Lima deal is ‘bare minimum’ needed for 2015 Paris climate accord

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The UN climate summit in Lima ended in agreement—the so-called “Lima Call for Climate Action”—early on Sunday morning, but whether it sets the stage for a new treaty strong enough to compel collective action in time is still an open question.

Reactions from NGOs ranged from slightly hopeful to disappointment to outright condemnation.

Alden Meyer, from the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists said the decision was very disappointing, and was the “bare minimum” needed to get agreement on a new climate accord in Paris in 2015.

“There were storm clouds on the horizon well before negotiators arrived in Lima,” said Meyer. “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.”

La Gorda
_(Photo: Corey Watts/Peru this Week)_

For the first time, adaptation has been formally agreed to as part of the UNFCCC process; a reflection of the growing realization that climate change is not something that might happen, the climate is already changing now. And things are likely to worsen for millions.

Galling for many less-developed countries, and a major block in the debate, is that the agreed text has no path for raising finance for adaption and clean development, and no formal mechanism to deal with “Loss and Damage” (assistance to poor countries to help them deal with the unavoidable costs of extreme weather events).

La Gorda
_(Photo: Corey Watts/Peru this Week)_

Loss and Damage was first raised at COP19 in Warsaw and has not been advanced, despite an impassioned plea from the least developed countries and Pacific Island states.

The question of how climate efforts and the costs of action should be divided up split the Plenary of COP20 roughly along traditional North–South lines. Many African, Asian, and Latin American countries (not Peru) railed against what they saw as a problem they did not cause.

Harjeet Singh, from the development organization ActionAid, said that, for all their pleas, poor countries had been given “window dressing”. Loss and Damage sits in the preamble to the Lima document.

“It’s very important that people understand that the pleas from representatives of developing countries in the Plenary were not negotiating tactics. These delegates represent their people and their people are already suffering.”

Rapid economic growth in the last two decades means that many developing countries are now in a stronger position to contribute. Indeed, Peru and Colombia both made modest donations to the Green Climate Fund last week. Still, many developing countries argued that to expect them to pay was to re-write the UN climate convention itself.

Still, government and NGO delegates alike singled out Latin American countries, including Peru, for their constructive contributions. In particular, COP20 President and Peruvian environment minister, Manuel Pulgar–Vidal, received widespread praise for the way he steered the summit. Many suggest that, without his preparations and skilful chairmanship the talks could well have fallen apart.

La Gorda
_(Photo: Corey Watts/Peru this Week)_

By May next year, countries are supposed to submit their pledges and plans for reducing emissions for the next five years. Some, notably China, were nervous at the suggestion that they might be compelled to open up their plans to greater international scrutiny. The Lima text, however, no longer requires them to do so—a compromise that proved key to consensus.

Alden Meyer believes this weakens the ability of countries to scrutinize each other.

“There is now no formal scrutiny of the offers that countries put on the table; that is left up to civil society and the media. There is no way to gauge the adequacy of countries’ collective effort,” said Meyer.

Crucially, the so-called “elements” document—replete with options and alternatives not yet agreed to—has been attached to the Lima decision as an annex, giving it legal status.

This is crucial because the annex includes limits on global warming below 1.5 or 2 ˚C, deep cuts in emissions by 2050 with zero net emissions by 2100, and economy-wide reductions of greenhouse gases. It also reaffirms the role of carbon pricing as a cost-effective method of achieving these goals—a lesson some countries have yet to learn. Not say Lima gets us over the line but its historical significance should not be underestimated. The Lima Call for Climate Action is a frank admission that the world is in deep trouble and must act urgently to avoid the worst.

The good news is that the world’s three biggest polluters—China, Europe, and the US—have already committed to lift their game, with others expected to join them. Moreover, private and public investment in renewables is growing rapidly, although it is still small relative to investment in fossil fuels, but then it has yet to receive the same financial backing.

We should not take too much comfort from this, however, since the world is still working against the clock, and there are those who would drag it backwards. Climate change is a reality right now, and scientists say we have a window of perhaps fifteen years to peak emissions and then rapidly bring them down thereafter. Most nations, including the great powers, can’t ignore this, not after Lima. But will we make it happen in time? The answer may well emerge in Paris next December, but between then and now there is a lot of work to be done.A day and a half past schedule, delegates at COP20 stumbled upon a consensus. But was it enough?

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