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Lima climate change talks: The endgame after a leaked agreement

Talks on a precipice, developing countries unhappy

Nitin Sethi  |  New Delhi 

On Thursday night, climate negotiations had turned into a script for a thrilling film on international intrigue. A document so far held secret was inadvertently leaked well before it was planned to be released by the United nations climate change convention secretariat. That set off a series of high-drama sequences which by night time, when talks were suspended again, had plunged the conference into uncertainty.

The two co-chairs of the negotiations and the secretariat had planned to time the release of the document with the opening of talks on Thursday morning.

The document was a replacement of the original draft agreement text that countries had negotiated over the past 10 days. Upon arriving in Lima, all countries had become aware that the agreement in Peru could potentially lock in critical features and content of the global climate change compact to be signed by the end of 2015 in Paris. These features would decide how the economic burden of reducing emissions, adapting to inevitable climate change and financing the entire exercise over the next few decades would shift between developed and developing countries.

The realisation made all countries negotiate furiously over 10 days to insert their ideas and interests in the draft agreement. Consequently, the draft bloated to a 100-page document.

On Wednesday, pointing to the unwieldy draft, several developed regions, including the European Union EU, asked that the co-chairs of the negotiations produce a concise version. Several developing countries, including India, objected immediately. They had become wary of the role of the co-chairs. Over the past week, they had appraised the two — one from the EU and another from Trinidad & Tobago — as being biased in favour of the developed countries. Some had said as much in language that bordered on abuse in the world of international diplomacy.

As talks came to an end on Wednesday night, the co-chairs remained ambiguous about how they would proceed next morning.

The lack of a straightforward commitment that the draft discussed by countries would continue to be the basis for negotiations aroused suspicion in many developing countries.

"It's an old game in multilateral forums. Start with a biased document, make countries react defensively to put their clauses in and make negotiations unwieldy and prolonged, then claim lack of time to produce a new document out of thin air at the last moment. This pressurises countries into a take-it-or-leave-it situation. You can then only do so much to protect your interests in the hours that are left," said a seasoned Indian negotiator at

Developing countries’ concerns with the new draft decision text
  • Decision does not respect the existing provisions of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
  • At several places, drills holes in the principle of common but differentiated responsibility
  • Does not bring balance between mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology
  • Forces a review of developing countries’ actions in 2015 itself without the linkage of finance and technology from developed countries
  • No concrete measures in the pre-2020 period to get developed countries to increase their commitments
  • No road map for finance from developed countries
  • Requires even developing countries to provide finance in future
  • Has a mandatory prescriptive list of actions that all countries must take, which includes peaking year and other onerous targets
  • Doesn’t push developed countries hard enough to ratify the second period of Kyoto Protocol
  • Loss and damage is not set as a separate pillar of under the 2015 agreement
Note: Different developing countries have differing degrees of disagreement on these points. Not all issues are absolute non-negotiables for all countries

But Thursday morning held a twist to this old plot. Just as the meeting was to begin, the G77+group asked for a sudden temporary halt to the discussions on the Lima decisions. They said they were working on a proposal which would break the impasse at the climate talks.

The real reason was that the had got wind of the co-chairs' plans even before the meeting began. They accessed a leaked draft decision text when it was inadvertently put on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change website for a brief while and then withdrawn. It set alarm bells ringing. A first appraisal made several key countries realise that it was again heavily biased against their interests.

The negotiators assessed that the new document did little to demand higher financial and emission reduction commitments from the developed world in the pre-2020 period. It delinked their existing commitments to provide enabling finance and technology from future commitments of the developing world. It let the developed countries escape any solid roadmap to scale up financial support over the coming years.

The G77+China, which often suffers fissures dividing the 137-country group, came together quickly. As the formal meeting remained held up they strategised to counter the co-chairs' secret text. They narrowed down their own differences on some of the elements of the agreement to present a united front.

So far the leaked draft was being shared only among select negotiators and advisers. Business Standard accessed and reported on this draft. With the leaked draft now in the public domain, the debates became more furious in the gathered civil society groups as well.

When the formal meeting restarted the G77+showcased how they had reduced their differences and it was possible to do so sitting with the developed countries too over the original document. But the EU, Japan and many others hinted or asked that the co-chairs produce a new text and discard the original one. Everyone's cards were now on the table. Developing countries knew well that the text had already been cooked up.

But the leak and subsequent moves by the group were only a minor glitch in the plan, it became apparent soon.

In a swift move, host Peru's minister designated as the president of the talks under the protocol, stepped in. He pleaded for all countries to work together and not let the Lima talks fail. He promised to work with transparency. But then he turned around to order that a new workable draft agreement be prepared by 9 pm on Thursday night. To several developing country negotiators' surprise, there was resounding applause in the room from others. "We have seen this orchestration before in Cancun (in 2010)," a developing country negotiator said later. The meeting closed.

Harjeet Singh from Action Aid at Lima tweeted, "COP President instructs co-chairs to prepare new #ADP text tonight by 9 pm. Will it be same 'leaked' text or a hugely changed one? #COP20." Another observer at Lima, Doreen Stabinsky, a professor at the College of Atlantic, tweeted, "Political theatre. Script got rewritten a bit this morning, but they are getting back on track."

In a couple of more hours, the co-chairs had put a new text on the website. No surprises this time: it was a near replica of the one that had inadvertently leaked out on Thursday morning. But without opening the floor to discussions, the meeting was shut down for the night by the co-chairs.

Asad Rehman of the Friends of Earth group tweeted, "8 days no negotiations, accidental leaking of secret text, secret text becomes official - voila rich countries get what they want".

Equally, there were others in civil society and among negotiators who were not as unhappy with the turn of events.

Now there are only eight hours of negotiating time left on Friday and the countries have a new draft agreement to sign on or fight over.

"They have inserted clauses all over that blow punches at the differentiation between countries. Obligations of not just emission reduction but even finance are being hoisted inequitably over developing countries," said an Indian delegate.

An African delegate said they were worried the agreement had nothing concrete on the financial commitments of the developed countries. "In fact, their commitments are being reduced to focus only on the most vulnerable countries. Even African countries would be left out of the benefits," he added.

The draft agreement has options to choose from in some sections. But several negotiators Business Standard spoke to said these were false choices. "It's like forcing surgery on a healthy person and giving him two options - suffer it with anesthesia or without," said a negotiator from the Like-Minded Developing Country group.

None of them was willing to talk about the strategic moves their countries would make on Friday, if at all, to claw back into the negotiations. At the time of writing this report it was 7:30 am at Lima. The talks were to begin at 10 am. Two sets of negotiators said it had been a sleepless night for them. Friday is set for the endgame.

First Published: Sat, December 13 2014. 00:56 IST