Lima defers differences over climate change obligations to Paris

COP 20 - UN Climate Change Conference - Lima
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COP 20 - UN Climate Change Conference - Lima

After an extension of almost 30 hours beyond the officially scheduled time, approximately 190 nations at the UN-administered climate change negotiations in Peru finally agreed on their future pledges to reduce emissions of climate-warming gases in order to limit the greenhouse effect. However, these pledges remain less than the minimum required to stop the two-degree rise in the average global temperature, which would create radical changes in lifestyle and effect our ability to adapt to the resulting climate change.

Reports from reliable scientific sources concur that emissions of climate-warming gases must peak in 2015, return to 1990 levels by 2020, then fall by another 80 per cent by 2050. Current concentrations of these gases in the atmosphere stand at 400 ppm of carbon dioxide, and the rate is rising by two ppm every year. Climate experts say that it is now almost impossible to stop the global temperature rising. Preventing the temperature rising by the two degrees outlined above would require a reduction in carbon dioxide concentrations to 350 ppm, which would itself require extremely stringent measures, and none of the major polluting nations have pledged to carry them out.

Neither the US or China have veered from the script at the end of any climate change negotiations to date. The current dispute between the two greatest global-warmers shows that reaching an agreement (like the climate-change agreement announced last month by US President Barack Obama and Chinese leader Xi Jinping last month) does not necessarily translate into a shared approach.

Following talks that ran on for an additional two days, the four-page agreement asked countries to produce national global warming plans by the start of next year to form the basis of a new global convention that is supposed to be drafted in Paris within a year.

The text of this agreement calmed the fears of developing nations such as China and India, since previous drafts had placed a disproportionately heavy burden on the economies of developing countries in the fight against climate change. Indian Minister of State for the Environment, Prakash Javadekar, said that, “the text preserves the need for the richer nations to lead emission-reducing efforts,” which is what broke the stalemate. “We got what we wanted,” Javadekar added, going on to say that the agreement also clarifies that rich nations must provide financial support to developing nations. EU Climate Action and Energy Commissioner, Miguel Arias Canete said, “It’s an excellent document that paves the way for Paris.”

Reaching an agreement on the precise formulation of the pledges about, or contributions to, the reduction of emissions that each nation will make in 2015 was one of the negotiators’ prime objectives in Lima. The formulation of these pledges includes the year in which they come into effect, the period in which they remain binding, an implementation plan and a list of economic sectors affected. The pledges must mention national objectives for emission reduction, so that emissions fall from 40 per cent to 70 per cent before 2050, which is what is needed if the rise in average global temperatures is to be kept below the two degree limit. The laying down of standardized rules for the content and evaluation of these pledges is essential to guarantee that ambitions for the multilateral agreement in Paris are met.

For his part, Peruvian Environment Minister, Manuel Pulgar, said, “Permit me to say to you that this text is not ideal, but it respects the positions of all parties. With this text we are all winners, with no one left out.”

Negotiations on Saturday witnessed a dispute between China and the US that threatened to derail talks. China claimed that the draft of the final text, “placed huge burdens on poorer countries to reduce global-warming causing emissions,” compared to the demands made of rich countries, whose inhabitants consumed much greater quantities of fossil fuels.

China’s Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Liu Zhenmin, said, “We want consensus in Lima, but things being as they are we have reached a dead end.” US Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern, encouraged all parties to sign the compromise draft, saying that failure in Lima would be regarded as a “major setback” that would place the climate change conference in Paris in jeopardy and harm the credibility of the UNFCCC as a whole. “We don’t have time to enter into a new round of lengthy negotiations,” Stern said: “I think everyone knows that.” Developing nations said that the text did not do enough to force rich nations to collect the 100 billions dollars they had pledged to hand over no later than 2020, nor to help create a mechanism for compensation for losses and damage resulting from storms, floods and rising sea levels.

The new text agreed on in Lima called on developed countries, “to undertake ambitious steps towards reducing emissions, especially directed towards those countries most affected by climate change.” This is most certainly not the road map for future funding that the developed nations were hoping for. The 100 billion benchmark for annual aid agreed on in 2010 must be reached, but how to do this remains obscure. Just how binding the voluntarily submitted pledges are remains obscure. Article 12 clarifies that the following information must be provided: the objectives, the year it comes into effect, the time required to implement it, the methodology followed, and the level of ambition for the contribution made. Evaluation of these plans will take place in Bonn in June 2015, in the framework of “respecting national sovereignty”. The text does not mention whether contributions will be assessed against the target of preventing a temperature rise of two degrees.

Harjeet Singh, a member of the non-governmental organization ActionAid International, stated that “this text contains nothing of any value for the poor and weaker countries,” adding that, “the richer nations have fallen behind in implementing their obligations, even though they are making small steps in the right direction.”