Hopes for Lima climate conference unravel

Negotiated text ‘balloons’ out of control with amendments rendering agreement difficult

 The EU commissioner for climate action and energy Miguel Arias Canete holds a press statement on  the Lima climate conference in Brussels.  Photograph: Julien Warnand/PA

The EU commissioner for climate action and energy Miguel Arias Canete holds a press statement on the Lima climate conference in Brussels. Photograph: Julien Warnand/PA


As thousands of people took part in a colourful march through the centre of Lima demanding action to “save Mother Earth”, ministers and delegates from more than 190 countries were struggling to salvage the UN climate conference here. Earlier optimism about a successful conclusion this weekend is unravelling as the text being negotiated has “ballooned” out of control, with more and more amendments tabled by countries and blocs seeking to have their points of view reinforced.

Miguel Arias Canete, the new European climate action and energy commissioner, conceded that “not a single paragraph has been agreed” in a text that had grown to 100 pages or more, making it “very difficult for ministers to reach agreement”.

The former Spanish centre-right agriculture minister told a press briefing that the parties were “very far away” from each other on issues of substance, but he stressed that every European minister in Lima was “working to build bridges” with others.

“It’s so important to reach agreement here, otherwise Paris will be very difficult,” Mr Arias said, referring to next December’s crucial UN summit in the French capital at which a global deal – “with legal effect” – to tackle climate change is scheduled to be concluded.

There is major divergence between the EU and the US on the nature of the Paris agreement. The EU wants it to be “legally binding” on all parties – a treaty in all but name – whereas the US administration knows that this would be a hard sell in Washington.

But the major disputes in Lima are between developed and developing countries, with many of the latter seething over a joint EU-US effort to remove references to poverty eradication and sustainable development from the preamble to the now-lengthy text.

The new commissioner, who has taken charge of Europe’s negotiating team, illustrated how “enormously” the text had grown in just three days by saying that paragraph 11, which had first appeared on the second page, was now on page 52 of the latest draft.

However, while the EU team was working hard to produce a “cleaner” text, Mr Arias conceded that they had yet to meet with India, one of the major players among the developing countries, and it now seems unlikely that such a meeting will take place in Lima.

India has been to the fore in resisting EU demands for a review of the “intended nationally determined contributions” that all countries are expected to make to a climate agreement, while China is also opposed to opening up its efforts to international assessment. US secretary of state John Kerry is flying in to take charge of the US team, while former US vice-president Al Gore has already arrived in Lima.

Leaders of small island states threatened with inundation by rising sea levels made impassioned pleas to delegates at the high-level plenary session, with Tuvalu prime minister Enele Sopoaga saying no country had previously faced such existential threats.

Yesterday’s “March for the Defence of Mother Earth” was organised by a coalition of Peruvian organisations, including trade unions, environmental groups and faith-based activists. It was led by colourfully painted indigenous peoples from all over Latin America.

Former president Mary Robinson, a UN special envoy on climate change, joined the Lima conference president, Peruvian environment minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, in marking International Human Rights Day, saying that climate change was a human rights issue.