International climate change negotiations concluded in December 2014 in Lima, Peru, at the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP 20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or Convention). At Lima, countries around the world agreed on the substance and procedure to submit their proposed measures to combat climate change for inclusion in a future agreement applicable to all countries. The Parties also commenced work on a draft text to form the basis for the agreement to be decided in Paris in December 2015 and implemented by 2020.
Individual country action at the heart of a future agreement
At Lima, the Parties reached an agreement lacking many mandatory provisions but providing a roadmap and draft for a 2015 agreement. The Lima decision, called the “Lima Call for Climate Action,” contains the outline of a future agreement and represents a significant departure from over 20 years of international climate legal norms.
The Parties agreed for the first time ever to a process whereby nearly every nation in the world would undertake measures to combat climate change. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the new agreement would not require countries to adopt specific emissions-reductions targets for subsequent ratification at home. Instead, each country will promulgate domestic policies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and communicate its intended plans to combat climate change by no later than June 2015. The hope is that Parties can collectively push one another to take ambitious action and, through international pressure, ratchet up weaker proposals. Thus, to a large degree, unilateral action may be the new norm, supplemented by international climate finance, market, and nonmarket mechanisms.
The nature of each country’s proposed contribution
The Lima Call for Climate Action outlines the information each country may submit as part of its proposed measures to combat climate change (i.e., “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” or INDCs). First, it enshrines the principle of “anti-backsliding,” providing that all INDCs “will represent a progression beyond the current undertaking of that Party.” Further, it invites all Parties to communicate their INDCs well in advance of COP 21 (by the first quarter of 2015 for Parties ready to do so).
As to content, the decision envisions that Parties focus their INDCs on mitigation efforts (i.e., GHG reductions), but also invites Parties to consider a component to address adaptation to climate change. In a concession to developing countries, the decision does not specify the minimum information that must be included in all countries’ INDCs. Instead, the decision merely states that the information provided in support of a country’s INDC may include, among other things, a base year for emissions reductions, time frames or periods for implementation, scope and coverage, and assumptions and approaches for measuring GHGs.
A move away from differentiation?
Lima marks a turning point in many respects, steadily shifting international climate obligations under the UNFCCC away from bright-line differences between developed and developing countries. Notably, the Lima Call for Climate Action does not provide for explicit differences in obligations between historically developed (Annex I) and developing (Non-Annex I) parties. This signifies a subtle shift away from a world where climate obligations are divided based on a country’s historical status as an industrialized nation as of 1992. Instead, the Lima Call for Climate Action ultimately lets each country decide its appropriate and most ambitious level of climate action.
These developments and other similar language serve to shift the global responsibility for combatting climate change from the developed world to a shared responsibility for every nation. Although Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) may not be expected to significantly reduce their GHGs or rate of emissions growth, the same can no longer be said for developing countries like China or Brazil. Similarly, the agreement’s legal form and lack of internationally binding commitments through emphasis on intended contributions may broaden participation among all Parties. Thus, instead of requiring ratification of prior agreed-upon targets as under Kyoto, the future agreement will accept a country’s domestic measures as legally satisfactory. For the United States, this means that a 2015 agreement would not necessarily need Senate ratification and thereby empowers an active executive branch.
The draft 2015 agreement
The Lima Call for Climate Action also sets forth the principles to be incorporated into a future agreement and it includes a draft negotiating text for the 2015 agreement. Principally, it provides that a future agreement “shall address in a balanced manner, inter alia, mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity-building, and transparency of action and support.” Unlike the Lima Call for Climate Action, the draft negotiating text leaves open for further negotiation the question of whether and how the new agreement will differentiate between developing and developed countries. Several contentious issues remain unsettled. These include the scope and legal nature of the Parties’ commitments to act, transparency of actions and support, whether to include provisions governing loss and damage associated with climate change, and the operational details of a proposed compliance mechanism.
Climate finance developments
The Parties declined to take more dramatic action to support the increased flow of climate finance to the developing world. Developed countries had pledged to collectively provide $100 billion per year in climate finance by 2020 but have thus far declined an interim target (beyond the annual amount of $30 billion previously agreed upon in 2012) and have generally been slow to ramp up funding approaching such levels.
The Green Climate Fund (GCF), the UNFCCC’s primary mechanism for distributing climate financing to developing countries, became operational in 2014. In the first half of 2015, the GCF has had the authority to commit funds to mitigation and adaptation projects in the developing world. The GCF is thus presenting opportunities for governments (and by extension for private contractors) seeking GCF funding for mitigation and adaptation projects in developing countries.
The Parties met again at negotiations in February and June 2015 to continue their work to develop the negotiating text for the Parties to consider at COP 21 in early December 2015. If all goes as planned, COP 21 in Paris should produce the next legally binding climate change agreement under the Convention.