COP20 and the path to Paris

Jacqueline Fa’amatuainu, University of Auckland

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Lima over the first two weeks of December continued in the wake of Typhoon Hagiput, which barreled through the Philippines. This progress was necessary to deliver outcomes at Lima that could intensify the conditions necessary to pave the way to reaching an agreement in 2015.

The Lima decision is a significant departure from the traditional international climate regime, in which emissions reductions apply only to a subset of country Parties – the Annex I countries (industrialised nations). The expanded scope of the Lima decision to include all Parties under a common legal framework fulfils the promise made in the 2011 Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP).

COP 20 agreed on two outcomes: the Lima Call for Climate Action and the draft elements for the 2015 agreement. A cursory look at this modest Lima decision leaves many important issues unresolved. The substantive contents of the 2015 agreement will need to be ironed out in Paris. And, all Parties will need to work out what to put forward in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) over the next 12 months towards the new agreement at the climate change summit in Paris. There is less common ground on the contents of the agreement and whether national commitments will be inscribed in the agreement. At this stage in the negotiations, the emissions reduction targets contained in the INDCs to the UNFCCC will need to be submitted by the end of March 2015. There is also an expectation that the draft negotiation text for the 2015 agreement will be prepared before May 2015.

There is, however, residual hope for developing states in general and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in particular. Of undoubtedly greater benefit for developing countries is that both progress towards the implementation of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage and the Lima Call for Climate Action, which hopes to enhance the implementation of climate action, made its way into the Lima outcome. Developed country Parties are also urged to mobilise enhanced financial support to developing countries for mitigation and adaptation actions. Here, the role of the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) must be flexible enough to apply to all Parties. The Lima document acknowledges that the commitments to reaching the ambitious agreement in 2015 will reflect CBDR and different national circumstances. These provisions are an assurance that the international agreement will have legal force.

Governments, particularly members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) deserve great credit for creating a positive environment for the negotiations. The Lima talks showed elements of convergence, and differences in the nature and scope of the undertakings. In this process, I was fortunate to shadow Samoa’s Ambassador to the United Nations, His Excellency Mr Aliioaiga Feturi Elisaia and Ms Anne Rasmussen, Global Environment Facility (GEF) focal point in Samoa, where I was able to assess the development of the Lima Call for Climate Action alongside the draft negotiation text from the negotiation position of the AOSIS (synonymous with Samoa’s position). Their argument that no nation’s survival is negotiable has made considerable progress in terms of priorities in the international climate change agenda. The AOSIS continues to argue for a stricter temperature goal to prevent rising sea levels. The goal of limiting global warming to a mean surface temperature rise of 1.5°C by 2100 is based on the science, which indicates that even a 2°C rise is unacceptable. The campaign for consideration of a 1.5°C pathway has been driven in large part by arguments regarding sovereignty by AOSIS. This has promoted the re-prioritisation of policy interventions to climate change, which changes the focus of carbon accounting towards one that considers the principles of equity, fairness and the challenges faced by island vulnerability. And, although the concept of loss and damage was simply reiterated and not expanded on in the Lima outcome, it holds promise for AOSIS in terms of increased global climate action.

All in all, there were missed opportunities in Lima. More work is required ahead of COP21 in Paris 2015 to cover the distinct political recognition of loss and damage, pre-2020 action and climate finance. Lima provided the framework to start this process.