Understanding the Lima Outcome

farrukh-headshotFarrukh Zaman is the Policy Officer at WWF-Pakistan, where he is part of the Climate Change team. Farrukh was a Co-PI under a CDKN-START sponsored grant on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in South Asia. At COP20, Farrukh was assisting Pakistan delegation on climate finance and adaptation issues

The general atmosphere leading up to the Lima climate talks was positively favourable. The political momentum created by the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit earlier this year, the initial resource mobilization of the Green Climate Fund, and bilateral agreements between countries like USA and China for greater domestic actions to cut down their GHG emissions made many pundits anticipate an ambitious outcome at COP20 in Lima.

As these positive developments were taking place, the scientific community also issued its warnings to the leaders about the impeding climatic catastrophes if they failed to keep the world below a 2 degrees trajectory; also, urging the negotiators to find an urgent solution to the climate problem in Lima. In this respect, two reports, the UNEP Emissions Gap report and the World Bank Turn Down the Heat report, highlighted how current efforts to limit greenhouse emissions had already fallen short of what the science demanded and why urgent action was needed.

However, these instances failed to inspire negotiators to bring forth an ambitious deal in Lima that would form the basis for a global agreement to be signed in Paris next year. After 33 hours of additional negotiations (almost a norm now at these talks), a deal was finally reached with many important decisions left for countries to pick up next year in Paris, leaving the impression that the prospects of reaching an agreement in Paris would be even more difficult, if not impossible.

On many fronts, decisions at COP20 or the Lima Call to Climate Action, as it is called, failed to meet the expectations of many countries and observers. For example, despite being recognized as a necessary mechanism for the most vulnerable countries to cope with climate related disasters, COP20 could not deliver a successful decision on loss and damage. While the possibility to resume talks on this issue is kept open in the final decision text, however, many see this as backtracking by developed countries on their previous commitments and widening the trust deficit between developed and developing world further. Similarly, despite a successful initial resource mobilization phase of the Green Climate Fund (mobilizing a total of USD 10 billion), countries were unable to agree on a clear strategy on how to scale up climate finance and meet the annual target of mobilizing USD 100 billion by 2020.

Yet, the most disappointing outcome of the Lima talks was perhaps the uncertainty that was reflected in the final decision relating countries’ intended nationally determined contributions or INDCs. In Warsaw, during COP19, all countries agreed to put forward their pledges by March 2015 that would be reviewed by UNFCCC and shape the 2015 agreement. What could have been a robust process to make countries commit to ambitious mitigation targets has now been downgraded to such a low level that whatever countries will put up front next year will be entirely voluntary and may not be ambitious at all. Also, considering that there are only few, if any, rules relating INDCs, it is likely that a diverse range of information will be presented with little common elements. A lack of clarity on the content of INDCs will have implications for their complete implementation and compliance.

Critics called it a “half-baked plan to cut emissions” with many expressing their resentment towards the inability of UNFCCC of producing a fair, ambitious agreement so far. Many even questioned if UNFCCC is the right forum to address climate change issues for it is inherently a political process that has failed to act according to what the science demands. This was apparent in the discussions that happened in a side event on “Building a common resilience approach through 2015 and beyond” organized by Climate & Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) that I took part in. Planned as an informal dialogue between government officials, development practitioners, donors, and UN agencies on resilience in context of climate change, it discussed the possibility of solving climate crisis through parallel UN processes such as the sustainable development goals and post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction.

As another COP comes to end with no major breakthroughs on limiting global climate change, let’s remind ourselves about the impacts climate change continue to pose upon millions of people around the world. In South Asia, for example, climate change is responsible for affecting the lives and livelihoods of communities dependent on ecosystems through increased frequency of natural hazards and disasters. A global agreement on controlling dangerous climate change, therefore, becomes even more important for millions of poor people around the world. And as we enter 2015, when major international agreements on climate change will be finalized, let’s remember that it would require unprecedented global efforts to avert the climate crises through to the Paris conference and beyond.