Lima Climate Talks Daily Update

Nov 20, 2014 - 11:00am

This blog will be updated regularly with Erwin's insights and commentary from Lima. To access other COP20-related materials, visit the project page here.

For media enquiries, please contact Communications Director Kristina Stefanova on or +61 (0)2 8239 6299.

17 December 

Several days on, Lima looks worthwhile

This article first appeared in Climate Spectator on 17 December, 2014. 


Reactions to the outcome of the Lima climate summit have been mixed. The Climate Institute described the outcome as progress. Not perfect but progress nonetheless. Why?

Three things needed to happen in Lima.

Officially, all that governments needed to do in Lima was decide on the upfront information that countries need to include when they announce their post-2020 national targets early next year, and define the scope of draft of the agreement that would form the basis of talks in Paris in November 2015.

Politically, however, Lima also needed to reassure the most vulnerable nations that they will be supported in dealing with climate change impacts. For the Paris outcome to have broad support among the majority of countries this will be important. Adaptation, in particular, therefore needed to be seen to be as important as decisions around emissions reductions targets.

Perhaps much drama in the final hours of the meeting could have been avoided if more outreach from the advanced economies to the Africa Group, small island states and the Least Developed Countries had resulted in a greater confidence that support for coping with inevitable climate change impacts would be forth coming in the post-2020 arrangements. This would have isolated less progressive developing nations and made a stronger outcome more likely.

By and large, however, Lima achieved its mandate, and as a result we now have the broad shape of the Paris agreement. Of course more could have been done, and as always the process is far from perfect, but it is fair to say that the world shuffled a few steps forward on the path to Paris. (See The Climate Institute’s report on possible outcomes for Lima here.)

Some commentators have focused on the paragraph of the draft agreement that says countries ‘may’ provide certain information when announcing targets. In previous versions it was ‘shall’. (Australia supported the latter.) Ideally the stronger language should have been retained; nonetheless it should be seen in the broader context of the evolution of the global climate framework.

Never before has there been an agreement that all significant emitters submit national targets and that they all are judged against the same benchmarks. There is no differentiation here between developed and developing countries. That this was agreed by China, India and Brazil, major emitters that have hitherto been deeply reluctant to accept these requirements, is important progress.

In Durban, countries agreed that a new post-2020 agreement with legal force would be agreed in Paris in 2015 and this would apply to all countries. In Warsaw last year, countries accepted as part of this all countries would advance post-2020 targets. Now in Lima we see an agreement that in the targets they put forward all countries meet certain international standards of transparency. (Note the poorest countries are given leeway across all these measures.)

The other point on the transparency provisions is that they start to normalise certain international standards against which countries’ actions will be judged. In effect the text defines how countries are expected to act if they are going to be a good global citizen. Stepping back from this would impact a country’s credibility. This pressure will be felt regardless of the strength of the direction given in the final agreement.

One final observation: the Paris agreement is not going to save the world. Too often the media, commentators, NGOs and governments load so much weight on to the UN process that they create expectations that can’t be met. This is partly why the Copenhagen summit was so chaotic – it tried to do too much too soon and nearly broke the system as a result. Some of the commentary out of Lima is heading in this direction again.

Yes, the process needs accountability and pressure needs to be put on governments to be ambitious, but the multilateral system by its very nature can only set international standards of conduct that countries are expected to meet.

The UN process can and has facilitated significant emissions reductions around the world, but at the end of the day national governments are the ones accountable. This is why the argument about legally binding targets can be a distraction.

This is not to suggest that the multilateral system does not have an important role. It does – one of the reasons why these negotiations are so hard is that countries take them very seriously. However, it is just one part of the tapestry of action on climate change. The actions that countries are taking at home are in many instances occurring well in advance of the international process to Paris.

So, overall Lima made progress. From its outcome the shape and scope of the Paris agreement can be divined. A difficult year is ahead and success in Paris will depend in part on whether governments, NGOs, the media, businesses and the community focus on what matters in this agreement and, perhaps more importantly, what does not.

14 December - concluding day 

Progress at the Lima climate summit puts the spotlight back on the post 2020 target Australia will develop early next year, and highlights that science and a broader view of Australia’s national interest must be considered, The Climate Institute said as the two-weeks climate summit concluded. 

“Australia will make new post-2020 international climate commitment early next year,” said John Connor, CEO, The Climate Institute. “This will now include an expectation to reference international agreed warming goals, detail how it is 'fair and ambitious', and should take a view of the national interest that extends beyond the views of a narrow set of highly polluting industries.”

“All countries should have done more in Lima, but they have done enough to put a focus on the government’s resolve to consider dangerous climate risks seriously and test if it can look beyond a future where our nation remains dependent on outdated polluting technologies."

Erwin Jackson, Deputy CEO of The Climate Institute who has been in Lima for the talks, said: “Countries have set the standard that when nations announce their new post-2020 emission targets early next year they show the international community how it is a fair contribution to avoiding a 2ºC increase in global temperature."

Australia - along with over 190 countries - recognises the need to limit warming to less than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels (1880s).

The Climate Institute’s analysis of Australia’s fair contribution suggests this would require Australia to reduce emissions by 40 per cent on 2000 levels by 2025. The Climate Change Authority’s past analysis suggests 30-40 per cent emissions reductions over the same time frame.

Using a 2005 baseline, as the government has been recently doing, would see 35-45 per cent emissions reductions from this year by 2025.

Jackson said: “Australia’s contribution to the Green Climate Fund and flexibility on legal form was welcome. However, the posture of the government at the moment appears to seek to minimise the imagined threats to major polluting businesses. This is blocking it from seeking economic opportunities in renewable energy and climate solutions that could maximise it influence in climate negotiations as we head to Paris next year.”

“The negotiations in Lima were stormy, technical and challenging. The outcome is not perfect, but progress was made. Central to this is a need for transparency when countries advance their post-2020 targets as well as an expectation for commitments on efforts to improve climate resilience and support low carbon development in poor nations."

A table of the key outcomes from the Lima climate summit can be downloaded here

13 December 

It has been a theatrical morning with some very serious undertones. After the release of a final draft agreement from the meeting, countries had an opportunity to address any concerns in the open plenary this morning (list of country reactions are below).

There is no doubt that all countries have concerns with the text as proposed. You can understand, for example, why the Least Developed Countries have voiced concerns at the absence of a mechanism to help them cope with unavoidable damage from climate change (called Loss and Damage in UNFCCC speak).

However, some other concerns where clearly posturing. Countries like Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, India and China know that explicit reference to strictly differentiated post-2020 targets is a red line for the USA, EU, Australia, Canada, Japan and other developed countries.

They can afford to posture at this point as the plenary this morning was not the end game. That will occur in the final closing plenary of the meeting later this evening. I suspect these countries are attempting to extract further blood from the stone, and get more of what they are seeking in the negotiations. What happens next is in the hands of the President of the meeting and whether he can hold firm, with strong support from other countries, in the face of any additional hostility this evening.

From the start, we have said this meeting would be difficult. We are now discussing real commitments from all countries and it is inevitable, if not unfortunate, that countries are using Lima to maximise their negotiating position for next year.

Country positions on the text:

  • Outs poken in support of text: Australia, USA, EU, Switzerland, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Russia, Marshall Islands, New Zealand , Japan, Belarus, Cook Islands, Philippines, Belize.
  • With a small amount of work they would be happy with the text:  Tuvalu, Least Developed Countries, Brazil.
  • More surgery required but broadly supportive of moving forward: Mexico, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Bangladesh, South Korea.
  • Outspoken i n rejection of the text: Africa Group, Malaysia, Saudi, Algeria, Congo, India, Paraguay, China, Cuba, Oman, Nicaragua, Venezuela.

11 December (second update)

The role of the Presidency is always critical at climate summits. The chaos at the end of Copenhagen resulted from the Danish presidency failing to build trust in the process across governments. A good example of success was Cancun, where the Mexican presidency delivered a draft decision on the outcome of the meeting to a standing ovation.

Tonight (Lima time), governments had failed to find a path forward on the draft decision from this climate summit.

Key sticking points around the shape of post-2020 contributions remain.

  • Should countries include adaptation and climate finance strategies as part of their contributions next year?
  • How specific is the information required when communicating post-2020 targets?
  • Do countries internationally review the new targets next year or after Paris?
  • Will the draft Paris agreement text being discussed here be the basis of negotiations next year?

These are some of the core political issues that need to be resolved.

To drive the process forward, the Peruvian President has committed to work with the co-chairs who have been guiding this process to produce a new text later tonight. He delivered a strong and powerful speech to governments saying the time to say “I want” is over. It is time to make decisions. He was greeted with strong applause.

How the President and the co-chairs craft this text and the reception it receives will be a key temperature check at this point in the meeting. Let’s hope we get more applause again.

11 December

Differentiation – Crafting a fair but ambitions agreement that applies to all countries

How the commitments that countries undertake are differentiated, if at all, is a core political issue at the Lima climate summit. It will also likely be a flash point in Paris next year.

So what is differentiation?

In the evolving international climate change framework, it can be applied in a number of ways. At its core, however, differentiation seeks to recognise the reality that countries are at different stages of development, and have varying capacities to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. It is also closely related to how the actions that countries take are perceived internationally

For example, most recognise that while both are major emitters, China and India are very different nations. The broad international expectation on China is that it peaks its emissions as soon as possible. For India, it is very different. There is broad acceptance that while India already is, and will need to take further action to reduces its emissions growth, no one is realistically suggesting that India's would peak its emissions on the same time frame as China and other emerging economies like Brazil.

Another example is that advanced economies like Australia, the USA, the EU and Japan are relatively wealthy and have the greatest capacity to reduce emissions. (Equity is also a consideration here as these countries bear the greatest historic contribution to climate change.)

As the Climate Change Authority notes: “Comparing [Australia’s] targets and actions to much poorer countries, including China and India, can be useful for a policy design process or when considering issues of carbon leakage. However, in terms of overall ambition, it would not be fair to expect these countries to take the same action as Australia because they are significantly poorer and have dramatically different capacities to implement policy and respond to climate change.”

The average per capita income of an Australian is nearly four times more than the average in China and nine times more than in India.

The concepts of differentiation with the international framework are evolving
When signed in 1992, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) essentially split countries into two groups – developed and developing. This lead to specific obligations on developed countries to reduce emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.

However, at the Bali meeting in 2009, this static level of differentiation started to be eroded with developing countries agreeing to undertake actions to reduce emissions, albeit in a differentiated way. Developed countries were to set national and quantified targets and while developing countries were to implement nationally appropriate emissions reductions actions.

This led to, in advance of Copenhagen in 2009, all major emitters advancing targets and actions to reduce or limit emissions to 2020. These targets where captured under the UN just after the Cancun meeting in 2010.

The next step was the Durban agreement in 2011 which saw, for the first time, an agreement to negotiate an agreement that would be applicable to all countries from 2020. This was a major breakthrough and overcomes what has historically been a major barrier for the participation of the USA in international climate agreements. It also signaled that major emitting emerging economies recognise that they will need to build on their already substantial domestic actions and play their fair part in global action to reduce emissions.

Note that while differentiation of emissions reductions has been the focal point of this debate, similar dynamics are also playing out in contributions to climate financing. China and Brazil for example, are starting to invest in other developing countries to meet climate finance objectives. Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Mongolia are also contributing to the Green Climate Fund even though they are not considered developed countries under the UNFCCC.

Differentiation in the post-2020 framework
There is no credible scenario where a successful Paris outcome does not include commitments from all major emitters to limit their emissions. All these countries are taking domestic action to reduce emissions, support renewable energy, regulate major emissions source and/or price carbon emissions. For example, China’s actions over the last decade and to 2030 are likely to amount to the single largest policy driven emissions reduction in history.

The USA, China and the EU have already indicated their post 2020-emission goals and these cover over 50 per cent of global emissions.

Therefore, to an extent, public debates around differentiation can be seen as an attempt to distract from the lack of action at home being undertaken by some countries and/or negotiating tactics to maximise leverage in influencing the Paris outcome.

However, resolving some of the legitimate issues around differentiation in the post-2020 framework will be important to an ambitious outcome in Paris. The figure below illustrates how this could be achieved from an emissions reduction perspective (differentiation in adaptation and finance will also need to be addressed).

Note that this figure does not imply that countries will be totally free to self-differentiate, or nationally determine, their contributions. International pressure, regardless of whether if written in the agreement itself, will see advanced developed economies submit absolute national emissions targets for example. Similarly, certain internationally agreed reporting and measure guidelines would expected to be meet even if some countries lack the capacity to fully implement a full national greenhouse inventory at this time.


10 December

This article first appeared in Climate Spectator on 11 December.  


Ministers continue to arrive at the Lima climate summit promoting impromptu press conferences and high level speeches. They are also engaging in bilateral meetings between each other to test key political issues. Delegates remain in closed rooms doing line-by-line negotiations of the draft outcomes from this meeting.

The negotiations are poised, and some clear direction from the Peruvian presidency on the next steps to finalise the outcomes from Lima is likely over the next 12 hours.

A key sticking point remains on how transparent targets will be when they are announced next year. Transparency is important to build trust and to allow a robust assessment by the international community of how we are tracking towards limiting warming to the less than 2 degrees goal.

Many countries, including Australia, want to ensure there is clear upfront information on national targets. This is being resisted by some large emerging economies like China. The US, EU, New Zealand, some small island states and parts of Latin America also want a process to review targets internationally before Paris. Again, this is being resisted by China and it is not clear what the US and others can give China to get this over the line.

Green Climate Fund announcement

The international response to the Foreign Minister’s announcement on the Green Climate Fund at the meeting has been twofold.

The first response is best summed up by Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute think tank, who said: “It is a pleasant, welcome surprise.” (The Climate Institute’s response is here.)

Others have privately called it a “miracle”, but this enthusiasm is tempered by the fact that this money is coming from the existing, already depleted aid budget, when it should be additional to an increased aid budget (the fact that it is through aid program is not an issue, most countries channel their climate finance through overseas development assistance, it is the additionality that is core to credibility). 

There is little doubt that a significant part of this announcement is driven by an attempt to shift Australia out of the diplomatic trenches and put it in a more credible position internationally. It is difficult to defend your own interests, regardless of how you define them, if you have your head down in the mud trying to dodge diplomatic bullets.

The other response is in some respects more interesting. Observers note that the announcement by Australia demonstrates that the pincer of international and domestic pressure can create cracks in what has been a seemingly intractable climate change position from Australia. Countries will be quietly assessing how to create similar dynamics when Australia announces its post-2020 emission target next year.

This leads to the second part of the announcement by the government – the establishment of a Prime Ministerial taskforce to make recommendations on Australia’s post-2020 targets by mid next year. Details are scant and some have commented that this is occurring under the guidance of the Prime Minister. The latter is appropriate, but the lack of details around how this process will occur is troubling.

In particular, there is no reference to scientific inputs into this process and whether it will examine targets that are consistent with the agreed global objective of limiting warming to less than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels (1880s). This is in contrast to the other assessment of post-2020 targets being undertaken by the Climate Change Authority which is to report by June 2015.

This assessment is to consider not only the actions of other countries but also includes references to the undertakings we have made internationally – like contributed to the agreed global goal – and the ultimate objective of the Climate Convention. The latter requires explicit consideration of carbon budgets, or absolute emissions limits to 2050, consistent with avoiding 2 degrees.

9 December


The Australian government $200 million contribution the Green Climate Fund

The Climate Institute welcomes this first step towards fair and proper financial support for poor and vulnerable countries responding to the climate challenge.

The Green Climate Fund is an important mechanism to ensure the world’s poorest countries have the resources to improve their resilience to climate change and decarbonise their economic growth. This can also build resilience and foster a more prosperous and stable region.  

Earlier this week the leaders of Australia's biggest development and climate change groups urged the government to play its fair part in helping developing countries to tackle climate change and contribute the Green Climate Fund.

The total amount is modest and falls short of the $350 million per year that The Climate Institute suggests is the minimum fair contribution to climate financing from Australia. However, the government has an opportunity to demonstrate its total climate finance contribution when it submits its plan to scale up climate finance to the international community early next year.

As part of this process, the Government should outline how this contribution is in addition to the existing activities it is taking though the aid program and other bilateral activities.

** See The Climate Institute's subsequent more detailed press release and opinion article in Climate Spectator.  


8 December

Latest video update: Now is the calm before the storm.


Today the two co-chairs, who are shaping the process to Paris in Lima, released two texts which seek to form the basis for the decisions of the Lima climate summit. The first is the text of the decision that countries will make at the Lima meet itself. The second is the text that captures the elements of the draft agreement for Paris.

Before rushing to read the Paris document, it is important to say that the talks for the rest of the week will focus largely on the draft decision from the Lima meeting. This is where political capital will be expanded.

The core of this text focuses on how much transparency is required of countries when they advance their post-2020 national targets early next year. It also includes decisions on what processes will happen next year to enhance pre-2020 emission reduction ambitions.

If the core of this decision makes it through the process this week, it would be a stronger outcome than many would have expected from Lima.

How Australia will respond to the Lima decision document is unclear. All delegations have their experts poring over the drafts to enable them to come to more formal positions.

Some tricky parts of the draft decision on Lima that will confront the Australian Ministers are:

  • Emission reductions: For countries that can’t put forward a post-2020 emission target by the end of March, the draft text sharpens expectations for them to advance their new targets by June next year at the latest. There is also a process staring in June to internationally review targets before they are attached to the post-2020 framework.  Importantly, the information that countries should put forward includes a requirement that countries justify how their target is “fair and equitable, ambitious and consistent with” the objective of the Convention (currently accepted as limiting warming to less than 2 degrees). The Climate Institute’s previous analysis suggests that for Australia this would be around a 40 per cent reduction on 2000 levels by 2025 and the decarbonisation of the economy from 2040 to 2050.
  • Adaptation:  The text creates a level playing field between emissions reductions and adaptation in the outcomes of the meeting. Specifically, the decision says countries “should consider” including adaptation in the information they put forward next year with their emissions reductions targets. This is optional language and Australia should feel comfortable with its inclusion. It will, however, start to build expectations over time that Australia communicate its national and international adaptation activities more transparently to the international community. (The Climate Institute has argued for some time that Australia needs to implement a national adaptation strategy that examines and responds to climate risks from 2 and 4 degrees of global warming scenarios.)
  • Finance: The draft decision includes an agreement that from 2019, countries will start to make annual finance contributions to help the most vulnerable and poorest nations adapt to climate change and get on a low carbon development path. The leaders of Australia's biggest development and climate change groups today urged the government to play its fair part in helping developing countries to tackle climate change, by contributing to the Green Climate Fund.  

This focus on the Lima decision does not mean that the Paris agreement text is unimportant. It is also important, and the two are linked. The Lima decision proposes to include the Paris text as an attachment. This would boost the status of the Paris text and is designed to help ensure it is the formal basis for discussions in 2015. 

Moreover, the Paris text includes far too many options and needs substantial amounts of work in the limited time left before the Paris meeting. A key political decision on giving the text greater status should help ensure countries start to more productively narrow down options and not clutter the text with red herrings.

We will start to see all countries’ reactions tonight as they start to formally respond to the drafts that have been circulated. Now is the calm before the storm.

7 December

This article first appeared in the ABC's The Drum on 8 December, 2014. 


Will the post-2020 climate change framework be "made in the USA"? This is the question many in Lima, Peru, are pondering at the end of the first week of the climate talks.

There is little doubt that US president Barack Obama has made next year's Paris agreement the top diplomatic priority for the US, and that this has impacted on the process - both inside and outside. The US, along with Algeria, have now been confirmed as the new co-chairs that will guide the process into Paris, where the next international climate change agreement will be finalised.

Some examples of the impact of the change in posture of the US are obvious. The US-China announcement on emissions targets last month is the obvious one. This was not a one-sided deal. China takes the issue very seriously. But the agreement would not have happened if president Obama had not prioritised climate change in high level diplomatic engagement in recent times.

There is also no doubt that the US's active diplomacy at the highest levels with other nations has contributed to countries advancing climate finance pledges to the UN Green Climate Fund. The fund stands at a whisker of the indicative $US10 billion capitalisation goal, after Norway doubled its pledge this week, and cash-strapped Spain also chipped in.

That is not to say that other major players are not actively engaged.

Many countries have been important to getting us to where we are now. Germany, for example, has re-emerged from climate hibernation after its federal election, contributed $US1 billion to the Green Climate Fund, and this week announced additional emission reduction actions to achieve its targets of 40 per cent by 2020 and 55 per cent by 2030 (both reductions on 1990 levels). With a strong focus on energy productivity and an indicative electricity sector emissions cap, the German move signals the end of coal generation in one of the world's largest economies.

China is also showing some flexibility on issues that in the past would have been red lines - for example, long-term emissions reductions goals to 2050.

The positive momentum outside the process, however, risks creating a sense of complacency in the negotiations. At times during the first week in Lima it has felt like countries were coasting to the end game next week.

Granted, some of the conversations have been difficult. Strong differences of opinion have been expressed between and within the different negotiating blocs. This has not been helped by, at times, a confused process around the development of the draft Paris agreement.

Sharpest among these divisions rests on how to adequately address adaptation to climate impacts in the post-2020 framework. The old developed vs developing country divide is obvious on this issue. Concrete bridging proposals to create a vehicle for adaptation have been few and far between.

Other issues of particular contention include how to address the differentiation of contributions between countries (if at all), and climate finance. Hostage-taking is also occurring as countries tie progress on these issues to negotiations around how transparent initial post-2020 targets will be when advanced early next year.

So where does Australia sit? On a bed of nails.

Australia has not contributed to the Green Climate Fund, which leaves us in a very uncomfortable position among our peers and friends. Quite frankly, it's disgraceful that Australia, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, has not contributed to the fund. This is made worse by the reality that building resilience to climate change impacts and promoting low carbon development is in our own national interest. As a past Defence White Paper pointed out, if we don't pay now, we pay later in disaster relief and regional instability.

On other issues, like adaption and finance, Australia has taken positions more similar to other developed countries in the umbrella group, which includes the US, Japan, Canada and New Zealand. Elsewhere it has also shown its willingness to compromise and move the discussions forward.

How far we have truly advanced or not in the past week will become more obvious when we see the new version of the Paris agreement text on Sunday or Monday.

Whether we have a Paris agreement made in the USA also remains to be seen. Current levels of US engagement at a presidential, secretary of state and diplomatic level is probably unprecedented in the history of the negotiations.

To ensure this engagement delivers a durable and ambitious outcome in Paris, the US and its allies will need, in part, to change course over the coming months. Adaptation in particular will need to be on a political level playing field with emissions reductions in Paris if the agreement is going to be formed on the basis of trust.

Finding this balance will help ensure that the years of implementation after Paris, and the ongoing cycle of greater ambition that will hopefully be embedded in the agreement, are not undermined.

5 December

The Foreign Minister has made some comments as she leaves for the climate summit in Lima that require clarification.

The Minister is reported as saying that without legally binding commitments in Paris to reduce global emissions beyond 2020, any agreement would amount to nothing more than aspirations. I have included a briefing below on the various options for how the Paris agreement may capture post-2020 targets.

In the end, the true test of a country's commitment to climate action is not whether it is prepared take on an internationally binding target. A country’s level of commitment to action is better judged by its willingness to make the hard political decisions at home and enforce emissions reductions limits on its major emitting industries. This is something the Australian government is currently not prepared to do.

Also the Minister appears to suggest that:  "China has already said that it will continue business as usual until 2030. We want to know whether there's some sort of binding commitment."

Analysis by independent experts does not support this conclusion -- see The Climate Institute’s factsheet on this. 

If implementing carbon pricing, seeing a peak in coal consumption around 2020, and building renewable energy capacity the size of its current coal capacity is business as usual for China, Australia should be reconsidering its own business as usual pathway.

Also, once finalised, the Chinese contribution to the international agreement will be translated into domestic law and become binding through China's Five Year Plan process.


Whether targets under the Paris agreement will be legally binding or not is a contentious issue within the UN climate change negotiations. Some countries - or negotiating blocs like the EU and the small island states - have a strong preference for the post-2020 targets to be internationally binding. Others - like the United States, China, India and New Zealand - would prefer a more flexible approach. In the past, Australia has pioneered new approaches the how to capture new commitments in an international agreement.

The goal for Paris is to agree a "protocol, other legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention". The terms "protocol" or "other legal instrument" are similar to those in the 1995 Berlin Mandate, which led to the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, a legally binding instrument. An outcome "with legal force" under the UNFCCC is more ambiguous and could be interpreted as facilitating legally binding approaches at a domestic, not an international level.

Table 1 below summarises possible approaches to how the new agreement may treat national contributions, based on work by the Climate Change Authority.  

In their recent review of priorities for the post-2020 framework, the Climate Change Authority concluded that: “One thing the Paris meeting will not deliver is a universal, prescriptive, enforcement-oriented legal agreement, similar in form to the existing Kyoto Protocol. For one thing, such an outcome is not achievable in the short term. Insisting on it would likely be counterproductive, and lead to more modest global action. The value of the Paris outcome will be its effect on emissions and efforts over time, not its particular legal form.”

This reflects that in the past, the symbolism of failing to agree on a new legally binding treaty has dominated public debate and distracted from the progress that has been made domestically and internationally to reduce emissions. Legally binding instruments can build confidence that countries will act on the commitments they make internationally. However, the legal form of an international agreement does not determine its effectiveness.

The most binding treaty will do little to address climate change if major emitters like the United States and China do not participate. Also, countries continue to implement policies to meet their current 2020 targets even if they and not strictly speaking internationally binding. For example, the US does not have a binding 2020 target, but is implementing policies that have legal force at a domestic level to achieve this target (e.g. regulations to control emissions from vehicles and power stations).

In the end true test of a country's commitment to climate action is not whether it is prepared take on an internationally binding target. A country’s level of commitment to action is better judged by its willingness to make the hard political decisions at home and enforce legal emissions reductions limits on its major emitting industries.

Table 1: Capturing post-2020 targets - The table defines broad brush options for how post-2020 could be captured in the new agreement. It outlines whether the target would be binding (at an international or domestic level), the impact the option would have on a country’s participation in the framework, its flexibility to increase ambition, and its overall effectiveness.


4 December

Latest video update: Sleeves are up but the gloves are off.


As we get closer to finalising the new post-2020 climate action framework, the stakes are getting higher and the negotiating tougher.  Negotiators have their sleeves rolled up and are getting to work, but the gloves are coming off too.

Some unfortunate procedural games have marred parts of the talks, and strongly opposed positions on adaptation and emissions reductions make it seem that agreement is far off. However, overall, we are moving forward, and buoyed by recent announcements by the US, EU and China on post-2020 pollution targets.  The overall situation is much further ahead than many would have thought possible a few years ago.

Australia is taking a harder line on many issues than in the past. The delegation's small size is also limiting its ability to engage with past partners to build bridges and find constructive outcomes. Governments can move faster - but to do this we need countries, including Australia, to build trust, have flexibility and find positive compromises that delivers a stronger and more balanced post-2020 framework.

At this time, Australia’s lack of help to the world’s poorest nations to reduce deforestation, build resilience to climate change impacts and support clean energy through the Green Climate Fund is leaving us out of step with our friends and peers internationally.

This continues to frustrate.  Nearly all advanced economies have offered support, and even some poor countries are lending a helping hand.

The lack of a clear signal that we are preparing to ratify our second Kyoto target is also raising questions about Australia's commitment to achieve the 2020 pollution target that the government promised. No clarity on a timeline and process for the post-2020 targets compounds the suspicion that Australia is not pulling  weight.

Australia’s Foreign Minister arrives on Monday and I would hope she can move Australia to a less defensive position. By making undertakings to the Green Climate Fund, announcing Australia’s intention to ratify Kyoto II, and setting out a process to develop a science based post-2020 target, the Minister can enhance her ability to influence the negotiations in a positive way.

3 December (second update)

There has been lots of discussion already this morning in Lima on the German Cabinet’s approval today of the new Climate Action Program (CAP), which aims to ensure that Germany meets its 40 per cent below 1990 by 2020 emissions target. It includes a package of additional measures in the areas of energy efficiency, transport, trade, agriculture, land use and others.

Of particular importance is the decision to put in place a de facto coal emissions cap in the electricity sector through a national law. This will include measures to reduce emissions by 22 million tonnes by 2020 in the power sector; the equivalent of closing eight coal plants.

This announcement today indicates that the German Cabinet is confident that it can meet its climate targets in tandem with economic growth.

The CAP together with the decision of Germany's biggest utility - E.on - last week to split of its fossil fuel assets may be coined as the beginning of the end of traditional coal-fired generation (without CCS) in Germany.

CLEW – the Climate and Energy Wire - have put together a helpful factsheet which gives background information on the details of the CAP.  

3 December

As we head int o day three of the Lima Climate Summit the dynamics of the meeting seems in flux. Delegates have rolled up their sleeves and are getting down to work, but some appear also to be looking over their shoulders at what their traditional allies may be doing.

In part, this probably reflects the impact of the recent US–China announcement.

Many will remember the scenes in Copenhagen where the US President met with the heads of the BASIC countries (China, Brazil, India and South Africa) to hammer out the Copenhagen Accord. China met with its counterparts in this group early in the meeting to explain the announcement and reassure allies. Its membership in the Like Minded Group (LMG) of developing countries has also been raised as there appears some inconsistency between its strong high level political statements and the tactics of this group in the UNFCCC.

The LMG is a hard line developing country group that buttresses old North-South debates in the process.The Philippines has announced it is withdrawn from this group as it reassesses what is best for its own national interest.

The EU also appears slightly back footed by the US-China announcement. Traditional members of ambition coalitions at UNFCCC meetings, the EU looks to have not yet recalibrated in response the politics of the US-China statement. The bloc appears to be struggling build bridges with vulnerable countries to advance proposals that could see a balanced outcome in Lima and therefore Paris.

Progressive coalitions can help to put emissions reductions contributions and adaptation on a level political playing field. This will be particularly important to build a stable and durable international framework. The strength of the UNFCCC process is that it enjoys broad legitimacy among the international community. An agreement in Paris that does not address a core concern of the majority of its members risks ongoing political volatility towards Paris and beyond.


2 December

The Lima UN climate talks kicked off yesterday. The open spaces and walk ways are a nice change. No bunkering down in heated rooms and corridors. The old adage goes that meetings in warm places deliver better results – witness the Bali conference in 2007, Cancun in 2010 and Durban in 2011.

The meeting opened with the usual ceremony but not with the usual diplomatic fireworks. No fights over the agenda and attempts to delay delegates getting straight to work in crafting the outcome of the meeting. This is a positive start but should not be overstated.

My op-ed on ABC Environment on the challenges of the meeting can be found here
The first video blog that covers the same issues is also available.

Focusing on Australia, the first thing that is coming up in discussions with participants from other nations is what we doing on climate finance. Australia is not currently contributing to helping poor nations reduce deforestation, build resilience to escalating climate impacts, and get on a clean development path through capitalising the UN Green Climate Fund.

Many delegates are asking: “If its traditional partners like the USA, Canada and New Zealand can help, why can’t Australia?”

Stay tuned to The Climate Institute’s COP page for regular update and a range of resources including a policy brief on scenarios for Lima. If you'd like to get on our email update list, please contact Kristina.


28 November

Video blog on the eve of Erwin's departure for Lima. 


20 November

We have urged the Australian government to put forward an independent, transparent and scientifically-based process to definite Australia's own 2020 targets. Ultimately these targets need to be aligned with global efforts to avoid a 2ºC increase in average global temperature. By our analysis , this means

Australia needs a net 2025 emissions reduction target of 40 per cent below 2000 levels and decarbonisation of the economy from 2040 if there are further delays.

As we noted in our pre-Lima COP policy brief released today, COP20 could end up in a stride or shuffle towards Paris, next year, when the new agreement is to be finalised.

While the underlining trends in the process remain positive, the Lima meeting is likely to involve a difficult negotiation process. This is inevitable as countries seek to find the balance between clarity on core political issues in the negotiations: emissions reductions commitments, adaptation, climate finance, and the legal form of contributions.

I’ll be providing updates, tweets, blogs and videos from the talks in Lima, all of which will be documented on this web page. Happy reading, and don't hesitate to contact us if you are looking for additional information.

For media enquiries, please contact Communications Director Kristina Stefanova on or +61 (0) 2 8239 6299.

Email   Print   Subscribe
Contact us. For further information. Follow us. Join the conversation.

Level 15, 179 Elizabeth St.
Sydney NSW 2000
Tel   +61 2 8239 6299
Fax   +61 2 9283 8154
Site Map