COP20: an agreement of sorts. Now, a rocky climate road to Paris

People's Climate March, COP20, Lima, with Christine Milne. Photo: Emma Bull / Green MPs via Flickr.
People's Climate March, COP20, Lima, with Christine Milne. Photo: Emma Bull / Green MPs via Flickr.
After a second extra day of climate talks in Lima, an agreement has been cobbled together. Deadlines have been set for the world to come up with plans to curb emissions and adapt to climate change - but has been no progress on the key divisive issues, and the prospects of an effective mew treaty in Paris next year remain remote.
Once again poorer nations have been bullied by the industrialised world into accepting an outcome which leaves many of their citizens facing the grim prospect of catastrophic climate change.

A deal struck in Lima between 196 nations yesterday leaves open the possibility of saving the planet from dangerous overheating. But its critics say the prospects of success are now slim.

The talks - which ran two days longer than scheduled - set a series of deadlines which mean that every nation is charged with producing its plans to cap and reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.

These commitments will then be assessed to see if they are enough to prevent the world heating up more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the threshold political leaders say must not be crossed in order to avoid dangerous climate change.

The Lima agreement invites all countries to set out their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 31 March. The next step will be to draft a legally binding international agreement on how to get below the 2°C threshold. This text is to be made available to all countries for comment by May 2015.

All eyes on Paris

By 1st November the secretariat of the UN Climate Change Convention is supposed to have assessed whether the commitment of these 196 nations is enough to stop the world overheating - and, if it is not, to point out by how far they will miss the target.

All this is to set the stage for a dramatic final negotiation in Paris in a year's time, when a blueprint for a legally enforceable deal is supposed to be on the table. This is a tall order, however, because each time the parties meet the rich and poor countries wage the same arguments over again.

The developing countries say the rich developed countries that caused the problem in the first place must make deep cuts in their emissions and pay huge sums for the poorer countries to adapt to climate change.

The rich countries say that the fast industrialisation of many developing countries means that these countries must cut emissions too, otherwise the world will overheat anyway.

The poorest countries of all, and the small island states, who everyone agrees have no responsibility for the problem, want much more dramatic curbs on emissions, and more money for adaptation to sea level rise and climate extremes than is likely to be forthcoming.

The new climate reality: China, India, Brazil are now big-scale emitters

The talks take place amid their own jargon, with phrases like the "principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances" seen as essential to point up the difference between rich and poor nations and what they are expected to do.

Once again poorer nations have been bullied by the industrialised world into accepting an outcome which leaves many of their citizens facing the grim prospect of catastrophic climate change.

The talks have dragged on for 15 years since the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, in which the rich nations agreed to the first cuts in emissions while allowing the poorer nations to continue developing.

Now that China has overtaken the US as the world's biggest polluter, and countries like Brazil and India are fast catching up, the scientific case is that every country has to curb its emissions, or else everyone faces disaster.

But whether the talks have gone far enough to allow a deal to be reached in Paris next year is a matter of many opinions.

"As a text it's not perfect, but it includes the positions of the parties", said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the Peruvian environment minister, who presided over the talks and must have been relieved he got a text on which every country was prepared to agree.

Eco-NGO's caustic reaction

Environmental groups were scathing about the outcome. Sam Smith, chief of climate policy for WWF, said: "The text went from weak to weaker to weakest and it's very weak indeed.

"Governments crucially failed to agree on specific plans to cut emissions before 2020 ... The science is clear that delaying action until 2020 will make it near-impossible to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, yet political expediency won over scientific urgency."

"It's definitely watered down from what we expected", said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "There are deep and long-standing divisions on major issues including climate finance, which countries are more obligated to take action to reduce emissions, and whether to give greater priority to adaptation.

"These divisions nearly derailed the process in Lima; if they aren't addressed, they threaten to block an agreement in Paris."

Another problem, he added, was that many of the proposals made by the industrialised countries were obscure and incomplete: "The resistance by some countries to allowing scrutiny of their proposals is troubling."

All eyes to Paris 2015

Friends of the Earth's International's Asad Rehman was equally scathing. "The only thing these talks have achieved is to reduce the chances of a fair and effective agreement to tackle climate change in Paris next year", he said.

"Once again poorer nations have been bullied by the industrialised world into accepting an outcome which leaves many of their citizens facing the grim prospect of catastrophic climate change. We have the ingenuity and resources to build the low carbon future we so urgently need - but we still lack the political will.

"With the world speeding towards catastrophic climate change, wealthy industrialised nations who have contributed most to our polluted atmosphere must take the lead in tackling this threat. The next 12 months are crucial - failure to act will have a devastating impact on us all."

FOEI says a number of key areas must be resolved if a fair and meaningful agreement is to be reached in Paris next year, including:

  • Wealthy industrialised nations must pledge bigger cuts in their emissions by 2020;
  • Wealthy industrialised nations must provide adequatefinance and technology to enable developing countries to tackle climate change and adapt to its impacts and support those already being impacted;
  • Wealthy industrialised nations must provide the finance and technology for a global renewable energy transformation;
  • All countries to commit to doing their fair share of effort to keep temps below 1.5C.

Catch-up time - but it can be done!

But those not keen on limiting their own development were happy. "We got what we wanted", said Prakash Javadekar, India's environment minister.

Despite the different views the talks did not break down, and so there is still hope. This assessment from Mohammed Adow, Christian Aid's senior climate change adviser, probably accurately sums up the Lima result:

"The countdown clock to Paris is now ticking. Countries had the chance to give themselves a head start on the road to Paris but instead have missed the gun and now need to play catch-up."

And Meyer says there is still hope that things may come good at Paris in 2015: "While the Lima summit fell short of expectations, the pressure is still on countries to put forward their best emissions reduction offers early next year.

"The good news is that the world's three largest emitters - China, Europe, and the US - have already committed to do so, and others are expected to join them."



Paul Brown writes for Climate News Network.

Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist.

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