Assessing the Lima Outcome

By Rishikesh Ram Bhandary - 07 January 2015

Rishikesh Ram Bhandary examines the latest round of climate negotiations that took place in Lima, Peru and identifies key issues for the talks ahead of the deadline for a new global agreement on climate change in Paris in December 2015.

The Lima climate talks held from 1-12 December 2014 formed a crucial step towards the new global agreement to address climate change. After two weeks of negotiations, the Lima conference produced two main outcomes (“Lima Call for Climate Action”). First, countries agreed on the information requirements for the pledges that they are expected to announce before the Paris talks in December. These pledges, or intended nationally determined contributions as they are formally called (INDCs), can now include mitigation of greenhouse gases and actions taken to adapt to the impacts of climate change as well. Second, they agreed to carry forward a draft negotiating text that they discussed in Lima. As this text was attached as an annex to the decision, it now carries a little more legal weight than its previous incarnation as a text prepared by the co-chairs of the negotiating track. While the contours of the text will continue to shift as parties negotiate throughout the year, there is now a basis to move forward. Based on an analysis of the negotiations in Lima, this article discusses three key issues that are likely to be sticking points as parties move forward towards Paris: the balance and nature of commitments between developed and developing countries (“differentiation”), a process to assess pledges made (“review”) and the resources to undertake climate action (“finance”).


The annexes of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which carried over to the Kyoto Protocol, have been a major, if not the bone of contention. These annexes are so controversial because they form the basis of the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol’s commitments- both in terms of taking on economy-wide mitigation targets and in the responsibility to provide financial and technological assistance to developing countries. As the annexes represent an articulation of the principle of the common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), a few major developing countries have argued that the annexes should remain untouched given the historical responsibility of the industrialized world for a majority of the emissions and a long legacy of unfulfilled promises. Many parties, including a number of developing countries, counter this point of view saying that the binary differentiation between countries formalized in 1992 does not make much sense in 2014 given how different the distribution of emissions is.

The Durban mandate, which forms the basis of the negotiations leading to Paris, has used the phrase “applicable to all” to describe the 2015 agreement. Major developing countries have argued back that the Kyoto Protocol was also “applicable” to them but that did not mean uniform responsibility for everyone. While the debate surrounding how differentiation will enter into the final agreement will continue, what is evident from the Lima decision is the extent to which the language (and, therefore, the understanding) surrounding common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities is continuing to evolve.

First, the Lima outcome only calls for an agreement in Paris that ‘reflects’ CBDR. This is a far weaker form than ‘in accordance with’ or ‘guided by.’ The phrase itself (common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities) has found a new qualifier: “in light of different national circumstances.” The source of this phrase, and perhaps, a good example of how bilateral deals can directly affect multilateral negotiations, was the US-China joint announcement on climate change. As mentioned above, the bases of differentiation as implied in the original conception of CBDR are historical responsibility and differences in capabilities- it is not based on a national determination of what is appropriate. This emphasis on ‘national circumstances’ further underscores the direction of the bottom-up process by emphasizing ‘self-differentiation’ and modifies the interpretation that underscores historical responsibility and the capacity to address climate change.

Furthermore, paragraph 9 of the Lima outcome calls for INDCs to achieve the “objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2.” There is no mention of the Convention’s principles (notably, CBDR) or that the actions of parties will be in accordance with Article 4 – the article that lays out differentiated commitments for developed and developing countries. This turn of language reinforces the position of the United States that we need to re-evaluate whether the principles are serving the ultimate objective of the Convention. In effect, this is what the Lima decision does. By sweeping away the mediating effect of UNFCCC principles (Article 3) and commitments (Article 4), it paves the way for a fully bottom-up, self-differentiated world of action on climate change.


What happens after countries submit their INDCs? Lima was expected to provide some clarity on this question. The Lima decision asks parties submit their INDCs to the UN climate convention’s Secretariat. The Secretariat is then asked to issue a synthesis paper outlining the aggregate effect of all of these ‘contributions.’ Now, there are several caveats to this. First, the Warsaw mandate from 2013, reinforced in the Lima outcome, invites all parties “ready to do so” to submit INDCs by the first quarter of 2015. Therefore, it is not clear how many parties will eventually end up communicating their INDCs by the timeline indicated in the decision- the synthesis report will incorporate submissions received up to October 1 2015. Second, the task of the Secretariat is likely to be highly complicated as the parties could not agree on common upfront information. Instead, information that parties submit in their INDCs “may include, as appropriate, inter alia” a whole host of things. Third, and most importantly, how will the aggregate effect identified in this synthesis report be assessed? This is also not clear. While the likely suspect would be to assess pledges on the basis of the goal of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the Secretariat does not have the mandate to do so. The net effect of all of this means that there is no basis nor a mandate to ask parties to revise up their pledges to close the emissions gap that is mentioned in the preambular portion of the text.

A glimmer of hope that remains, however, is that the elements of the draft negotiating text (that the parties agreed to include in the annex of this decision), does have language on achieving decarbonization (paragraph 3 of the Elements for a draft negotiating text). The challenge, therefore, is to make sure that the language survives and that a strong link is built between INDCs and the global goal even if this means that the INDCs don’t become final commitments in Paris.


Reflecting the wider debate on differentiation between developed and developing parties, the issue of who will finance climate action in developing countries proved to be controversial. The positive mood created by pledges to the Green Climate Fund breaching USD 10 billion was short-lived. After all, the 10 billion forms a part of a commitment made in Copenhagen to reach 100 billion a year by 2020 and there is still little clarity on how we will reach the 100 billion level. For the Paris agreement, negotiations on post-2020 commitments are critical and the Lima decision does not guarantee that resources will be available to developing countries to implement their INDCs. While there was an attempt to ask developed countries to “consider” from 2019 annual quantitative contributions to support climate action in developing countries, the language did not survive. The text currently emphasizes actions that parties can take on their own. What is worrying is that the draft text for Paris (Section G) is silent on new sources of finance and only repeats the well-known positions of developing countries asking for public transfers on the one hand and developed countries insisting on better ‘enabling environments’ and utilization of a variety of public and private sources, on the other. How can collective ambition be increased with new sources of finance is a key question for parties this year.

Further, the shifting language around CBDR also made its way into finance. Though the Lima decision asks developed countries to “provide and mobilize” financial support, there were attempts to add “parties in a position to do so” and “parties willing to do so” to the formulation. As these additional phrases arguably introduce responsibilities to new set of countries and violate the spirit of CBDR, developing countries pushed back. China, notably, has not contributed to the Green Climate Fund. Instead, it has opted to launch its own “South-South” fund that will receive around 80 million dollars over a number of years. China is probably avoiding a precedent by contributing to a UN-led fund- something that could have implications for other UN funds, not to mention the pressure that it would bring to other major developing countries to contribute.


As the negotiations went into overtime, the Like Minded Developing Countries, a coalition of higher income developing countries, famous for taking a hard line position on differentiation between developed and developing countries, suggested holding off on a decision until parties reconvened in Geneva in February for an intersessional meeting. Bringing the meeting back from the brink, the BASIC group (Brazil, China, India and South Africa) –Brazil and South Africa are not members of the LMDCs- displayed greater flexibility and asked for a few changes in the draft decision but pressed forward. While BASIC were able to bridge developed countries and the LMDCs, Lima did shine light on the tension between strict differentiation and a pure bottom-up process.

What is getting evidently clear is that if an effective bottom-up architecture is to be set up, developed countries will have to swallow some form of differentiation. For example, in Lima, mostly as a consequence of not tackling differentiation head-on, we saw a collapse into the lowest common denominator on information requirements surrounding the INDCs. Furthermore, the polarized debate also meant that any metric to assess the adequacy or fairness of pledges and support also fell off the table. While the door is still open for parties to negotiate on this issue over next year, it will be increasingly difficult as the issue will get interwoven with the larger agreement under negotiation. Parties need to move away from such perverse outcomes. Brazil’s proposal of ‘concentric differentiation’ that foresees all parties converging towards economy-wide targets, albeit at different rates, is a proposal that needs to be taken seriously.

Similarly, self-differentiation does not entail an adjustment of pledges based a multilateral understanding of what equity or a fair share of effort is. Rather, in its current form, it’s solely in accordance with ‘national circumstances.’ By pushing for such a form of self-differentiation, countries have made it easy to equate self-differentiation with equity and perhaps unwittingly have further encouraged a slide into a lowest common denominator setting that could compromise basic institutional and legal requirements for a well functioning international climate treaty.

Furthermore, the debate in the lead up to Paris will revolve around the elements of the new agreement, their legal force, and the depth of commitments. For an inclusive and universal agreement in Paris, countries will need to take all elements seriously. There is growing convergence to address adaptation but it has to go further. Without concrete provisions on finance, and a serious effort to address loss and damage due to climate impacts, the new agreement will not obtain the buy-in of a large section of developing countries. In essence, this means broadening outreach to greater number of countries to make sure that their issues are taken seriously.

Lima has left a vacuum that needs to be rapidly filled by academia, researchers, and civil society before the Paris talks next year. It will be up to these actors, whether at the national or international levels, to push for ‘clarity, transparency, and understanding’ of the pledges made, greater collective ambition, and support to reduce the impacts of climate change. A universal agreement will neither be durable nor ambitious if it doesn’t address the concerns of all countries.


Rishikesh Ram Bhandary is a PhD candidate the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a junior research fellow at the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy. He tweets @rishirbhandary.

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