The UN Climate Conference of Parties, which took place over the last two weeks in Lima, Peru turned out to be quite a roller coaster ride. It began with soaring optimism in the wake of the recent agreement between US and China to take serious action, followed by a US pledge to add $3 billion to the International Climate Fund. That was on the heels of an EU announcement to cut their emissions by 40% below 1990 levels. Awareness of the issue seemed to be steadily growing as the World Meteorological Association announced that 2014 was on track to become the warmest year on record. It was a bit like a fundraiser, where some generous donor steps up with a big contribution, hoping to inspire others to do the same. Or so it seemed.
The talks at Lima were designed to set the stage with the draft of an agreement that would be finalized next year in Paris. But the drive towards meaningful action met with stiff resistance as disagreements between rich and poor nations took center stage as to how the required contributions from each should be computed and what kind of aid should be directed from the former to the latter in helping them to deal with the impacts. The talks bogged down for days at a time over the question of “common but differentiated” responsibility for rich and poor countries. How each country would present and assess their contribution before the Paris meeting was a key issue for these talks. While it’s true that industrialized countries, and the US in particular, have contributed most of the cumulative emissions, developing countries including China, India, and Mexico contribute more than half of all emissions today.
Negotiators, determined to reach an agreement, canceled their flights home and stayed on past the scheduled end date. In the end, some thirty hours into overtime, they did reach an accord in which all nations present, over 100 in all, agreed to outline a pledge to set targets in time for next year’s meeting in Paris. Chief US negotiator Todd Stern said it was a “good outcome and one that will get us started on the way to Paris.”
Coming out with an agreement that all participants signed onto was a moral victory of sorts, though it fell short of expectations. Many observers despaired of the fact that the text grew weaker as the talks went on. What had been hoped for was a tops-down plan that would arrive at carbon reduction levels based on the need to stay within the two degree temperature rise that has been cited as a kind of point of no return for the climate. Instead, the cuts will be generated in a bottoms-up process in which each country will cut what they think they can with no mechanism to ensure that the overall level does not exceed the allocated carbon budget. According to Oxfam, “The outcome here does little to break the world from a path to three degrees warming or higher.”
On the question of long-term finance, the talks did not produce a roadmap for developed countries to fulfill their commitment to provide $100 billion in aid, though some mechanisms toward that end were requested by the Conference of Parties.
The question of adaptation received more attention at this meeting than it had in prior meetings. The parties undertook a national adaptation planning process, focusing on the issue of loss and damage.
Also discussed and debated were ideas for accelerating reductions in the years ahead, resotration of forests, and a major discussion of cities including the launch of Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC).
At the end of the day, a number of key questions, like the role of auditing, the legal status of the process, the ultimate amount of reductions that will be pledged and a detailed plan for capitalizing the commitments of developing nations were left unanswered.
Still, the Agreement on Climate Transformation 2015 (ACT2015) accomplished quite a bit. It recommended long-term goals on mitigation and adaptation and five-year cycles for assessing countries’ actions, offering “a realistic pathway to securing an agreement that can stand the test of time and help make the transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient future.”
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