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Learning from Lima: differentiation and equity must be tackled head-on

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Lima climate march

Most observers have acknowledged that the Lima COP produced a lowest common denominator outcome where most of the (already watered-down) content in the earlier drafts was sacrificed in the last-minute scramble for consensus. It missed many opportunities to address key issues ahead of the final negotiation push to Paris in 2015. Less done in Lima means a more challenging agenda for the UN negotiations over the next twelve months.

In the context of unprecedented mobilisation of citizens, labour and faith groups, companies and many other actors around climate action last year, the lack of progress under the UNFCCC represents a missed opportunity to capitalise on this positive momentum.

Although the Lima outcome provided just enough guidance to keep pressure on countries to produce Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) in early 2015, it missed many opportunities to lay the groundwork for a new rules-based regime to be finalised in Paris.

INDC content is voluntary, no substantial progress on finance beyond funding for the GCF, a very weak reference to loss and damage, a grudging reference to the “elements” text, no formal review of INDCs or push to raise their ambition before Paris, and little attention to raising pre-2020 ambition, beyond the TEMS process.

The elephant in the room

Many of the lost opportunities in Lima can be traced to one of the most fundamental and challenging issues at stake in the negotiations – how to differentiate between rich and poor countries and the various shades of grey in between, more than two decades after the UNFCCC was first created.

The 1992 Climate Convention addressed this in a very black and white manner – it listed the countries then considered to be industrialised (OECD countries and the Eastern European bloc of Economies in Transition) in Annex 1 of the UNFCCC and gave them the responsibility for taking the lead in global efforts to reduce their emissions and adopting quantitative emissions targets.

The 2011 Durban Platform signalled a shift from this model in announcing the negotiations for a new legal agreement would be “applicable to all” – unlike the Kyoto Protocol that had binding commitments only for Annex 1 countries.

The elephant in the room in Durban – the question of how to take into account differences between countries and its impact on responsibilities – was kicked down the road to the process for developing the new agreement, which would be “under the Convention”.

Since differentiation is a core principle of the Convention, developing countries were confident it could not be ignored, but despite their deep differences on how to address differentiation, they have found common cause in fighting to keep it recognised somehow in this current round of negotiations.

ADP negotiating process dodged the differentiation issue

Only in Warsaw was the green light given for negotiations to begin in earnest for the new deal, after 2 years of a “contemplation phase”. This would have been time to start a serious discussion of the crucial issue of differentiation – but that is not what happened.

The ADP Co-Chairs continued the “workshop” format, and avoided any real negotiations in the three meetings in 2014 prior to Lima. The Co-Chairs kept tight control over the negotiating texts, and maintained exclusive control over what ideas and proposals made it into the text, rather than acceding to the ongoing requests, especially from many developing countries, that this should be a party-driven process and that the draft text should directly reflect Parties’ proposals.

The Co-Chairs were broadly supported in this strategy by developed countries, while developing countries were increasingly frustrated. The Like-Minded Group were the first to object early on in 2014, but by December, in Lima, almost all developing countries were voicing some degree of dissatisfaction with the process as they felt that their inputs were not being fairly captured in the draft texts being put forward.

Thus, Lima began with a broad developed/developing country division over the negotiating process and the co-chairs’ approach only galvanized a united G77 in opposition to the process being followed.

The issue of differentiation was effectively sidelined by the co-Chairs’ approach. Differentiation was never going to be an easy discussion, with most developed countries seemingly preferring to start from a blank slate where formal legal differentiation is erased, and most developing countries wanting to keep the distinction between developed and developing countries, but not agreeing on differentiation among developing countries.

Differentiation resurfaced in Lima

COP 20 delegates

But rather than starting the difficult process of identifying options, narrowing differences and setting the stage for the trade-offs and political compromises necessary for resolving the impasse, the issue was largely sidelined throughout the year, until it became a make or break issue in the final hours in Lima.

The issue of differentiation, along with loss and damage, came to a head on Saturday morning after the scheduled end of negotiations. The ADP Co-Chairs presented a draft decision with no reference to loss and damage, very limited treatment of finance, a requirement for only mitigation in the INDCs (leaving adaptation and finance optional) and no reference at all to differentiation among countries on mitigation responsibilities.

Most developing countries soundly rejected this text, with differentiation and CBDRRC being one of the key issues, along with loss and damage and adaptation. The Peruvian Presidency was left with the job of picking up the pieces and cobbling together a compromise. Stepping in after the negotiations were already in extra time, they clearly had little room to manoeuvre.

The final compromise involved the insertion of a reference to the Convention principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR&RC)” with the new proviso “in light of different national circumstances” which had previously appeared in the US-China joint announcement a month earlier.

In terms of differentiation, the Lima text reflects reflects a stalemate since the Durban Platform with its “applicable to all” but “under the Convention” language, which at the time was widely proclaimed a breakthrough for ending the binary developed vs. developing distinction.

The new text is just a re-formulation, with no substantial progress towards a new agreement on the roles of countries with different conditions can make a fair contribution under a rules-based multilateral framework.

Looking forward to Paris and beyond

A strong Paris agreement and effective global climate regime requires facing differentiation and CBDRRC head on. Maintaining the pattern sidestepping this discussion may appeal to some countries who want to hit the reset button on the UNFCCC regime and start over from the basis of an entirely voluntary, bottom up with no formal differentiation.

A better option would be to build on and strengthen the current structure of the UNFCCC, to create a more sophisticated structure that reflects the changing capabilities and responsibilities of all countries. Equity and ambition are two sides of the same coin and finding a way to meaningfully and flexibly reflect equity and how to deal with national differences in the new agreement is an essential basis for raising global ambition and ensuring emissions are reduced in line with staying below 1.5 degrees C.

This should be priority number one when parties meet in February in Geneva to resume negotiations.

Mark Lutes is a senior global climate policy advisor for WWF International. He is based in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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