Looking back at Lima: COP 20 – Papering Over The Cracks

A casual observer might be forgiven for assuming that the climate change talks in the 20th Conference of Parties (COP 20) in Lima, Peru this month were an unalloyed triumph that leaves us only steps from the full post 2020 climate change agreement slated to be signed at the COP 21 talks in Paris later next year.

Although not exactly misleading, official comment on the COP’s achievements was uniformly upbeat:

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the Minister of the Environment of Peru and the COP President, said:

Lima has given new urgency towards fast tracking adaptation and building resilience across the developing world—not least by strengthening the link to finance and the development of national adaptation plans.

Meanwhile here in Lima, governments have left with a far clearer vision of what the draft Paris agreement will look like as we head into 2015 and the next round of negotiations in Geneva

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said:

Governments arrived in Lima on a wave of positive news and optimism resulting from the climate action announcements of the European Union, China and the United States to the scaling up of pledges for the Green Climate Fund.

They leave Lima on a fresh wave of positivity towards Paris with a range of key decisions agreed and action-agendas launched, including on how to better scale up and finance adaptation, alongside actions on forests and education

In reality, the COP had stared into the abyss before a final 32-hour negotiating session, running overtime, produced the Lima Call for Climate Action.

The Call for Climate Action contains the elements of the new agreement and the ground rules on how all countries can submit contributions to the new agreement during the first quarter of next year.

Intended National Determined Contributions

These Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) will form the foundation for climate action post 2020, when the new agreement is set to come into effect.

The cost of agreement on the Call for Climate Action was a watering down of many of the action points from prescriptive to permissive and the deferral of much of the detailed negotiation on the new agreement until next year.

So, for example, the deadline for submission of INDCs is expressed as an “invitation” to the parties to submit them well in advance of COP 21, “by the first quarter of 2015 by those Parties ready to do so”.

Such triumph as there was, really lies in the fact that the conference kept the show on the road and maintained a measure of momentum toward an agreement in Paris next year.

As we said in our post Climate Change Agreement in Durban – The Politics of Compromise back in December 2011

The value of an international consensus on any topic should never be underestimated. International law rests largely on agreements in the form of treaties and protocols. Consensus proceeds at the pace of the slowest and to the level of the most reluctant.

However, even by international standards, the proposed agreement is soft edged. The grand description given to INDCs of a “top down, bottom up” approach is another way of saying that parties will do what they want, not necessarily what they should.

INDCs also do away with the former distinction between developed and undeveloped countries. The emphasis is now on self-differentiation.

This is understandable in the case of countries such as China and India, which are now among the world’s biggest carbon emitters. China has responded with the US – China Joint Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation reported in our post earlier this month, but India, concerned not to stunt it’s industrial growth, still remains to be persuaded.

However, other less industrialized developing countries have a legitimate objection that this exercise may leave them to shoulder an unfair burden.

Although the US-China Joint Announcement provides significant leadership in the INDC exercise, there is concern that the proposed reduction will be insufficient to keep global warming within a “safe” 2-degree increase. There is also a concern, perhaps one that is peculiar to democratic regimes, that President Obama’s commitment will not be honoured by subsequent administrations.

Multilateral Assessment

Scepticism about the transparency of developed countries’ proposals was addressed in part in Lima by the first ever Multilateral Assessment (MA), implementing the Measurement, Reporting and Verification of emission reductions under the UNFCCC as a result of decisions taken at previous COPs in Cancun, Durban and Doha. Over two days, 17 developed countries with quantified economy-wide emission reduction targets were assessed by other governments or ‘Parties’ to the Convention.


With US, China and EU proposals already on the table, half of all global emissions are already accounted for. Canada has yet to say what it will do, notwithstanding its national statement, delivered in Lima by Canada’s Minister of the Environment, Leona Aglukkaq, reiterating Canada’s commitment to “the development of a fair and effective international agreement that includes meaningful and transparent commitments from all major emitters”. We reported on provincial action in our post dated December 8, 2014: Lima: Ontario, Quebec, BC and California Issue Joint Statement on Climate Change.


Progress was also made in Lima on elevating adaptation onto the same level as the curbing and cutting of curbing greenhouse gas emissions. This will be done through facilitation of National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and extending these arrangements to Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States and Africa.

Financing the response to climate change

Among other developments in Lima, governments made progress on coordinating the delivery of climate finance and of the various existing funds:

  • Further pledges were made to the Green Climate Fund in Lima by the governments of Norway, Australia, Belgium, Peru, Colombia and Austria–the pledges brought the total sum pledged to the Green Climate Fund to close to USD 10.2 billion.
  • In a further boost to the adaptation ambitions of developing countries, Germany made a pledge of 55 million Euros to the Adaptation Fund.
  • China also announced $10 million for South-South cooperation and mentioned they would double it next year.






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