At the Lima climate talks Dec. 9, delegates at the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) negotiating track grappled with determining how countries in various stages of economic development will be divided and how their responsibilities will differ in the global agreement set to be finalized next year in Paris.

The issue, “differentiation” in the parlance of the United Nations talks, has proved to be one of the most difficult so far in Lima, but it is one of the main areas where a conclusion is essential since it will determine the form and type of information that will be included in each country's game plan for reducing emissions and lessening the impacts of climate change.

The national game plans, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), are due starting in March 2015.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol divided countries into two main categories: Annex I made up of three dozen industrialized countries, mostly in the West, and Annex II, which grouped non-industrialized countries and economies in transition into a single group. But that type of breakdown is not expected to be used in the 2015 treaty.

“The new agreement is not just about climate change, it is about growth and development,” Mattias Soderberg, chair of the ACT Alliance, an umbrella organization of advocacy groups, told Bloomberg BNA. “This is an issue that should act as a tool to foster equitable development pathways.”

Several options have emerged in negotiations since the Lima talks started Dec. 1:

• The U.S. has said that all countries should take on commitments from the same set of options, without differentiations.

• The European Union has said it favors a set of scaled up standards applied more strictly to developed countries.

• China has said it favors a division in which countries voluntarily place themselves in one category or another.

‘A Useful Guideline'

Other proposals at least floated in Lima include the creation of three, four or five divisions, using an array of factors that include current greenhouse gas emissions levels, intensity of emissions either per capita or per unit of gross domestic product and a country's historical responsibility for existing emissions.

“A formula that takes many of these factors into consideration probably won't happen, but it could be a useful guideline for figuring out broad categories,” Soderberg said.

The latest versions of the 2015 draft text require some kind of emissions reduction action from all countries. And while there is a clear consensus that developed countries should take on more ambitious sets of targets than developing countries or the world's poorest nations, there is still debate on whether INDCs should be limited to emissions reductions actions, if they can include additional contributions like financial commitments or renewable energy or adaptation goals or whether rich and poor countries should have different rulebooks for their INDCs.

The Brazilian Plan

One proposal gaining some traction in Lima is a Brazilian plan to divide countries around a series of concentric circles. In the middle is a group of industrialized countries required to take on economy-wide binding commitments, around that is a larger circle for economies in transition that can elect to take on economy-wide or near-economy-wide commitments, outside that come poorer countries taking on sector-wide commitments, followed by the poorest countries using project-based models.

The idea is that countries would pick their circle based on their current circumstances, and that level would last for a five-year commitment period with the creation of incentives to move toward the center in future commitment periods.

The proposal has support among some members of the Group of 77 developing countries, and European Union delegates said they were “intrigued” by the idea. But debate on the Brazilian idea is already being slowed by proposed changes and adjustments to the plan.




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