COP20 Climate Change Conference - Deal Reached - A Win for the Developing World?


A deal has finally emerged from the UN Climate Change talks in Lima.  Judging by early responses, the world seems largely underwhelmed.  The agreement failed to build on the optimism of the historic US-China joint agreement, that was palpable in the early days of the talks, and has delivered a text in which all the heavy lifting is yet to be done.  However, as a participant in the gathering, albeit on the fringes, I should note that the emergence of any deal at all is positive; things were looking pretty desperate at various points in the week.

For those of you who want to get into the guts of the agreement, I have annotated a copy of the final COP20 text.

A win for the developing world?

There seems little doubt that the developing nations have secured a better deal than expected.  When I met with EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete at the beginning of the week, he was determined that the focus would be on mitigation (measures to reduce carbon emissions) rather than adaptation (measures to deal with the consequences).  Well, he was wrong.  In the final text, the issue of adaptation and the related issue of compensation for ‘loss and damage’ are up front, in the recitals.  In all previous drafts adaptation appeared only as a voluntary commitment towards Intended Nationally Determined contributions (INDCs)].  This means that come Paris, the issue of financial support for adaptation and compensation for loss will have to be front and foremost.

An ex ‘ex-ante’ review

The EU was determined to secure an independent ‘ex-ante’ review of the carbon reduction targets of each committing state to establish if they were fit for purpose.  Many objected to this, not least India and China, both of whom considered this to be an erosion of their sovereignty.  The text does allow for publication of the commitments, but there is no clause allowing the material to be returned to sender, and no prospect of the commitments being revised in advance of Paris.  This is a significant defeat for the EU.

A new target?

All efforts at Lima have been to hold the increase in global average temperature to below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.  However, for the first time a new figure of 1.5 °C appears in the text, albeit in a non conditional sense.  This target figure first appeared in the  recent Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) from the IPCC.

Firewall intact

US Secretary of State, John Kerry, attended the Lima talks and demanded the UN ‘tear down the firewall’ which separates developing and developed nations, and which he contends prevents the developing world from fulfilling its fair share of the climate change commitments. The Firewall was defined back at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.  Importantly, back in ’92 China was deemed a developing country.

The retention of the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) will give peace of mind to a number of developing nations fearful that they would be dragged into commitments they could not meet.  However, its inclusion will hamper future discussions on differentiation between countries and - potentially - allow some of the world’s major carbon emitters (China, Brazil, Russia for example) to continue to pollute with impunity for years to come.

Other attempts to erode the firewall have also been eliminated.  Clauses which sought action from ‘developed countries and other parties in a position to do so’ have been stripped back to developed countries alone.

The status of the agreement

With a resurgent Republican Congress, the last thing the US wants, is a legal instrument that must gain the assent of its legislature.  The final get fudges this issue, which may well give comfort to the US, but only cold comfort to the EU which had been determined to make progress on the matter.


The final text removes all reference to the March 2015 submission deadline when states were meant to have submitted their declared emission reduction commitments.  The text now states that the commitments need only be submitted by those ‘ready to do so’.

Negotiators arriving in Lima were buoyed by the announcements from China and from the US.  They arrived expectant of a bold and encompassing deal.  It is unlikely that those self same negotiators arriving in Paris will do so with anything like the optimism  they previously held.  However, 12 month is a long time, and much may change. Maybe.