16 December 2014
The recently concluded UN conference in Lima lays the groundwork for a possible global climate deal in Paris next year, but much essential detail has still to be hammered out.
Shane Tomlinson
Shane Tomlinson
Former Senior Research Fellow, Energy, Environment and Resources


UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres and COP20 President and Peruvian of Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar celebrate the approval of the proposed climate change compromise document in Lima on 14 December 2014. Photo by Getty Images.
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres and COP20 President and Peruvian of Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar celebrate the approval of the proposed climate change compromise document in Lima on 14 December 2014. Photo by Getty Images.


After a marathon final session, negotiators at the international climate conference in Lima have set out a pathway towards a global deal in Paris late next year. But many important issues remain unresolved, and the lack of transparency over countries’ contributions to tackling climate change threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the final outcome.

The Lima Call for Climate Action consists of two key components: a decision on how countries in 2015 will put forward their proposed actions to address climate change (‘intended nationally determined contributions’, in the language of the UN); and an annex of elements that will provide a basis for negotiating the final detail of any agreement at the Paris conference. Agreeing a roadmap and a starting point for next year was the essential task in Lima, and so by this measure the conference was a success.

However, as important as what is contained in the Lima agreement is what is missing. Particularly notable is a lack of transparency over countries’ intended contributions – detail essential for comparing different levels of effort and for understanding how these actions stack up collectively. Some countries tried hard to secure the inclusion of mandatory information requirements, including on reference points, time frames, scope, coverage, assumptions and methodologies for countries’ commitments. But the final version makes such detail optional, potentially allowing unambitious countries to obscure their actions.

Although a mandate has been agreed for UN officials to compile a formal assessment of the aggregate effect of intended nationally determined contributions, this may be undermined by the lack of transparency. If base information isn’t present, it will be difficult to measure how countries’ aggregate actions respond to current climate science, and hence to understand the level of climate risk the world is taking on. Outside agencies such as universities, think-tanks and NGOs will now have the responsibility of trying to interrogate country contributions to try to fill information gaps.

Lima was always going to be a stepping-stone rather than a final negotiation. The big political moves, including the joint US–China climate announcement, EU 2030 targets and $10 billion of contributions to the Green Climate Fund, all happened in the months leading up to the conference. The momentum from these actions positively altered the tone of the negotiations. Although consensus was not easily achieved, the process of compiling the ‘elements’ annex for next year’s negotiation was less fractious than might have been anticipated.

Instead the main tensions surrounded the long-standing issue of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’, which firmly distinguishes between the policies of developed and developing countries; and the subject of loss and damage to potentially compensate vulnerable countries from the inevitable impacts of climate change. References to both issues made it into the final Lima text, following a strong push from many developing countries, especially India. Resolving countries’ remaining disagreements over differentiation will be one of the key diplomatic challenges for next year.

The Lima negotiations demonstrated how increased diplomatic and domestic pressure can shift countries’ positions. Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, was forced to reverse his previous hard-line opposition to contributing to the Green Climate Fund that he voiced during the Australian G20 presidency in November. Pressure from developed and developing countries, including the US and China, along with domestic NGO campaigns, saw Australia come forward with an A$200 million contribution to the Fund in Lima. There were also a number of contributions from developing countries to enhance south–south cooperation, including US$6 million each from Peru and Colombia.

The Peruvian presidency of the negotiations was key to securing a final outcome. Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Minister of State for the Environment in Peru and president of the Lima negotiations, gained wide acclaim for his leadership. Speaking at Chatham House in November, Pulgar-Vidal stated, “Lima wants to be recognized as the place that launched the climate agenda for transformative action.” The elements that will form a basis for negotiations next year contain a number of options that might make this possible, including a long-term implementation goal for net zero emissions.

Diplomatically the US, China and India were active in shaping the final deal. US Secretary of State John Kerry made a personal trip to the talks to reaffirm President Barack Obama’s commitment to global action on climate change. It is clear that a deal in Paris is increasingly seen as an important part of the president’s legacy. China and India were also at the centre of all the key negotiations, especially on differentiation. However, their concerns over sovereignty contributed to the limited level of transparency in the agreement. In contrast, the EU was relatively quiet at this negotiation. Ed Davey, the UK Secretary of State for Climate Change, was active in chairing finance discussions, but on other issues there was a sense that the EU was punching slightly below its weight. A more assertive Europe will be important to negotiations in 2015.

As the climate negotiations enter the final lap, ahead of the Paris conference in late 2015, the opportunity for a transformational deal remains possible. But many significant hurdles remain, and a redoubling of efforts will be necessary if such a deal is to be achieved.

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