Climate talks: developing nations on back foot in Lima

Developed countries seem well-prepared with a plan to end differentiation between developed and developing countries in climate change mitigation efforts

By Chandra Bhushan
Published: Tuesday 09 December 2014

Conference of the Parties (COP) informal consultations on climate finance (Photo courtesy IISD)

As the second week of the 20th climate conference started in Lima, developing countries are fighting to save even the semblance of the 1992 climate treaty—the Kyoto Protocol. There is a sense of despondency at the meeting venue. Last week, developing countries had to fight for two days to get the draft negotiating text on a screen in the conference room so that they could see what changes the co-chairs were making to the text. They also felt that the co-chairs were not including their point of views and suggestions. On Monday morning the co-chairs put out draft negotiation texts which developing nations felt was not reflecting their concerns and suggestions.

Developed countries have come well prepared and with a plan, which if successful, would see the differentiation between the developed and developing countries vanishing once for all.

Their first agenda is to change the annexes. The 1992 treaty contains annexes which has the list of developed countries that are required to reduce their green house gas emissions (called Annex I countries)   and those that are required to provide financial resources and technology to the developing countries (called Annex II countries). Last week, Russia put out a proposal to amend the annexes as it felt that the world is negotiating a “new climate regime”.  It got support from Canada and Australia who felt the annexes are “outdated”. However, China opposed any such move and the proposal of Russia to form a contact group (a formal discussion) was rejected.

North’s mitigation-centric plan

However, if direct way is not working then developed countries have come with an arsenal of indirect positions and proposals to remove the differentiations.

First of all, unlike the past when countries always negotiated all issues—mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology transfer etc—developed countries have come with a single focus agenda of mitigation. They want the Paris treaty in 2015 to be mitigation-centric. They are focused on getting a negotiating text that will discuss mainly what all countries will do on their own to reduce emissions and after 2020. They do not want any discussion on financial support and technologies that developing countries might need to reduce their emissions. This strategy suits developed countries as, irrespective of annexes, all countries will take actions domestically without any promise of finance or technology. This de-facto removes the differentiation.

Pre-2020 commitments missing

Developed countries also do not want to discuss what they will do from now till 2020. Many have not yet ratified the second commitment period of Kyoto Protocol and they flatly refused to set up a contact group to discuss raising their mitigation ambitions from now till 2020. It was disappointing to see how the EU, the self-professed climate evangelists, was justifying the 20 per cent carbon emissions reduction that they will do by 2020 from 1990 levels. They are already below 18 per cent below 1990 levels and most experts believe that the EU can easily meet 30 per cent reduction target by 2020.

The concerns of least developed countries and island countries, that are bearing the brunt and will take major hits from the changing climate in the future are also getting short-changed.

Developed countries do not want to discuss any goal related to adaptation nor do they want to discuss a target for financial support that they will give to these countries. The shocking part is that they want to sell a narrative in which countries (with some concession for the most vulnerable) themselves should be responsible to deal with the impacts of climate change. It seems, now more than ever, they do not want to take any responsibility for causing climate change.

Lima meeting will also be remembered for how little critiques and protest is there of the actions of certain countries. There is no critique of the US-China deal. There is no civil society demonstration against the $9.7 billion that developed countries pledged to give to the developing countries for the next four years as climate finance. The ridiculousness of this number can be gauged by the fact that if $2 were put as a tax on every international flight ticket, it would collect $2.5 billion every year.

What developed countries are doing with climate finance is actually quite disrespectful to the developing countries. $2.5 billion every year is like developing countries are holding a begging bowl. My suggestion to the developing countries would be that they should collect $2.5 billion every year and donate it to the developed countries as climate finance to build resilience in their poor communities.

What developing nations stand to lose 

But my major suggestion would be that developing countries should fight to keep the principles of the convention alive. Difference between the developed and developing countries are important. The principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibility is important. They all are important to get an ambitious and a fair deal.

The world is left with very little carbon space. If equity is gone, then the developed countries would again appropriate the remaining carbon budget disproportionate to what they are entitled to—in fact, if we consider their historical emissions then they are entitled to nothing; they exhausted their carbon budget long back. The remaining carbon space is essential for the sustainable development of the developing countries. From producing food to building houses and low-carbon infrastructure, carbon space will be required for the billions in Africa, Asia and Latin America to get out of poverty. This is a cause worth fighting for.

Global climate risk index 2015

CSE calls for a global climate deal based on equity and fairness

The status of climate finance at COP 20, Lima

IPCC releases the climate change synthesis report 2014

The Emissions gap report 2014

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