COP20: Make or break for developing countries on new climate deal

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala (left) with Minister of Foreign Affairs Gonzalo Gutiérrez Reinel (center) and Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres (right) at this year’s U.N. Climate Change Conference held in Lima, Peru. Photo by: Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores / CC BY-SA

On Monday, the first day of the 20th U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, the atmosphere was hopeful but with an undertone of urgency as UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres noted COP20 “must make history” in the battle against global warming.

“This is it” was the message coming from delegates and observers in the hallways in Lima, seen as the last chance for countries to nail down a strong draft text ahead of the March 2015 deadline for countries to formulate their intended nationally determined contributions to fight climate change before a final global deal is struck a year from now in Paris to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expired in 2012.

COP20 delegates in the Peruvian capital hope to finalize by Dec. 12 a draft of the climate agreement that is expected to be signed in Paris next year.

Despite the urgency, however, the agreement, as it is currently written, will not take effect until 2020, and developing countries have been citing the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a reason to push for further scaling up of pre-2020 commitments by developed countries, particularly when it comes to helping developing countries adopt new technology and finance their own climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies in the short term.

Without such assistance, developing country leaders say they will suffer an undue burden — and this will be one of the main sticking points in the COP20 discussions.

As negotiations heat up in the next few days, the international community will be able to gauge whether efforts taken in recent years to help developing countries address climate change have been enough to prevent them from boycotting the high-stakes talks — as they’ve done in the past — to win further concessions.

Walkouts from U.N. climate summits have become common, with 130 countries exiting the COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 and 133 boycotting COP19 in Warsaw last year over the reluctance of leaders from some of the world’s major economies to support a legally binding emissions treaty and compensate developing countries for environmental damages they’ve already encountered, as well as share the technology to adapt to and mitigate the effects of global warming.

Experts suggest that while support has fallen vastly short of what developing countries need for climate change mitigation and adaptation, progress made on development assistance and technology transfer might be enough to keep the “global south” at the table.


One of the main buzz topics in Lima as delegates explore its role in the broader, global climate response plan will surely be the Green Climate Fund, a nascent fund now totaling $9.3 billion intended to finance developing countries’ response to climate change.

The GCF has replaced the World Bank Climate Investment Fund as the main mechanism for climate finance. Developing country leaders had urged the fund to raise $15 billion before Lima, but today’s total falls short after a pledging conference held in Berlin late last month failed to meet expectations on pledges.

While the GCF is a good start to showing serious commitment on climate finance, Brandon Wu, senior policy analyst at ActionAid, said it is still “a drop in the bucket” compared to what is needed.

“The question for the negotiations is whether that will be acceptable for developing countries. Ten or 15 billion isn’t anywhere close to the need, but still it’s better than zero,” he told Devex, adding that GCF contributions do help, but “it’s only one piece of the puzzle.”

Coming out of Copenhagen, developed countries committed to mobilize $100 billion by 2020 to help vulnerable countries adapt to climate change, yet Wu pointed out no plan was outlined to reach this goal. Developed countries promised to raise $30 billion between 2010 and 2012 as part of a “fast-start finance” scheme, but were criticized for recycling funds rather than creating new ones by repackaging existing aid, offering loans instead of grants and export credits for developed countries.

“This was the only quantitative benchmark since Copenhagen,” he explained.

Climate advocates are now calling for a roadmap leading up to 2020 to offer predictability for developing countries.

“Developing countries have been asked to put forward mitigation targets,” Wu said, “but it’s clear under the UNFCCC that those targets are conditional on what technology building and finance capacity is available.”

It’s hard for developing countries to set realistic targets without knowing what is available to help fund them, the ActionAid expert suggested.

While major proposals on finance were missing from previous climate summits, observers hope GCF will be enough to keep all actors engaged.

“It’s not off-base to say the GCF is a trust-building exercise for developed countries to show they’re following through on commitment to finance,” Alex Doukas, a research analyst at World Resource Institute’s Finance Center, told Devex.

Technology transfer

While the process of transferring technology from the “global north” to the “global south” has so far taken the form of countries hiring external consultants, there is now a shift toward addressing the issue on an institutional level, according to Yamide Dagnet, a senior climate associate at WRI and co-author of a report released today on how finance and technology should play out in the climate agreement.

The report, Dagnet told Devex, highlights how the Technology Mechanism — a year-old UNFCCC body through which developing countries can submit requests for technological assistance — can help developing countries meet requirements to track finance and policies, evaluate adaptation programs and conduct impact assessments. The body can thus be the main way to handle technology transfer on an institutional level for these nations.

“We need to build on the [mechanism] to strengthen the mandate and activities so it can become a successful enabling platform,” he explained. “It’s important that it’s highlighted and established in the agreement.”

The Technology Mechanism is expected to be a part of the climate agreement, said Zitouni Ould-Dada, head of the U.N.Environment Program’s technology unit, and whether it is sufficient in addressing the needs of developing countries and how it can be linked to finance are two major issues delegates will likely want to see addressed in Lima.

Ould-Dada told Devex the mechanism “gives developing countries confidence that their needs are being addressed as they can submit their requests directly.”

Janice Meier, a climate technology expert at the Sierra Club, said she hopes discussions on funding and restructuring the Technology Mechanism will help to encourage a more direct link between technological needs in developing countries and actual implementation.

“There is a fair amount of frustration among developing countries who have spent much effort doing technology needs assessments, but have nothing to show for their effort in terms of implementation,” she told Devex.

Annaka Peterson Carvalho, senior program officer at Oxfam America, noted that in her opinion technology transfer “has not gone as far as we want,” citing intellectual property rights and trade laws as barriers that have prevented transferring technology “to places that need it.”

Dagnet however argued that technology transfer still has much promise to offset previous difficulty now that it is being seen as “a tremendous opportunity to transform” rather than “a corporation process.”

Moving toward a common framework

Another main topic of the discussions in Lima will be deciding on long-term targets for mitigation and establishing a phaseout goal or carbon budget, as well as long-term adaptation goals and whether those would be included in countries’ contributions, according to Jennifer Morgan, global director of WRI’s Climate Program.

Establishing a carbon budget was a major point of contention in Copenhagen, but now that China — one of the countries to walk out in Warsaw — agreed last month to a budget under an bilateral emissions deal with the United States, Carvalho said this could lead to greater cooperation among countries in the “global south”.

“The Kyoto Protocol set out a binary world, but discussions in Lima will be around how to unite that and how to use an equity framework to divide responsibility by capability,” she told Devex.

The attitude of moving toward a common framework and deciding whether there should be a compliance body and whether developing countries would need to comply must likewise be tackled by COP20.

“Some countries are calling for clear emissions standards and establishing sanctions for those who don’t comply,” Morgan said in a recent conference call hosted by WRI.

Having countries decide what information they will make public ahead of the meeting in Paris will be an important approach to delegating responsibilities that is different than the approach seen in Copenhagen, where countries “held their cards really close to their chests,” Jorge Gastelumendi, senior adviser on global climate policy at The Nature Conservancy, noted during a panel discussion on climate change organized last month in Washington, D.C. by the Inter-American Dialogue last month.

“It’s different now — countries are deciding what information they’ll submit ahead of time to get the cards on the table for more productive discussion in Paris,” he said.

Deforestation, REDD+ and social implications of climate change on indigenous communities will also be a new factor to be emphasized, with indigenous groups to share their experiences of how climate change affects them. Overall, observers say there is a sense of optimism going into COP20 — especially after the U.S. and China recently agreed to curb emissions.

“On finance and technology transfer, there hasn’t been much progress,” said Carvalho. “But there is more hope on the political level, and maybe that will bring a positive movement to uniting the two worlds.”

Next week will bring more clarity as country ministers and other top officials arrive in Lima for high-level meetings.

Watch out for more coverage of COP20 — including our daily video wrapup — on Devex, and let us know below what aspects of the climate change negotiations you’re most interested in.

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About the authors

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    Claire Luke

    Claire is a journalist passionate about all things development, with a particular interest in labor, having worked previously for the Indonesia-based International Labor Organization. She has experience reporting in Cambodia, Nicaragua and Burma, and is happy to be immersed in the action of D.C. Claire is a master's candidate in development economics at the George Washington Elliott School of International Affairs and received her bachelor's degree in political philosophy from the College of the Holy Cross.
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    Mythili Sampathkumar

    Mythili Sampathkumar is a New York-based journalist covering development, the U.N., foreign policy, and U.S. politics. Her work has appeared in outlets like The Independent, LA Times, NBC News, Foreign Policy, Vox, and PRI.

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