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The Lima Call for Climate Action: Low on ambition, low on finance, low on climate justice, low on action

Early in the morning of 14 December 2014, the COP20 President and Peruvian Minister of the Environment, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, gavelled through a new Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action text, and announced the “Lima call for climate action“. “This is not perfect,” he said, “but it respects the positions of the parties.”

He was right that it is not perfect. In reality the negotiating process bulldozed the positions of the countries most at risk from climate change.

The negotiations saw the split between industrialised countries and the Global South increase to a gaping chasm. Under the 1992 UN climate treaty, rich countries accepted historical responsibility for climate change and agreed to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (even though the reductions were too weak).

Federico Brocchieri, founder and coordinator of the Italian Climate Network’s Youth Section, produced this graphic illustrating who was in favour and who was opposed to the draft ADP text, during the negotiations late on Saturday night in Lima:

We now have a race to the bottom. Countries can set their own targets for emissions reductions, with a new abbreviation: “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions”. The chances of these reductions in emissions coming anywhere near to addressing runaway climate change are approximately zero. The word “intended” gives the game away – these targets are non-binding.

Getting to an agreement in Lima followed the now standard three-stage UN climate negotiations process:

  1. a pathetically weak draft text is released that lots of countries cannot accept;
  2. negotiations hit a deadlock;
  3. a “compromise text” appears at the last minute, which is still pathetically weak but by now negotiators are exhausted and just want to go home.

In the Guardian, John Vidal asks “Is the Lima deal a travesty of global climate justice?“:

We have now reached the point where everyone can see clearly that whatever ambition there once was to respect science and try to hold temperatures to an overall 2C rise has been ditched. We also know that developing countries will not get anything like the money they need to adapt their economies and infrastructure to climate change and that those countries that have been historically responsible for getting the world into its current climate mess will be able to do much what they like.

Samantha Smith, Leader of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative, is also critical of the deal reached in Lima:

Developed country governments couldn’t even manage to explain how they will deliver the long-promised US$100 billion per year in climate finance by 2020. In a move that seemingly dismissed the plight of the most vulnerable countries, they completely removed any meaningful language about ‘loss and damage’.
If they’re in fact serious about preventing climate catastrophe, governments now have to start immediately identifying specific actions to cut emissions and provide finance before 2020.

Some of the best coverage of the Lima negotiations came from Nitin Sethi, writing in the Business Standard. Sethi was the only journalist who reported in detail about the leaked ADP text on the morning of 11 December 2014, which threatened to completely derail the talks. Here’s his summary at the end of the Lima meeting:

The low-on-ambition decision left each country’s ‘red lines’ (meaning, a limit which should not be crossed) intact in two ways. Some fundamental battles – such as those over differentiation between rich and poor countries — were largely postponed, to be fought next year when negotiations for the 2015 agreement are carried out over at least three rounds. In other instances, the carefully crafted legal ambiguity in the document left room for even countries with conflicting and non-negotiable issues to claim their respective interests had been safeguarded at Lima.

As countries congratulated themselves for having reached a conclusion, the gathered civil society and environmental groups — and there were many — with near unanimity called the Lima call to climate action a cop-out. For, it had failed to set the path for next year’s crucial talks towards ambitious climate change action. By the same time next year, all the countries have to agree to a new global climate agreement.

Meanwhile, writing on the New York Times blog, Dot Earth, Andrew Revkin argues that the “soft diplomacy” in Lima was actually a “good thing”:

[I]t has become clear that efforts to set binding hard targets when dealing with greenhouse gases — which remain deeply linked to economic activity — were counterproductive and probably delayed progress, as a number of analysts had warned (read the Hartwell Paper for one such take).
“Soft” diplomacy (read a relevant book chapter here) is reflected in a new system for pledging national climate actions that emerged in last year’s outcome in Warsaw and was refined a bit in Lima this time around: “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions,” or INDCs in United Nations parlance.

In contrast, a group of climate justice NGOs put out this statement:

What we have seen in Lima is another in a series of yearly decisions that weaken international climate rules, failing people and the planet.
The pre-2020 mitigation pledges are unjust and weak and put us on track to breach 2°C of warming by mid-century. The promised increases in pledges didn’t materialise in 2014, nor was there a commitment to urgently revisit, revise, or review them.
Lima prepares us for an agreement in Paris that ignores the needs and rights of impacted people across the world by precluding binding commitments on finance, adaption, loss and damage and technology transfer.

Mary Lou Malig of the Global Forest Coalition argues that to address climate change we need “legally binding cuts – not pledges or contributions – with no carbon markets”:

The urgency of the climate crisis, blatantly ignored by the climate negotiations, is lived daily by social movements, indigenous peoples, and communities all living on the frontlines of climate change. In the streets of Lima, during the COP20, at least 20,000 people marched for Mother Earth, calling for a change in the system, not the climate.
It is the adherence to the capitalist system and the perpetuation of corporate profits after all that drives the climate negotiations – which are promoting false solutions such as REDD (Reduction from Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), Climate Smart Agriculture, and other market based mechanisms to carbon markets to techno-fixes such as geo-engineering, carbon capture and storage, industrial bio-energy and others that do further harm to the planet. One of the most crucial steps to real and deep emission cuts is to leave more than 80 percent of fossil fuels in the ground, but with the corporate capture of the negotiations by the oil and energy industry, there will never be a break from business as usual. The seeming insensitivity of the COPs to very real devastation experienced firsthand by countries like the Philippines, is intentional as governments prioritize big business over affected communities.


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  1. Hi Chris, thanks for good stories all around. I´m a bit curious on the image by Federico though.

    After that decision a couple of key issues happened. 1) Loss & Damage; CBDR language were strengthened. 2) pre-2020 mitigation and assessment of national contributions was weakened. This was a faustian bargain for the most vulnerable countries. It was exactly the position of China, India and Saudi-Arabia.

    While focusing on countries may be unhelpful, the fact is that without China no global deal makes any sense. India, Brazil, Indonesia… almost likewise. This is clear also in Guardian reporting. It´ll be only a few years before the pollution of the South is overtaking that of the North. I´m now worried that some members of the “climate justice” movement with regard to UNFCCC sometimes protect the elites of developing countries from getting exposed.

    I do admit that the worst 2 countries globally currently are Australia and Canada. But countries like Saudi Arabia must also have very little taste for “climate justice” or “climate regulation”. Why is it still considered a developing country in UNFCCC (and climate justice) jargon in discussing the outcome? And why is the “LMDC – Like Minded Developing Country -group” not called out for what it is – a group of third world, world class polluters, where middle and upper class interests are steering and the vulnerable have little if any voice?

    This process also makes me think one should focus even more on challenging free trade from a climate angle. The UNFCCC is blocked and is even making the climate justice alliances have fuzzy vision. What do you make out of this?

  2. @Anders Svensen (#3) – Thanks for this. As I understand it, Frederico’s diagram was based on comments during the negotiations about the draft ADP text (i.e. before the words “Loss and Damage” and “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities” were inserted).

    But you make a valid point. I think we do need to be careful about the developed/developing country split – especially when “climate justice” ends up helping out elites in oil producing countries.

    As this post from Lauren Gifford and Jonas Bruun points out, everyone was talking about climate justice in Lima:

    Even Lord Nicholas Stern, a leading capitalist climate economist, has been speaking the language of climate justice. While we are happy to hear that fat cats now have to open their eyes and ears to “local ownership” and “gender sensitivity,” these words shouldn’t be tossed around the point of meaninglessness.

    I think I should do another post with some more of the reactions to Lima. If anyone has suggestions, please leave them in the comments. Thanks!