After Lima: Hopes falter for a system-changing climate deal

Posted on 20 December 2014


As the 20th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP) in Lima draws to a close, hopes for a system-changing deal are dimming fast.
The Lima Summit revolved around “three main pillars” – climate adaptation, mitigation, and loss and damages – that are to form three chapters of a book-length report to be threshed out in Paris (COP21) next year, where a binding climate agreement is to be decided.
On nearly all counts, the Lima outcome amounts to a major step-back on the climate negotiations so far. Even by the dilute standards of the Kyoto Protocol, the draft agreement is unambitious, offers no regulatory framework for what is supposed to be a “binding” climate agreement, and  completes a process  that blurs the distinction between global north and south (Annex I or industrialised and developing countries).  
What has occurred is a shift of responsibility from rich to poor.
A principle that had been at the heart of the negotiations from the very beginning, Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), is being replaced instead of elaborated by “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) – which the global North insists must be voluntary country commitments focused only on mitigation.  While allowing countries to set their own targets, the INDCs as narrowly defined by the champions of the North are detached from all justice or equity considerations, scientific recommendations, or historical responsibility for global carbon emissions.
Despite claims of an easing of north-south tensions, political divisions between developed and developing countries persist. Throughout the two-week-long negotiations, debates revolved around the issues of historic responsibility and climate financing.  
Developed country governments emphasized mitigation as central to the INDCs. There was much ado over the rise of China and India as new players on the table of high-emitters, while the size of their populations or the fact that these countries simply absorb the bulk of high-carbon emitting production offshored from the West continues to be ignored. On the other hand, historic responsibility for carbon emissions was at the core of arguments by developing country delegations, which insisted that the INDCs go beyond mitigation, and enable the transfer of resources from north to south to finance adaptation, technology transfer, and capacity development.
In any case, no mechanisms or guarantees exist to ensure increased levels of ambition on emissions reductions on the part of developed country governments.  Off the table were discussions about compulsory repayments – in the form of loss and damages – to developing countries for economic and social harms due to climate change. And while all parties had agreed on setting a final goal even before the negotiations began, ambiguity still exists over whether the world should aim at preventing a 1.5 or a 2 degree rise in global average temperatures.
The debates took a turn for the worse when one of the leading voices in the official negotiations backtracked on its role as a strong voice for the global south. The Philippine delegation was historically among those at the forefront
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