Lima Climate Talks: Failure or Game Changer?

Attendees to the global climate talks in Lima, Peru go about their business during the negotiations.
Attendees to the global climate talks in Lima, Peru go about their business during the recent negotiations.

THE last two weeks of negotiations in Lima have not been dubbed a failure. However, it is widely regarded as not having gone as far as it should have, if a new and substantive international climate change deal is to be successfully brokered in Paris next year.

What has emerged from the talks is a draft decision document characterised by weak language — the adoption process for which has been deemed questionable, given reports there was little or no time given for any objections.

Among other things, the five-page document states that the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change “Decides that the protocol, another legal instrument or agree outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties shall address in a balanced manner, inter alia, mitigation adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, and [sic] capacity building, and transparency of action and support”.

But there is no mention of loss and damage, which developing countries, and particularly small island developing states, including Jamaica and others of the Caribbean, have long lobbied for as a key element of any new agreement — given their vulnerability to extreme weather events.

The document, which is being called the Lima Call for Climate Action, also said the COP: “Underscores its commitment to reaching an ambitious agreement in 2015 that reflects the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances”.

The problem here is that there are no stated ambitions, though the inclusion of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ is a plus.

A group of indigenous people at the recent Lima Climate Talks. (Photo: Petre Williams-Raynor)
A group of indigenous people at the recent Lima Climate Talks. (Photo: Petre Williams-Raynor)

Further, among other things, it “Urges developed country Parties to provide and mobilise enhanced financial support to developing country Parties for ambitious a mitigation and adaptation actions, especially to parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change; and recognises complementary support by other Parties”.

The document goes on, using words like ‘acknowledges’ ‘requests’, ‘reiterates’, ‘invites’, prompting some raised eyebrows from stakeholders, still trying to make sense of precisely what has been achieved toward a Paris agreement.

Still, all is not lost.

Some pundits, while making it clear that the draft decision has not gone far enough, have said that, if nothing else, it has helped to lay the foundation even as the dialogue continues.

“Another year of increasingly extreme and destructive weather and new political momentum were not yet enough to boost the ambition of UN climate talks in Peru. The decisions made in Lima do not foreclose the possibility an agreement in Paris, but do little to improve the odds of success,” said Oxfam, for example, in a release to the media.

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, added: “negotiators have managed to get the boat in the water from Lima’s shores without sinking, but choppy seas are ahead before they reach Paris”.

“This outcome can only be read as a call to action for people around the world. Governments will not deliver the solutions we need unless more people stand up to make our voices heard. We must continue to build a stronger movement to counteract the narrow interests that are preventing action,” she said further in the release.

Calls for climate change to be treated as a human rights issue have been made repeatedly during the recent talks. (File photo/Environment Etc)
Calls for climate change to be treated as a human rights issue have been made repeatedly during the recent talks. (File photo/Environment Etc)

Nicolas Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at London School of Economics and Political Science, was slightly more optimistic in his assessment. But even he admitted that there was some way to go.

“This is an important step towards a new agreement at the climate change summit in Paris in December 2015, but it still leaves a number of important issues to be worked out between countries over the next 12 months,” he said, also in a release to the media.

“There has been a constructive atmosphere in Lima, and the Peruvian Government deserves great credit for creating such a positive environment for the negotiations. The countries of the world are increasingly recognising the urgency of the action required to tackle the immense risks of climate change, but must focus on the big issues of scale of action and of building mutual confidence and support in the months before Paris,” he added.

Still, Stern, also President of the British Academy, said it was essential that countries continue their efforts in order to ensure success next year.

“All countries must continue to engage in a collaborative way with each other to build mutual confidence. Rich countries must accept the responsibilities that are associated with their greater wealth and historical contribution to the rise in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere,” he noted.

“They must help in tackling the effects of climate change that are already with us. And they should also work to create and unlock much greater public and private investments in clean economic growth in the developing countries, and not just re-label overseas aid budgets,” he added.

So were the talks a failure or a game changer?

While perhaps not a failure — depending on ones perspective — it certainly may prove a game changer. This, in so far as it makes clear the level of hard work that countries, and perhaps more so those among them who are especially vulnerable to climate change.

What is more, civil society will have to be mobilised — within the developed and developing world — so that the point can be well made, based on the science, of the necessity of action in the way of a legally binding agreement characterised by significant commitments to the greenhouse gas emission cuts and mobilised financing for adaptation and loss and damage.


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