First impressions of COP20

Jonathan Grant gives his first impressions of the climate negotiations in Lima.

I’ve been at the COP for four hours.  I’ve spoken to 12 people, read the Earth Negotiations Bulletin and attended the morning BINGO* meeting.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

The US-China climate deal is a big deal.  It has really opened up the debate about what all countries might do to reduce their emissions.  But this has not really changed the dynamic much inside the negotiation hall, where governments are not making much progress.  However, there is rarely much substantive progress in the negotiations in the first week of COP.  Governments will have to start agreeing text at some point, but there is even debate about how to do this.  Some want to do it line by line on screen, others are happy to rely on the co-chairs to summarise the discussion.

The financial pledges to the Green Climate Fund are not such a big deal.  Some of the least developed countries have greeted them with scepticism (seeing little evidence of climate finance in the last few years).  The pledges have not helped the negotiating dynamics as much as some had hoped.  Many, including China and Brazil have made the obvious comment that $10bn from developed countries is not enough.  Others highlight the need to mobilize private capital.  However, it is not clear how the GCF will do this, particularly when it comes to adaptation (it is much harder to develop a business model or revenue stream for flood defence infrastructure than for an energy efficiency or renewables project).

Brazil’s ‘concentric differentiation’ proposal divides the world into three groups.  This is not much of a move away from the current approach that divides the world into two groups: i.e. developed and developing (as defined in 1992).  In Brazil’s proposal, each group would take on different types of target.  Developed countries (the old Annex I of the Convention) would take on economy-wide absolute targets. Developing countries could take on economy-wide targets relative to population or GDP or some BAU baseline.  And least developed countries might only take on targets for particular sectors.  In the debate about common but differentiated responsibility and who should take on what targets, the US and others are saying that there are many more shades of grey in the differentiation between countries. 

Governments are debating whether the review period for the emissions targets should be every five or ten years.  Canada said it should be 10 as business needs long term signals.  This was discussed by the BINGO group which didn’t have a strongly held view on the subject.  One commented that it doesn’t matter whether it’s five years or 10 as both are within the investment horizon of most major projects anyway.

A study on the role of gas published in Nature recently found that even if the fracking revolution goes global, this will have little impact on global emissions.  This undermines the widely held view that ‘gas is good’ (as a lower carbon fuel).  There are two reasons for this.  First, although lower cost gas would displace higher carbon coal generation, it would also displace zero carbon renewables and nuclear.  Secondly, more abundant gas lowers cost of energy and so demand rises. 

Overall, the atmosphere is positive but there is not much sign of all that momentum gained in the last three months.

*The Business and Industry NGO observers gather each morning at 9 to discuss how things are going in the negotiations and highlight any interesting events on the side.