in the 2010 Cancun Agreements, and now implemented in Warsaw, developing countries will produce biennial reports on their commitments and submit to international consultation and analysis, to ensure that steady progress is made toward global goals.

Bare minimum of progress on finance and compensation

Finance had been a precondition for success at Warsaw laid down by developing countries. As I wrote on Friday, countries announced a handful of new commitments in Warsaw, but far short of ensuring continuation of fast-start finance levels, as some had called for. The US and UK also announced the end to overseas coal financing. Warsaw addressed a handful of institutional questions, such as the tricky relationship between the COP and the Green Climate Fund, which has a separate board. However, the long-term work program on finance (designed to scale up to $100 billion annually by 2020) lacked specifics, and the “Warsaw Mechanism” for loss and damage did not go as far as many had hoped. Developing countries will continue to demand much more specificity in Lima.

China flexes its ‘soft power’

Outside the negotiating rooms, several prominent NGOs organized a massive 800-person walk-out. In a surprising twist, that evening, Chinese negotiator Su Wei expressed his solidarity (starts at 24:00) with the protest. This is part of the broadening engagement of China at these talks. China sent 114 delegates to COP19 (compare to the US’s 47), mostly support staff and personnel related to domestic programs. Filling up the rather packed China Pavilion schedule were sessions on everything from China’s carbon trading pilots to south-south cooperation. This increasing engagement and investment of China in the COP process are promising signs for deal-striking over the next two years.

Next Steps in 2014

In September 2014, the UN Secretary-General has called for a special summit of heads of state, CEOs, and NGO leaders to generate further ambition on climate. This takes place outside the UNFCCC process, and actions are not restricted to those that will be recognized in Lima and elsewhere, as long as they address climate. They will have specific commitment criteria – including a follow-up process – an important precedent set by the Rio+20 Earth Summit.

Looking forward to Lima in December, a lot of unanswered questions about the 2015 framework remain: how developing and developed countries’ commitments will be distinguished (if at all); if some developing country action will be conditional on specific kinds of support; and if there will be a process to flexibly move countries out of the ‘developing’ category (breaking down the so-called ‘firewall’). Warsaw made progress in creating the expectation that commitments from all major emitters will be on the table by around March 2015, with time to review before Paris. However, given how little developing countries feel they got out of Warsaw on finance, expect more tough and drawn-out negotiations in Lima. 


Decision Text: Further advancing the Durban Platform

Why UN Climate Talks Are Still Relevant

UN Climate Talks Go Into Overtime (Part I)

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