UN climate negotiators pass watered-down deal in Lima

Negotiators have reached a watered-down deal at UN talks in Peru that sets the stage for a global climate pact in Paris next year.

Wide range of options on the table for global deal at 2015 conference in Paris

Developing nations that rely on coal for power generation say the language produced at the UN climate talks in Lima, Peru, let rich nations off the hook. (Canadian Press file photo)

Negotiators have reached a watered-down deal at U.N. talks in Peru that sets the stage for a global climate pact in Paris next year.

The Lima agreement was reached early Sunday after late-night wrangling between rich and poor countries.

About 190 nations agreed on the building blocks of a deal to combat climate change in 2015 amid warnings that far tougher action will be needed to cut rising world greenhouse gas emissions.

The Lima deal lays out a wide range of options for a global deal to be reached in Paris, due in December 2015, and also lays out how each nation will submit its own plans for curbing warming in the first half of 2015.

Peru's environment minister had presented a new, fourth draft just before midnight that apparently satisfied all parties, giving a sharply reduced body of remaining delegates an hour to review it.

"As a text it's not perfect but it includes the positions of the parties," said the minister, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who is conference chair and had spent all afternoon and evening meeting separately with delegations.

"Much remains to be done in Paris next year," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

Samantha Smith, chief of climate policy for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), came down hard on the vague language of the pact.

"This is an incredibly weak text," she said.

'Voluntary ideas' on emissions

"The parties have got just through something that is going to lead to all voluntary submissions of information, all voluntary ideas from countries about what kinds of emissions, reductions they want to make. And the big picture is, when they're done, it's going to be very hard to know if we're actually able to avoid dangerous climate change or not," Smith said.

The main goal for the two-week session in Lima was relatively modest: Reach agreement on what information should go into the pledges that countries submit for a global climate pact expected to be adopted next year in Paris. But even that became complicated as several developing nations rebelled against a draft decision they said blurred the distinction between what rich and poor countries can be expected to do.

The new draft was designed to alleviate that concern.

Momentum lost

The momentum from last month's joint U.S.-China deal on emissions targets faded quickly in Lima as rifts reopened over who should do what to fight global warming. Developed countries want the pledges to focus on emissions cuts, while developing nations also want to see commitments of financial support.

The latest draft restored language demanded by small island states at risk of being flooded by rising seas, mentioning a "loss and damage" mechanism agreed upon in last year's talks in Poland.

Top carbon polluter China and other major developing countries opposed plans for a review process that would allow the pledges to be compared against one another before Paris. The new draft mentioned only that all pledges would be reviewed a month ahead Paris to assess their combined effect on climate change.

Watered-down language

The new draft also watered down language on the content of the pledges, saying they "may" instead of "shall" include quantifiable information showing how countries intend to meet their emissions targets.

By the time Pulgar-Vidal presented the latest draft, many delegates had left, including environment ministers who were the most senior members of negotiation teams.

Though negotiating tactics always play a role, virtually all disputes in the UN talks reflect the wider issue of how to divide the burden of fixing the planetary warming that scientists say results from human activity, primarily the burning of oil, coal and natural gas.

Scientific reports say climate effects are already happening and include rising sea levels, intensifying heat waves and shifts in weather patterns causing floods in some areas and droughts in others. The UN weather agency said last week that 2014 could become the hottest year on record.

With files from Reuters