Frantic final talks to salvage Lima climate conference

Peruvian environment minister urges climate negotiators not to leave empty-handed

Frantic negotiations to salvage the UN's 20th climate conference are running right up to the wire after an earnest plea to negotiators by its president, Peruvian environment minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, that they must not leave Lima empty-handed.

At a stocktaking session on Thursday night, after it looked as if the talks would fail, he called on all parties to put the conference back on track, saying “please help me . . . please don’t leave me alone” to thunderous applause from delegates and observers.

Mr Pulgar-Vidal’s dramatic plea followed a breakdown in the talks after the “leaking” of a streamlined draft of what the conference co-chairs – Germany’s Artur Runge-Metzger and Trinidad’s Kishan Kumarsingh – envisaged as the outcome of the conference.

The controversial draft appeared briefly on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change website, before being removed – but not quickly enough to avoid capture by some highly dismayed representatives of developing countries.

The seven-page “draft decision” was prepared by the co-chairs and the convention’s secretariat as a default position after the Lima negotiating text had “ballooned out of control”, with so many rival options included in it that agreement would have been impossible.

Suspended

Negotiations were suspended when the widely diverse G77 group of 137 developing countries sought time to consider their position and put forward an alternative, and this led to Mr Pulgar-Vidal asking the co-chairs to come back with a revised draft.

“This is the time to take decisions,” he told the conference. “We want to give a clear and strong message that we want to take this process forward . . . [to the crucial climate conference in Paris next December] We must not leave Lima with empty hands.”

With Britain, Norway, Singapore and South Africa acting as facilitators to overcome deep divisions over what should be included in the draft – notably on the nature of contributions that countries will make to a final agreement – negotiations went into overdrive.

Developed countries want the intended “nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) to cover cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, with no distinction between them and developing countries, and a means of assessing whether these contributions are adequate.

But developing countries want the traditional distinction between rich and poor nations maintained and are also seeking firm commitments from developed countries about what aid they can expect to receive in coming years to help them cope with climate change.

If these key issues cannot be resolved, or at least finessed, "there will be no decision" in Lima, according to Alden Meyer, director of strategy with the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists and a veteran of UN climate negotiations over 20 years.

He said the variety of options included in the revised draft “range from minimalist to good or at least okay” – for example, on reporting requirements for contributions, they could simply be posted on the convention’s website or be subject to peer review.

Mark Kenber, chief executive of the business-oriented Climate Group, complained that "deferring critical decisions to the last minute often leads to a bad outcome" and said Lima "simply cannot conclude without a clear roadmap on what INDCs should look like".

Frank McDonald

Frank McDonald

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

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