As the COP20 Climate Change Conference closes, what chance of a deal?


There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story

Frank Herbert


After two weeks of negotiations in the sultry suburbs of Lima, the COP 20 Climate Change gathering is drawing to a close.  Will there be an agreement? Despite the fact that the talks end tomorrow the answer to the question is far from clear.

Each day of the gathering, EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete has briefed the European Parliament delegation.  At the beginning of the week Señor Cañete arrived wreathed in smiles, a veritable Father Christmas; there would be a deal, and it would look very European.  Well that was Monday. As the week progressed, the smile faltered and then it fell.  On Wednesday Cañete was complaining that the negotiating document had ballooned to 52 pages, a near doubling of the text, with not a single paragraph signed off.  He declared he would be working hard to get it slimmed down.  Yesterday a glum Cañete admitted that the text now weighed in at 68 pages.

The Italian Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti leading on behalf of the European Council was equally downbeat.  He resorted to asking the MEPs in the delegation to reach out to their contacts and see if they could encourage agreement.  That’s when I realised things were desperate.  The problem is that every negotiator wants just a little change, a little addition here, a little amendment there.  And there are 190 of them.

The Green Climate Fund is now fully financed at $10 billion.  How the money will be spent and where the money will be spent remain thorny issues.  Simplified, the debate is a standoff between the developing world which wants money for adaptation measures (to deal with the consequences of climate change) and the developed world which want to focus the money on mitigation measures (to stop the problem getting worse).  At the beginning of the week UN chief negotiator Christiana Figueres was of the view that a 50/50 compromise was the most likely outcome.  Since then the EU, the US and others have led the charge toward a greater share for mitigation. Needless to say the developing nations are unchuffed.  As they point out, they didn’t cause the problem - that would be the developed world - but they will have to live with the consequences.

 Also at issue is definition of donor country - the so called ‘firewall’ conundrum.  The globe was divided into donor countries and recipients back in Rio in 1992.  A lot has changed since then, not least the fact that China is now the wealthiest nation in the world, but it stubbornly remains in the recipient category.  Developing nations are reluctant to open up the debate, fearful that they may end up with less money and greater responsibility to meet targets.

There had been a hope - particularly after the historic US-China deal - that countries would begin to outline their climate change targets.  This is looking less and less likely.  There may well be agreement on the nature of the targets, but serious questions remain over how they will be measured and how they will be compared, with a number of developing countries arguing that outside Parties must not be empowered to review individual commitments. Indeed Indian delegates in Lima have argued that it would seriously undermine national sovereignty. Figures will probably emerge from the March 2015 Geneva talks. Probably.  Anyway, they need to be ready for the Paris gathering in December when the final agreement is to be hammered out. The credibility of the UN convention system to facilitate dialogue, cooperation and long-term decision-making depends on it.

 There is a wonderful line from Joyce Grenfell describing the music of Beethoven:

‘Well, that’s the thing about Beethoven, isn’t it?  Just when you think it’s finished, the whole thing starts all over again…’

So it is with the climate change negotiations. There is a lot more talking yet to be done before Paris.