Climate Change: Africa bites the dust in Lima
In the very early hours of Sunday morning, as cloying mists drenched Lima’s military base, where the climate convention was convened, a gavel came down and confirmed to the world that there could be no hope for our children to grow up into an even vaguely secure future.
Our governments have sold us out
It was a lethargic Sunday morning, as negotiators and observers, tripping from one discussion to another, exhausted after 36, 48, 60 hours of no sleep, two weeks of late nights and intense arguments, and practically living in a temporary convention centre with barely time to eat, finally, simply, could not fight anymore.
“We are screwed”, said one negotiator coming out of the closing plenary where the text was accepted. “Our governments have sold us out”, said an observer in near tears.
Overall, there was a sense of defeat and disbelief that the Lima conference, the last hope for setting the stage for a meaningful new climate agreement, had produced so little.
The Lima text is mitigation centric, weak on finance, makes adaptation optional, excludes loss and damage from the commitments, and does not include an ex ante review.
Not only does it have a low ambition on mitigation commitments prior to 2020, an unresolved technical issue in the Kyoto Protocol means that ratification of the second commitment period is likely to be pushed on a year.
Most significantly, with the use of a very particular comma, the text changes the climate convention’s presentation of equity and fairness by in effect making the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility and Respective Capabilities subject to assessment in the case of some countries.
In short, all of the issues that Africa was fighting for, were ignored.
Africa fought hard throughout the process, with clarity, and intelligence, and strength. It did not accept options for whittling down its requirements from the new agreement. It did not bend to pressure. Although it made room for compromises and shifts, it never budged from its red line.
Africa’s stance was supported to different extents by other negotiating blocks, notably the Like Minded Developing Countries and the Association of Small Island States.
And perhaps Africa’s strength was recognised in the incomprehensible exclusion of the Africa Group from consultations on a particular version of the text. On Friday night, the Group suspended negotiations on finding out that others had been consulted on this text for some hours, without their knowledge.
A plenary was held to resolve the matter and Africa was subsequently consulted.
But if Lima was meant to be an exercise in building trust, this delay in consulting the Group could not have helped.
The final Lima text was drafted by the climate negotiations president after consultations with countries.
This was on the request of many parties after a previous text proposed by the co-chairs was rejected by many.
The final text was not significantly different from that of the co-chairs, but included some key issues that had been left out.
However, the language is weak overall, and there is room to simply avoid action. The Lima text is four pages long, and includes as an annex the elements for the 2015 agreement.
A supposedly accidentally leaked text, had already lowered expectations as progression from one text to another over the course of the week weakened in vigour.
Prior to the co-chair’s text, the text in negotiation was running to 50 pages and full of indecisions and options. It was clearly necessary to reduce it to its fundamentals, and to resolve key matters.
But in the end, what was interpreted to be the lowest common denominator was merely an accession to avoiding action, an exercise in achieving the weakest possible outcomes.
“There is still room to fight everything [next year], but it advanced mitigation”, said a negotiator, referring to the mitigation centric approach.
Mitigation is considered a priority, but in balance with adaptation, finance, technology transfer, capacity building, loss and damage and transparency. But even with the focus on mitigation, the conference did not produce high enough ambition on emissions reductions.
Although African countries are willing and have made commitments to reducing emissions, for Africa and others, adaptation is where the focus needs to be now.
Commitments on both adaptation and mitigation have to be contingent on financial support from developed countries, not only because of their historical responsibility for climate change, but also because of the difference in capacity to address climate change in the different countries.
Commitments and failure
Without adequate finance commitments, developing countries could end up in a situation where they are forced to make commitments to reduce emissions, without receiving the resources they need.
Without adequate finance commitments, adaptation may not be possible to the extent that is necessary, and the impacts of climate change will be many times worse, and many times more costly.
Without adequate finance commitments, there is limited possibility for the technology transfer and capacity building that will support adaptation and mitigation.
Lima was where the stage was set for a failure in Paris. If there is an agreement, the world’s governments consider that there is no failure. If that agreement leads to a 6ºC world, our children are not likely to think that our generation did not fail.
Nonetheless, it was Lima where our generation, did not commit to ambitious action on climate change.
But even before Lima, there was Warsaw where there was a solidification of the approach that allows for countries to, to a certain extent, make some commitments if they feel like it as long as they don’t absolutely have to do anything.
Before Warsaw, there were other moments in time when the right decisions were not made, when the climate negotiations entrenched further exploitation of the poor, when the gulf between the worlds widened.
And it is this longer term strategy that seems to be set to defeat Africa, this dance between seduction and brutal conquest that leaves this continent always scrabbling for space to grow.
Is there a rescue for the world? And in that question begins the next cycle of optimism and strategising to win back some space for the defeated.