Participation & Governance

Highs And Lows From COP20: The Twentieth UNFCCC Climate Change Negotiations In Review

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Another year, another round of UN climate change negotiations, this year held in Lima, Peru. This year’s talks were hailed as the last stop before Paris next year when parties have committed to creating a new global treaty on climate change. Natalie Jones brings us news of the outcomes of the Lima negotiations for adaptation, mitigation, finance, and loss and damage, and the role youth played in advancing them.

COP 20 concluded early Sunday morning in Lima, about 33 hours after it was supposed to end.

Perhaps the most optimistic part of the outcome was that parties decided on a draft text which will be used as a basis for further and likely intense negotiations in the lead up to Paris. Although this text is long and contains many different options for each paragraph, it will be a useful starting point, containing clauses on mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, finance, technology development and transfer, capacity-building, transparency of action and support, and implementation.

In addition, there was an outpouring of support for a long-term mitigation goal, for instance to reduce emissions to zero by 2050. Over 100 countries support such a goal, which, if implemented, would send a strong signal to governments and industry.

However, in general the text is weak and is drafted in vague language, which leaves much to be decided in Geneva, Bonn and Paris throughout 2015. In addition, campaigners warn that the plan is far too weak to limit warming to two degrees Celsius, the internationally recognised safe level.


Significantly, countries agreed to submit their intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), that is, how much they will pledge to reduce their carbon pollution by, by March 31 2015 for countries ready to do so.

Least developed countries and small island states are exempt from pledging, but may communicate information on low-emissions strategies if they wish.

15859929447_6a429aca7c_kPledges may include information on the base year used as a reference for emissions cuts, the time frame for implementation, the methodology used in calculation, and how the party considers that its pledge is fair and ambitious, in light of its national circumstances, and how it contributes towards achieving the objective of the UNFCCC. However, a requirement that all countries submit plans using identical metrics for easy comparison was deleted from the agreement because of the objections of developing countries.

Pledges must improve on a nation’s current undertaking. However, pledges will be self-determined. There will be no ex-ante review process; despite demands by nations at the highest risk from climate change, the text does not call for a process to ramp up pledges if their aggregate effect is found lacking.

The agreement failed to create a forum for countries to present and discuss their contributions. This is a missed opportunity for a constructive discussion to build understanding and confidence.

The UNFCCC secretariat will prepare a report by November 1 2015 on the aggregate effect of the INDCs on the 2 degree goal.

On pre-2020 mitigation, which is necessary to keep warming within a safe level, the text is particularly vague. However, countries decided to continue to share their experiences to curb emissions, identify the best policy options to achieve the highest mitigation potential and continue technical expert meetings about action through 2020.


Another slightly optimistic result is that parties agreed that the 2015 agreement will address not only mitigation, but adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, capacity-building, and transparency of action and support.

However, it is not necessary for countries to include adaptation in their INDCs; parties are merely invited to “consider” including an adaptation component.


During COP 20 the Green Climate Fund passed the $10 billion mark, with 27 countries pledging contributions including five developing countries. Although this is somewhat optimistic, more work is still needed to outline how developed countries can fulfil their 2010 commitment to mobilize at least $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020.

Significantly, INDCs need not include information on finance, although the text “urges” developed country parties to provide and mobilize enhanced financial support.

Loss and Damage

The text includes a hard-won reference to loss and damage, but only in the preamble and only as a reference to an earlier decision. Nations hardest hit by climate change say that this is insufficient.

Youth victories at COP 20

Youth had a number of significant victories at COP 20. The International Federation of Medical Students’ delegation of four medical students managed to lobby for a reference to health in Article 19 of the ADP text, which is quite a victory. In addition, because of their efforts, the health minister of Peru publicly said it was because of medical students that he understood the importance and urgency to act on climate change.

IFMSA Delegation. Credit: IFMSA
IFMSA Delegation. Credit: IFMSA

In addition, youth successfully campaigned for the recognition of different models of education (formal, non formal and informal) and the recognition of the role of youth, and of the opportunities and co-benefits of climate change actions, in the Lima Ministerial Declaration on Education and Awareness-raising.

Although there were promising gains made here in Lima, many large and contentious issues were left for later, meaning that the talks in Geneva, Bonn and Paris in 2015 will be heated and arduous. These issues include the nature of the differentiation to be made between countries, the exact scope of INDCs, and the issue of whether or not the agreement will be legally binding. The next year of negotiations will be interesting, to say the least.

Featured Image Credit: COP20 Flickr