The 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, came to a close on December 14, 2014. In the end, delegations from nearly 200 countries set the stage for a new climate agreement—to be struck this time next year in Paris and take effect in 2020—that will apply to all parties to the UNFCCC and will constitute an essential step in the effort to curb global emissions.
In the months before the session, which was held in Lima, Peru, several governments had shown a new resolve to confront climate change. The European Union, China, and the United States, for example, announced targets to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, more than 20 governments made financial pledges to the nascent Green Climate Fund, or GCF, which will invest in projects that shift developing countries toward pathways of low-carbon growth.
The United States came into the session in a particularly credible position, given its recent pledge of $3 billion to the GCF and its commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The high end of this range would put the United States on a path consistent with an 80 percent reduction in emissions by midcentury.
More encouraging news came during the second week of the Lima negotiations, as the initial capitalization of the GCF surpassed $10 billion with new pledges from Australia and Belgium, followed by Peru and Colombia. It is notable that the fund is attracting the support of developing countries, as well as traditional donors such as the United States, Japan, and European countries.
Although familiar areas of contention—such as finance and differentiation between developed and developing countries—complicated the negotiations in their final days, the parties came to a consensus and agreed to a document, called the Lima Call for Climate Action, that paves the way for a sweeping, durable, and ambitious climate agreement to be adopted at the 2015 Conference of the Parties in Paris. Here is a summary of the outcomes and significance of the Lima negotiations.
The Paris agreement will have a strong bottom-up nature: Countries will determine their own targets for climate action rather than negotiating them with other parties to the UNFCCC. However, to ensure that there is sufficient time and information to understand the ambition of the targets and their collective efficacy in avoiding dangerous climate change, parties are expected to submit their intended targets, as well as supplementary clarifying information, well in advance of the Paris meeting. It is expected that major economies will submit their intended targets—called “intended nationally determined contributions,” or INDCs—by the end of the first quarter of 2015.
During the negotiations that took place in Lima, the parties made a number of decisions on the nature of the INDCs and the supplementary information, some of which followed considerable debate and controversy:
Debates over assessment
The European Union and the members of AILAC, a bloc of Latin American and Caribbean countries, argued that there should be a formal review of the INDCs to motivate parties to submit ambitious goals. The United States was also in favor of assessment but took a lighter approach and publicly supported a period of transparency rather than a formal process of evaluation. However, China and India—as well as Malaysia, which spoke on behalf of the bloc of Like-Minded Developing Countries, or LMDCs—were strongly opposed to assessment on the grounds that it would contradict the country-driven nature of the Paris agreement.
Ideally, the final decision would have provided a strong process to review the INDCs. However, given the sharp difference of opinions, the decision reflects a middle ground: Although there will not be formal workshops among parties to discuss their targets, the UNFCCC Secretariat will publish the INDCs and will prepare a report in November 2015 that addresses their collective effect.
Debates over the scope of the INDCs
Another controversy that parties returned to repeatedly in the final hours of the negotiations is the place of adaptation and finance in the INDCs. Many developed parties, such as the United States, the European Union, New Zealand, and Japan argued that the INDCs should focus on the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, while developing blocs such as the Africa Group, the Arab Group, and the LMDCs argued that equal treatment of mitigation, adaptation, and finance in the INDCs was a crucial “red line” that could not be crossed. In particular, they argued that finance from developed countries—beyond the GCF pledges to date—is an essential requirement for developing countries to have the reassurance they need to be able to commit to emissions-reduction targets.
Ultimately, the decision reflects a compromise. Although the INDCs will be mitigation focused—they are considered contributions toward achieving the stabilization of anthropogenic climate change, which is a primary objective of the UNFCCC—parties are invited to discuss adaptation plans in their INDCs.
The Lima decision also encourages developed countries to “provide and mobilize enhanced financial support” for mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries, though it does not require that countries pledge specific amounts of finance—or finance on specific time lines—within their INDCs, which would have been politically unfeasible for many developed countries.
In addition, the Lima decision affirms that the eventual Paris agreement will address mitigation, adaptation, and finance in a balanced way.
One of the primary tasks of the negotiations in Lima was to decide what kinds of supplementary information, known as “upfront information,” would be appropriate to submit in order to ensure transparency of the INDCs. It was decided that appropriate clarifying information would include the time frame; the reference point, such as a base year; the methods for estimating emissions; and an explanation of how the parties see their targets as “fair and ambitious.”
One drawback of the decision made in Lima is that it does not stipulate a common end date for the INDCs, such as 2025, which would make it easier to assess the collective adequacy of the targets and would allow parties to improve their targets earlier.
Debates over differentiation
Another major controversy was over whether developed and developing countries should have differentiated obligations in their INDCs and throughout the Lima text. Todd Stern, the U.S. climate envoy, has argued that a climate regime that requires meaningful emissions reductions from only industrialized countries would be ineffective. The world’s largest emitters now include developing countries such as China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico.
But throughout the negotiations, countries such as Argentina, China, India, Malaysia, and Venezuela and blocs such as the Africa Group, the Arab Group, and the LMDCs argued that the omission of differentiation would undermine the UNFCCC, which separated countries into two categories—Annex I, or developed countries, and non-Annex I, or developing countries—according to their states of development when the UNFCCC was adopted in 1992. “Differentiation,” said the Venezuelan negotiator Claudia Salerno during the negotiations, “needs to be represented in every single paragraph.”
A draft of the Lima decision stated that developed parties and others “in a position to do so” should provide and mobilize support. Mexico, which recently contributed to the GCF, strongly defended this phrase during the negotiations as a “way of opening doors for countries like ours that want to participate.” The United States then noted that the phrase characterizes the current and growing reality that some non-Annex I parties may now have sizable emissions and some financial capacity to contribute to the global effort to limit climate change.
The final Lima text omits this phase—though it does foreshadow a more modern climate regime by recognizing “complementary support by other Parties”—but neither does it present two categories of INDCs. Instead, the subject of differentiation will be taken up in the agreement to be discussed in Paris.
Debates over legal status
The legal status of the Paris agreement and the nationally determined targets was under informal discussion in Lima and will remain under discussion throughout the coming year. It is certain that the agreement will have legal force, though the details will not be decided until the delegates convene in Paris. Many parties, such as the European Union, have supported legally binding mitigation targets to encourage accountability. In contrast, New Zealand has proposed that submitting nationally determined targets should be legally binding but the content of the targets themselves should not. It is worth noting that an agreement with legally binding targets could preclude the participation of some of the parties. In the United States, for example, such an agreement would be considered a treaty and would therefore require ratification by the Senate, which may be unlikely in the current political environment.
Although many of these issues are divisive—and parties were reluctant to compromise on their positions, which pushed the session a day and a half over schedule—the negotiations ended with consensus, compromise, and importantly, a path toward an inclusive and strong international climate agreement in 2015.
A springboard document for the Paris agreement
Another principal task of the negotiations in Lima was to create a document of ideas for the Paris agreement that can be refined into a working draft.
The parties completed this task early in the negotiations. The document, called “Elements for a Draft Negotiating Text,” represents many views and options suggested by the parties, including possible long-term goals such as a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 40 percent to 70 percent below 2010 levels by 2050.
Reconciling these views—many of which involve contentious issues such as differentiation, finance, loss and damage, and adaptation—and creating a text that can achieve consensus in Paris will be a major undertaking for the coming year. But the fact that the parties bridged wide differences of opinion in Lima to pave the way toward a comprehensive, durable, and increasingly ambitious climate agreement indicates that the task may be difficult but not impossible.
Gwynne Taraska is a Senior Policy Advisor working on climate and energy policy for the Center for American Progress. Jesse Vogel is a legal assistant in the energy and infrastructure projects practice of an international law firm and is a former intern at the Center.
Note: Some of the quotes in this column are based on the author’s first-hand observation of the negotiations in Lima.