The Lima Languishing

Protest in Lima. Creator: Greens MPs. Creative Commons LizenzvertragThis image is licensed under Creative Commons License.

The COP 20’s “Lima call for climate action” is no wake-up call but a worrisome sign of a feeble multilateral climate process plagued by political deafness and leaving poor and vulnerable communities alone with the impacts of climate change.

It finally ended in the early morning hours of Sunday December 14th. After two long weeks of negotiations delegations at the COP 20 in Lima adopted a very watered down and streamlined final decision on further advancing the Durban platform for a new agreement by 2020, daringly mislabeled the “Lima Call for Climate Action”.  This is an underwhelming outcome, not a success. The Lima climate conference did not deliver even though expectations were low from the start. An unholy alliance of political and corporate elites both in developed and developing countries seems to believe that some meager voluntary pledges – too little too late – are enough to move beyond business-as-usual, but their actions only serve to cement it further. While strengthening the rights of corporations and increasing their role and visibility in the negotiations, the Lima conference did next to nothing to support human rights, particularly gender equality and the rights of indigenous peoples. This is not only in sharp contrast to the realities of climate change impacts on the ground but also to the growing number of ordinary people, social movements and organizations taking the streets from New York to Lima demanding real climate action and most of all: climate justice. Rather than accelerating progress and ambition, the paltry outcome of COP 20 risks putting the UN climate negotiations into slow-motion and inertia on the road to the Paris climate conference next year when governments are expected to sign a new global agreement. The future of international climate politics remains disconcertingly uncertain with the Lima Call for Climate Action resembling nothing more than the  “sound of silence” of (non-)decision-makers.

Pledge and chat

Over two weeks, delegates battled over various text options in the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) to further advance their work and draw out the draft elements of an outcome in Paris to guide further negotiations in 2015. Of all options discussed in the ADP before or at the beginning of the Lima climate talks, the final outcome either deleted some of the more ambitious ones or chose the weakest option representing the lowest common denominator by removing references to strong and ambitious verifiable commitments, equity and fairness in burden-sharing, as well as human rights references. Here’s a quick assessment of the basic expectations and how they turned out in the end:

The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) is a subsidiary body of the UNFCCC that was established at COP 17 in Durban, South Africa, in December 2011. The mandate of the ADP is “to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties”, which is to be completed no later than 2015 in order for it to be adopted at COP 21 in Paris 2015 and to be implemented after 2020 (= ADP workstream I). At the same time, the COP launched a workplan on enhancing mitigation ambition to close the ambition gap (“Gigatonne Gap”) before 2020 (= ADP workstream II). Last year at COP 19 in Warsaw governments decided to put forward their “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) as pledges for the Paris deal. The wording of the INDCs represents a compromise between all major emitters that whatever countries are ready to put forward shall be determined by national circumstances alone and not urgent global emission reduction needs – a clear renunciation of a top-down approach with mandatory and enforceable commitments.

Governments were expected to agree on the scope, format, timeline and review for the national contributions (pledges) that would together constitute the Paris deal. The hope was that these intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) would cover not only mitigation but also adaptation and finance and that they would be both reviewed ex-ante and ex-post to assess the aggregate impact as well as the ambition and fairness of the respective national contributions.

On the scope: The Lima decision now only “invites” parties to communicate their INDCs, “invites all parties to consider communicating their undertakings in adaptation”, and does not mention finance in the INDCs at all. On format: It is completely up to parties what they wish to include in their INDCs and how they wish to report them. Agreeing on a common format on upfront information requirements for INDCs was seen as a key outcome for Lima to ensure comparability of national contributions. We will now end up with a colourful bouquet of INDCs with neither a guarantee that all parties participate nor a clear timeline as to when these contributions need to be on the table. Those “ready to do so” are requested to communicate them in the first quarter of. And finally: There will be no ex-ante assessment of the INDCs, just a synthesis report on the aggregate effect of those INDCs received by the beginning of October only weeks before COP 21 and thus way too late to use it to scale up ambition. This leaves little hope for Paris and sends the unfortunate message and clear sign that the Paris deal will not even be a “pledge and review” but only a “pledge and chat”.

Thank you, Berlin!

Finance, as in previous climate meetings, was considered a linchpin for achieving an ambitious result.  The outcome of Lima proved this analysis – which has become an adage of COP forecasts of success – once again correct.  If it hadn’t been for the first pledging meeting for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) in Berlin in late November, the COP 20 in Lima would not have had anything of significance to report on climate finance. Thank you, Berlin! So, however, developed country governments were able to justify their blockade of the inclusion of any reference to finance in the ADP decision in support of ambitious developing country INDCs with their earlier pledges for the GCF in Berlin. They also deflected calls for a pre-2020 roadmap to establish certainty on scaling up climate finance to the US$ 100 billion per year by 2020. Instead of anchoring verifiable targets for scaling up new, additional and predictable finance commitments over the next few years, the COP decision text on long-term finance makes due with a reiteration of the Cancun decision and the promise of annual in-session workshops and “welcomes with appreciation” the pledges to the GCF.

To put these pledges to the GCF in context: while the aggregate commitments of 29 countries for US$10.2 billion for the new fund over four years are welcome – in Lima, Norway, Australia, Belgium, Peru and Columbia were the latest to pledge – they are but a first crucial step to establish the GCF as the most important multilateral climate fund. And they can only be considered a small initial installment of what needs to be a long-term and scaled-up commitment to be fulfilled by those developed countries which under Annex II of the convention have financing obligations to support the mitigation and adaptation efforts of developing countries. That this is a matter more of political will than of tight purse strings, despite Annex II countries’ lamentations to the contrary, is illustrated by a new Oil Change International report showing that the same Annex II countries continue to support fossil fuel exploration with US$ 26.6 billion per year – almost three times the GCF initial pledges, which are to last for up to four years. Of course, exactly this Annex II obligation to provide scaled-up public climate finance is under attack on the road to Paris. Industrialized countries in Lima urged “all Parties in a position to do so” to pay for the climate action of the poorest countries, while developing countries in the name of equity want to maintain differentiation in finance also for the new agreement post-2020. 

What exactly can be counted as climate finance as well as the respective role for public and private sector climate finance remain unclear, despite the review of climate finance flows that the Standing Committee on Finance provided to the COP.  Unclear is also the future of existing climate funds under the Convention now that the GCF is the new big kid on the block. In Lima, the Kyoto Protocol Adaptation Fund, whose pioneering role in allowing countries direct access to finance was recognized by Parties and which has struggled with a lack of sustained support by developed countries, received a short-term lease on life at the last minute with a EUR 55 million contribution announced by Germany. However, this is far from the predictable funding required to address the identified gigaton and adaptations gaps that can only come from mandatory assessed contributions of Annex II countries. The climate finance discourse in Lima has done nothing to increase their likelihood in a post-2020 climate regime

Lost and damaged
Loss and damage are the adverse effects of climate change that go beyond people’s and ecosystems’ capacities to cope with and adapt to climate change impacts. Loss and damage includes: extreme events (weather-related natural hazards) and slow-onset events (sea-level rise; increasing temperatures; ocean acidification; glacial retreat and related impacts; salinisation; land and forest degradation; loss of biodiversity; desertification). Loss and damage is happening here and now: In 2013, typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) displaced 4 million people, destroyed or damaged 1 million houses, killed at least 6,300 people, and caused approximately US$2 billion in damage in the Philippines. While negotiations were happening in Lima, typhoon Hagupit hit the Philippines; that it ,caused less damage than Haiyan a year ago was only due to one of the biggest peacetime evacuations in history – with the costs carried domestically by the Philippine government.

While the Philippines were experiencing the real effects of typhoon Hagupit –  with a devastating storm hitting the country for the third year in a row during the climate negotiations – the issue of “loss and damage” in the end did not even make it into the ADP decision text in Lima as an action item. The Lima Call for Action only recalls last year’s decision to establish the Warsaw Mechanism for Loss and Damage but does not advance loss and damage as an issue to be dealt with separate from adaptation in the Paris deal nor does it acknowledge the need for additional finance for loss and damage on top of financing required to fill what a new UNEP report termed the “adaptation gap”. In Lima, work on loss and damage was only taken up in the technical realm by a focus on the composition of the Warsaw Mechanism’s Executive Committee and their proposed two-year work plan.

The world has changed dramatically since the signing of the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) in 1992 and it is clear that without equity there will be no deal. Governments in Lima were expected to deal with the issue of differentiation between developed and developing countries. An interesting proposal of voluntary graduation along concentric circles introduced by Brazil was widely discussed, but no decision taken. The Lima text simply reaffirms the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities without providing any insights into how this might be operationalized in the Paris agreement.

And no, delegations in Lima did not agree that the almost 40 pages long Annex to the Lima Call for Climate Action (titled: “elements for a draft negotiating text”) does in fact constitute a draft negotiating text and instead reiterated the need to provide one such draft text before May 2015.

Finally, one must remember that the deal to be signed in Paris will only enter into effect after 2020. This is why the Durban mandate created a second workstream to deal with pre-2020 ambition. There was not only no progress made in that workstream in Lima. The Lima decision actually allows for a lot of problematic technologies and false solutions to be considered as mitigation options as long as they contain “high mitigation potential”. A technology assessment clause or sound environmental and social safeguards would have been a minimum requirement but did not make it into the text.

Some might wonder what ever happened to the ratification of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) that was agreed in Doha. One amendment to the KP that has been strongly contested by Russia, Ukraine and Belarus ever since it was agreed on in Doha effectively prevents the creation of new “hot air.” This is why these three countries, which have plenty of it and would like to carry it over not only into the second commitment period of the KP but also into the post-2020 period, have worked hard and effectively to block any progress on the issue (with these countries blocking entire intersessionals because of that). Without a resolution on the issue of these “zombie credits” there is no guarantee that KP parties will ratify the Doha amendments. Although the EU and Ukraine seem to have found a last minute compromise in Lima, an over-challenged Peruvian COP presidency did not want to reopen that issue in light of all the unresolved issues in the ADP.  Ratification for the second commitment period thus remains uncertain for now. Currently, only 21 Parties have accepted the Doha amendment – among the newest signatories Nauru and Tuvalu, not known for their major emissions -- with 144 required to bring it into force.

Where – and with whom – did they stand in Lima?

Negotiation dynamics and groupings of countries in the climate talks are as complex and sometimes even contradictory as politics in the real world. Here are a few noteworthy observations from Lima:

The group of Like-minded developing countries (LMDCs) that has been growing until Warsaw last year and is known for taking a strong position to keep the “firewall” between developed and developing countries has lost one member known for being outspoken in climate negotiations shortly before Lima: the Philippines. Overall, one can state that the G77 and China as a group are increasingly finding it difficult to come to joint positions on any of the main issues. Especially the group of African states and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) have repeatedly taken matters into their own hand to push issues important for their future, particularly on adaptation, financing and loss &damage. And even the BASIC group (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) is no longer speaking with one voice in the negotiations, although they continue to meet as a group. Politically very interesting and juicy is the fact that Russia, Ukraine and Belarus – despite real geopolitical politics of confrontation - seem to continue to share a common voice and purpose in defending the issue of “hot air” in the Kyoto Protocol. The very constructive role that some Latin American countries played during the Lima negotiations (showing, for example, important leadership by making financial pledges, and offering innovative negotiating options) was in the end not reflected in the final outcome.

From Lima to Paris: System Change, not Climate Change!

2014 was the culmination point of a number of struggles for climate justice around the world. As in Copenhagen (2009), Cochabamba (2010) and Rio+20 (2012), mobilizations have reached this moment as part of a process of collective construction. Climate marches in New York (UN climate summit, September 2014), Isla Margarita (Social PreCOP in Venezuela, November 2014), and especially Lima (COP 20) continue to build a climate justice movement on the road to Paris 2015 and beyond, consisting of mobilization, engagement, accumulated reflections and convergences, and an established common international agenda.

The People's Summit on Climate Change was held in Lima from December 8 to 11, 2014 as an expression of mobilization and as a resistance process to the official UNFCCC agenda. The voices of those exploited, oppressed, and marginalized by an economic and cultural system around the world included peasants’ movements, indigenous peoples, and traditional communities. The massive march of roughly twenty thousand people on December 10th called on governments to respect their peoples and urged them to put forward strong climate commitments and not false solutions in defense of Mother Earth. The Declaration of Lima reflects the convergences created during all these different processes, including the Isla Margarita Declaration and the key messages for COP 20 and the Ministers’ Meeting at the 2014 Social PreCOP.

Important dates for global mobilization on the road to Paris were presented in Lima during the convergence assembly organized by the French COP 21 coalition and their Latin American allies. There will be a collective push to mobilize a change of the development model around the world on the 29th and 30th of May, 2015. On June 13th and 14th in France a preparation meeting for the activities during COP 21 will be held. September 26th will see activities of the “Alternatiba movement” all over France. The 29th of November 2015 – the opening of the Paris climate conference - was selected to be the “Global Day of Action” for COP 21. The end of the official COP 21 negotiations will also see a number of demonstrations in Paris.     

Corporate rights trump human rights

Altogether, things did not look too bad before Lima. The EU agreed on a climate and energy package for 2030. (While not going much beyond business-as-usual and not including binding targets for efficiency and renewable, it did at least provide a target of 40 % emission reductions domestically.) The USA and China signed a bilateral deal - far off their fair shares and off track for 2 °C but nevertheless diplomatically significant. A big UN Summit gathering heads of state and government in New York in September provided a number of new pledges and initiatives by the private sector to scale up climate action. The private sector is giving first signals that it has understood and is ready to deal with the financial risk of a “carbon bubble” (for example: the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund is considering divesting from fossil fuels and the Bank of England will examine the vulnerability that fossil fuel assets could pose to the stability of the financial system). And the Green Climate Fund reached it minimum target of at least 10 billion US dollars at the end of COP 20 in its still ongoing initial resource mobilization round. So - how and why did we end up with such a disaster in Lima?

To begin with, prospects for success in Lima looked more promising than they really were: The EU, US and China targets still put us on a road to a 3,8 °C warmer world, with the latest 5th Assessment Report of the IPCC warning of the imminent dangers of climate change and inaction . However, its recommendations are worrisome and put technofixes again over and above the fundamental changes and reforms needed to stave off catastrophic climate change. It seriously considers an overshoot of the 2°C limit and the creation of “negative emissions” to achieve “net zero emissions” through risky and costly carbon capture and storage (CCS) and by promoting non-existent technologies of geoengineering (such as BECCS = Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage) as a option worth persuing and as excuse to continue business-as-usual.  No wonder that the only people leaving Lima with a smile of contentment were the proponents of CCS in all its multiplying forms.

Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) is the poster child for the new “overshoot approach” of net-zero emissions. BECCS entails planting a huge amount of grass and trees, burning the biomass to generate electricity, capturing the CO2 that is emitted, and pumping it into geological reservoirs underground. BECCS would have enormous development implications, provoking large-scale land grabs, most likely from relatively poor people. This is not some farfetched scenario; rising demand for biofuels has spurred devastating land grabs in developing countries and the loss of livelihoods for millions of the poorest people for many years, leading to serious food security challenges globally. It would take a lot more land to offset a substantial share of CO2 emissions. Indeed, an estimated 218-990 million hectares would have to be converted to switchgrass to sequester one billion tons of carbon using BECCS. That is 14-65 times the amount of land the United States uses to grow corn for ethanol.

One of the main reasons for the lack of progress (or one should rather say regression) at the UNFCCC is the corporate capture of the global climate negotiation process. Many of the initiatives launched or promoted at the New York climate summit in September could maybe be considered “climate-smart” in a narrow sense of reducing emissions in one area. But some most certainly constitute false solutions that will not only worsen climate change but also seriously undermine human rights, overstep planetary boundaries and create social and environmental conflicts. The “Global Alliance on Climate Smart Agriculture” is one such example. The relabeling of industrial scale agriculture with high-inputs (including of fossil-fuel derived fertilizers) in monoculture-planting with GMO (one of the main culprits behind the climate crisis) as “climate-smart” is a drastic example of corporate greenwashing that permeates the negotiations from New York to Lima and beyond. It overshadows the showcases of low-input, low-cost, low-intensity solutions closer to communities and nature that could provide real alternatives for peoples and the planet that were also presented in Lima, often off stage and definitely upstaged by corporate PR and financial-political might

A “carbon metrics” approach to the climate crisis is likely never going to deliver real solutions that work for real people. But they serve the interests of the old industries. The failure of the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) have not stopped governments from wanting to create some nebulous “New Market Mechanism” in the Paris agreement. Feed-in tariffs that have worked in many countries and regions around the world and have created ownership societies with many small clean energy producers are under heavy attack by the fossil fuel lobby. Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) are threatening any meaningful environmental legislation and allowing corporations to sue governments through so called Investor-State Dispute Settlements. Business leaders in Lima even dared to demand more say in the negotiations as “co-parties” instead of mere observers to the climate talks. This, of course, would only serve to formulize what is in many instances already a “fait accompli”.

One cynical result of this corporate capture of international climate politics is a strong push back of any human rights language (for example: gender equality and women’s rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, workers’ rights) in the Lima texts.  Thus, Lima served to strengthen support for corporate rights on the road to Paris at the expense of those of people and the planet.

All of this should not come as a surprise if one takes into account that the coal, oil, gas and cement produced by just 90 entities (The “Carbon Majors”) are responsible for 65 % of global emissions since 1750 and that many of these fossil fuel reserves are owned by state-owned or state-run enterprises. An end of the fossil fuel era would mean an end to these businesses and the end of economic and political power of a few very powerful people. This underlines the fact that the climate crisis goes much deeper than the reduction of emissions and requires a restructuring of our entire economic system as well as a redistribution of power. It also lays blatantly open that a negotiation process looking at emissions reductions targets in isolation from the existing financial, trade and political international governance structures (the short-termism of Wall Street, the enforcement capacity of global trade and investment treaties and agreements and the economic leadership of the G7 and G20 as if climate change did not really matter) and without explicit recognition and protection of human rights is doomed to fail.

The discussion in Lima about a COP decision on gender and climate change illustrates this. Efforts to widen the mandate of the Doha decision seeking balanced participation of men and women in Convention negotiations and the representation of Parties in Convention bodies to reference gender equality as overarching principle met with fierce resistance by Saudi Arabia and lax support by many other countries, despite internationally agreed conventions on gender equality and women’s rights as unalienable human rights. A two-year Lima work programme on promoting gender balance and achieving gender-responsive climate policy agreed to in Lima must fall short in the absence of a clear commitment of Parties under the Convention to human rights. Other negotiation strands, including in the ADP, also failed to include text references to human, women’s and indigenous peoples’ rights successfully in the decision text in Lima and in text elements forming the basis for the Paris negotiations, with only a few countries willing to voice their support and to spend political capital for the integration of human rights language.

What next?

The ADP negotiations are going to reconvene in Geneva in February, again in June in Bonn and likely at least once more before Paris. A fact finding mission of the UNFCCC will explore the offer of Morocco to host COP 22 in 2016 (an option likely to be accepted).

But few people today retain any hope that United Nations conventions like the UNFCCC, the Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) or the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) can avert global warming, the loss of biodiversity and the depletion of arable soil and water. The United Nations are the sum of its members and the members of various plurilateral government clubs (like the G7 or G20 or BRICS) share the position that they are not ready to set limits to the ongoing resource grab. Quite the opposite, in their quest for resource security they are even undermining human rights as well as environmental and social standards that have been agreed in the multilateral UN system.

While multilateralism is in a deep crisis, the pressure for pragmatism in achieving a deal in Paris is high, with ambition kicked to the side and the rule of the lowest common denominator all but assured. Sadly, however, even such a pragmatic deal is far from secured, as the geopolitical and economic background against which negotiations are taking place is becoming ever more complicated: The Ukraine crisis (threatening Europe’s gas supply from Russia), the melting of the Arctic ice (opening access to new fossil resources), the ongoing economic crisis and recession in many parts of the word and the boom in agricultural commodity prices are just a few decisive factors that are reminding governments that “you cannot negotiate uncertainty” – leaving the outcome of Paris open.

Creative Commons Lizenzvertrag This article is licensed under Creative Commons License.


This is yet another dissolute disaster that will be hailed as a success.

I have no illusions as to what will happen, and more importantly not happen, in Paris.

The UNFCCC is a great organisation and Christiana Figueres and others are fully committed to battling Climate Change. But its major role now seems to be in the damage limitation of failure.

Still, this is an excellent summary of COP 20.

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