Daunting tasks at UN climate change conference in Lima

Divisions between developing and developed countries over deal on environment

Ministers from dozens of countries, including Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Alex White, arriving in Lima for the final week of UN climate negotiations face the daunting task of bridging wide gaps on the shape and content of a global deal.

These divisions between developed and developing countries resurfaced as the Philippines was hit by another category 5 tropical storm, a year after being devastated by Typhoon Haiyan while the UN’s Warsaw climate conference was under way.

The major stumbling block revolves around Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to next year’s global agreement. Developing countries want these to extend beyond cutting emissions and to include aid to help them to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Their concerns were underlined by the publication of a UN Environment Programme report suggesting that adaptation costs for developing countries “could climb as high as $150 billion [€122 billion] by 2025-2030 and $250-500 billion per year by 2050” – which is double or treble previous estimates.


Focus on mitigation

But the EU, US, Japan and other developed countries insist that INDCs were always envisaged to focus on mitigation (ie cutting emissions) and that other issues such as adaptation, finance and technology transfer should be covered separately in any agreement.

Chief EU negotiator Elina Bardram made it clear, however, that this “doesn’t mean that we are not open to including some processes that would provide our partners with reassurances that these elements are absolutely core to the 2015 agreement” in Paris.

The EU has floated the idea of a “global goal” for adaptation. “We definitely see that gaining traction – particularly as adaptation is a challenge that concerns all countries.

“Europe is also suffering a lot from the adverse effects of climate change,” Ms Bardram said.

Issues in limbo

But Meena Raman, of the Third World Network, feared that the developed world’s focus on mitigation ran the risk of “leaving the rest of the issues in limbo” with linkages to finance, technology transfer and adaptation “orphaned” by such an approach.

“There’s a fight on in Lima for the heart of the climate convention. Is it about all the elements of climate change, including adapting to climate impacts and securing transfers of finance and technology to see these agreements implemented, or is it just a talk-shop?”

Peruvian environment minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who is presiding at the Lima conference, said on the eve of a “stock-taking session” on the current state-of-play that there needed to be “political parity” between mitigation and adaptation in the negotiations.

He expected that the talks would deliver a “Lima draft text” for governments to work on over the next year as well as “upfront information” on what INDCs should contain. “We just have one more week, but . . . I am very optimistic that we can do it,” he said.

One positive development was Norway’s pledge to provide more than $250 million over the next four years for the UN’s Green Climate Fund, which was set up to assist poorer countries. This brings the value of pledges made so far to nearly €10 billion.

Ireland had the dubious distinction of sharing a Climate Action Network (Can) “Fossil of the Day” award last week as one of only four developed countries that have yet to pledge money to the Green Climate fund. The others are Belgium, Austria and Australia.

Can’s advice to the “free-riding ministers” was: “Don’t forget to sign your cheque before you land in Lima.” White, who is attending in place of Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly, has yet to reveal whether he has taken this advice.

Frank McDonald

Frank McDonald

Frank McDonald, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former environment editor