13 Dec 2014

Climate summit goes into overtime

8:29 pm on 13 December 2014

Talks have continued well past the official close of business on the final day of a key UN climate summit in Peru aimed at advancing a new global treaty.

John Kerry

US Secretary of State John Kerry. Photo: AFP

The negotiators in the capital, Lima, were tasked with preparing a text to serve as the basis for a new compact to be signed in Paris next year.

But long-running divisions between rich and poor continued to hamper progress.

US Secretary of State John Kerry warned that the world is "still on a course leading to tragedy".

He said a deal was "not an option - an urgent necessity".

Negotiators have been meeting in Lima for almost two weeks to prepare the elements of the new treaty, the BBC reported.

'Red lines'

A new text has been produced by the chairman of the talks in an effort to get a decision.

But environmental groups said that it was far too weak and threatened to leave many issues unresolved.

In his speech, Mr Kerry said no country should have a "free pass".

"I know this is difficult for developing nations. We have to remember that today more than half of emissions are coming from developing nations, so it is imperative that they act too."

But this approach was being resisted by a number of countries, including China and many others, who want to adhere to the idea of "common but differentiated responsibilities".

Some countries were suspicious that the text being developed here in Lima was an attempt to get round the concept of differentiation, which is embedded in the 1992 UN framework convention on climate change.

The issue had become critical as the chairs of the talks introduced a new draft text that many felt watered down the original commitment.

A large group of developing nations known as the G77 objected.

Climate Summit

Activists from different organizations demonstrate on the side-lines of the UN COP20 and CMP10 climate change conferences in Lima. Photo: AFP

"This whole exercise is not meant to rewrite the convention, this is a firm basic position of the G77," said Antonio Marcondes, Brazil's representative at the talks.

"We stand behind the differentiation, we stand behind 'common but differentiated responsibilities', these are issues we hold very strong and these are definite red lines."

Another key battle was over the initial commitments that countries are expected to make by the end of March next year.

Rich and poor are still divided over what should be part of this package, known in the jargon of the UN talks as the "intended nationally determined contributions" (INDCs).

Developed countries want to restrict them to carbon cuts. Developing ones want them to include finance for adaptation.

Long night ahead

A further argument is over the idea that there must be some sort of review process before a new deal is signed.

It would essentially be an effort to ratchet up ambition by comparing and contrasting what countries had promised in the run up to Paris.

The idea, called an "ex-ante review", was seen as very important by some, especially the European Union.

But developing countries including India were dead set against it.

They said it was an issue of sovereignty. Outside parties, they argue, should not have the power to review what countries commit to by themselves.

"We favour a transparent presentation of country issues, but we think that an ex-ante review next year would be an unnecessary effort," said Mr Marcondes.

"It would detract from the main goal of reaching Paris with a new agreement."

These divisions are all variants of long-running splits between richer and poorer nations that have existed in the UN talks for 20 years.

The climate debate has often been neutered by the depth of these differences. It had been hoped that the positive signals from the US, China and the European Union before the meeting would help bridge the gaps, but trust is still short on the ground.

Manuel Pulgar

COP20 President and Peruvian Minister of Environment Manuel Pulgar addresses representatives. Photo: AFP

The president of the meeting, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal from Peru, earlier told delegates that they would not "leave Lima with empty hands".

"We can deal with this problem and we can send a strong signal," he said. "Don't leave me alone, we can work together. It won't be me that thanks you, it will be the world."

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