COP 20 President and Peru's Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar Vidal said the Lima deal was a winner for all countries.COP 20 President and Peru’s Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar Vidal said the Lima deal was a winner for all countries. Photo: Reuters

By Marcus Priest
Sydney Morning Herald

Climate change talks in Lima have pulled back from the brink of disaster but the prospect of a future global climate change deal in Paris next year is now under a cloud.

Late on Saturday night in Peru, negotiators agreed to a highly watered-down deal that stripped out a formal review process for the post-2020 commitments that countries will make before Paris next year. Difficult issues such as whether the Paris deal will be legally binding were also put off.

The deal – known as the “Lima call for climate action” – came after a day of deep divisions between developed countries and India, China and African countries over fundamental issues.

Delegates talk during a break at a plenary session of the UN Climate Change Conference.Delegates talk during a break at a plenary session of the UN Climate Change Conference. Photo: Reuters

Developing countries also played brinksmanship as they sought to lock in elements of a new climate deal in the Lima agreement before Paris.

Importantly, under the deal, China and the world’s poorest countries succeeded in reintroducing words emphasising the distinction between developing and developed nations that the United States, supported by Australia, had fought to exclude.

“The debate we witnessed here in Lima is not going to change that much in Paris,”  Union of Concerned Scientists strategy and policy director Alden Meyers said.

“What was a storm cloud in Lima could become a full-blown typhoon in Paris. A whole host of issues become a lot more difficult if you have this fundamental split in world view.”

Under the agreement, the incorporation of a blueprint for the Paris agreement that was agreed earlier in the week was taken out and a reference to developed countries paying poor nations for “loss and damage” caused by climate change was also included despite strong opposition from Australia and the US.

But Lima conference president  Manuel Pulgar-Vidal said every country was a winner from the decision.

“Like all texts it is not perfect  [but] with this text we all win without exceptions,” Mr Pulgar-Vidal said.

“It is a more-focused text. The text heeds everyone’s concerns and its does so in a balanced way.”

After the landmark deal between China and the United States, there were high hopes that the Lima conference would create momentum leading into next year’s Paris conference where a new global agreement is hoped to be reached. But delegates ended up crawling out of the Lima conference in the early hours of Sunday morning.

On Saturday morning, the talks were on the verge of collapse with claims that countries were being asked to swallow a “dead rat” and that an already-watered-down deal was in danger of being turned from a “circumcision” into an “amputation”.

At one stage, Venezuela’s chief negotiator Claudia Salerno complained the Lima conference was turning into a repeat of the troubled Copenhagen meeting in 2009 after complaints from some countries they had not been consulted.

At the heart of the dispute was the removal of any reference in the draft decision to the concept of “differentiated responsibilities” of developing and developed nations that has been in the convention since 1992. There were also complaints that the current draft was focused on mitigation to the exclusion of helping developing nations adjust to climate change and providing finance to assist them.

“Many of you colonised us so we started from very different points … this you must appreciate,”  Malaysia representative Gurdial Singh Nijar said.

“There is a world out there that is different from your world.”

Brazilian representative Antonio Marcondes said the removal of the concept of differentiation was tantamount to “annihilation” of the UN convention.

“We still live in a world of deep inequalities. Differentiation is not a reference belonging to the past,” Mr Marcondes said.

But developed countries, some small island states and Latin American nations resisted a push to make further changes to the draft decision.

“If you are submitting for circumcision be very careful that it doesn’t become an amputation  because the surgeon used too big a knife and took too much flesh,” Singapore Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said.

New Zealand representative Helen Plume said all countries were being asked to accept unpalatable compromises but supported the proposed compromises.

“There are dead rats that need to be swallowed,” the New Zealand delegate said.

Climate Institute chief executive John Connor said all countries should have done more in Lima, but they had done enough to put a focus on the Abbott government’s resolve to consider dangerous climate risks seriously.

* Marcus Priest was flown to Lima by the Clean Energy Council as the winner of its 2013 media award.