Headline: The Race against Climate Change – A Commentary on the Climate Conference in Lima

What progress was made at the Climate Conference in Lima? What further steps need to be taken on the way to Paris? Will we succeed in concluding a new climate agreement in a year’s time? How will this agreement be enforced? What about greenhouse gases and other pollutants besides CO2? And how exactly can the IASS contribute to the process? An endless catalogue of questions.

First of all, contrary to the many pessimistic and despondent reports, progress was indeed made in Lima. There is, for example, a working document with elements that could be included in a new climate agreement, the so-called Paris Protocol, which is due to be concluded in December 2015 during the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris.

This document contains quite ambitious proposals. For example, in the section on Loss and Damage, all parties are called upon to develop early warning systems and risk management plans in addition to taking steps to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. In the section on the Development and Transfer of Technology, it is proposed that developed countries provide the finances to overcome barriers presented by intellectual property rights. With regard to capacity building, the document envisages the establishment of an international capacity-building mechanism, which would help developing countries to better plan and implement measures aimed at mitigating and adapting to climate change. Furthermore, the introduction of a common system for monitoring, reporting and testing, which would boost the capacity of developing countries while ensuring the transparency of activities and supporting measures, is on the cards. In order to communicate the commitments of individual states, it is proposed that all parties renew their commitments and contributions every five years.

It is, however, unlikely that these national commitments and contributions can all be contained in a single appendix of the Paris Protocol. Finally, the working document also raises the possibility of establishing a compliance mechanism, which, if we manage to create a body that is not another toothless tiger, could engage in mediation under certain circumstances and even impose sanctions if states repeatedly ignore clauses of the agreement. Moreover, as part of its Workstream 1, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), a subsidiary body of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, is due to submit a text before May 2015, which will form the basis for negotiations on the Paris agreement.

With regard to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the increase of this fund to over USD 10 billion agreed at Lima – thanks not least to the contribution from host country Peru – must be seen as a success. However, a budget agreed by the US House of Representatives during the negotiations in Lima, which blocks the American contribution to the GCF, puts the further development of the fund in jeopardy and also puts a question mark over the plan to begin making decisions on what projects and programmes to be funded by the third GCF meeting of 2015 at the latest.

More could not have been expected from Lima if one considers that it’s sometimes easier to herd cats than to make the international community of states, the 196 parties to the UNFCCC, agree on a single decision text.

Running in parallel to Workstream 1, the ADP’s Workstream 2 shows that we must not bury our head in the sand. As agreed in Lima, this Workstream will continue to examine possibilities of increasing the potential for mitigation in the period from 2015 to 2020, including measures that would bring advantages with regard to climate change adaptation, health and sustainable development. In this context, the parties to the agreement, international organisations and partners organised a number of meetings with technical experts on specific issues over the course of 2014, for example, on non-CO2 greenhouse gases, in order to help the parties to the agreement assess possible courses of action and technologies and plan their implementation in accordance with national development priorities. Here in particular, the IASS is playing a constructive role by presenting and discussing – often together with the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) – its research findings and recommendations for action to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gases, especially SLCPs (short-lived climate-forcing pollutants; further informationen here), for example, at two side events in Lima and as part of the project “A Sustainable Atmosphere for the Kathmandu Valley” (SusKat).

Yet regardless of whether it is carried out within Workstream 1 or Workstream 2, a lot of work remains to be done in the run-up to Paris. Not least, a decision on the form of the 2015 agreement in international law has yet to be made – the inclusion of the agreement as a further protocol to the UNFCC seems likely. It remains to be seen whether some of the ambitious proposals made by IASS researchers[1] will ultimately find their way into the new climate agreement.

In my view, the Lima negotiations did succeed in setting the right course for the ratification of a new climate agreement in a year’s time in Paris. Whether “praise for Paris” will be due in December 2015, is, however, in the lap of the gods.

Photo: Birgit Lode

[1] Lode, B., Dehnen, M. (2013): The Role of Domestic Law in “Agreed Outcome with Legal Force”. Assessing the Indian Interpretation of a Possible Durban Platform Outcome. - Carbon and Climate Law Review, 2013, 4, 252–259. (PDF)

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