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The UN Climate Conference in Lima

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

What’s on the line in Lima?

According to Timmons Roberts, after the Copenhagen talks in 2009 faltered and nearly brought down the UN-led negotiations to muster the world’s nations to address this trickiest of issues, the multilatral system is finally rising to its feet again. Many issues are coming to a head this month as thousands of officials, experts and activists converge on Lima, Peru for the 20th annual UN climate change negotiations, called the COP (Conference of the Parties).

There will be debates on who is doing enough to reduce their emissions, focusing on the big emitters like the US, China, the EU, India, Brazil, Japan, Russia and Indonesia. There will be technical debates about which countries should actually be required to promise, whether it is just emissions, or also should include issues like financial pledges, new technology to be shared, assistance with adapting to climate impacts, and so on.

On emission reductions, the joint announcement by the US and China was quite well timed to show a way forward. It showed that pledges can be quite different for nations at different stages of their national development, and that they can be ambitious in their own ways.

All of what comes out of Lima will not be enough. But it will be start. The best idea swirling around these days is that we will all have to get together again in five years to make a new round of promises for the next five years of actions. The thinking is that the need to act will become clearer by then, and the means to do so will also become more plentiful.

Some despairing climate policy observers used to gasp at the idea that 20 years of negotiations had gone by since the first Conference of the Parties in Berlin in 1995. Now the consensus is that more years are exactly what we need, to get to ever more ambitious pledges.

US-China climate agreement a crucial step for Lima 2014?

According to Joshua Meltzer, this is the last UN meeting before the meeting in Paris in 2015, where countries have agreed to reach agreement on greenhouse gas (GHG) targets that will apply from 2020 onward. Getting to a climate change agreement in Paris will require maximizing the opportunity of leaders meetings on forums such as the G-20 and APEC to discuss the key elements of what can be agreed.

In this regard, the US and China climate change agreement at the recent APEC meeting in Beijing is a crucial step. The US has now committed to reducing its GHG emissions by 26 – 28% by 2025 and China has agreed to peak its CO2 emissions around 2030.

These are ambitious targets for the US and China. Coming from the world’s first and second largest GHG emitters that can electively represent approximately 40% of global GHG emissions, it also signals to the rest of the world that the US and China are serious about reaching an ambitious agreement in Paris to address climate change.

For instance, for the US to meet is target will require a doubling of its GHG emissions reductions from 2020. For China’s CO2 emissions to peak will require significant structural reforms. In addition, China’s target includes a commitment to a 20% share of its energy coming from non-fossil fuels. Some of this will be made up from the large nuclear build that is underway, but significant increases in solar energy and wind will also be needed.

The fact that China has now agreed to a target is also a significant step for climate change diplomacy. This is the first time that a large developing country has agreed to accept an economy wide cap on its emissions. It stands in contrast to the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, included in the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, and which developing countries have used to argue that they should not be required to cap their emissions. This position has gummed up climate diplomacy, particularly as it became clear that large developing economies like China, which were accounting for ever larger shares of GHG emissions, had to cap their emissions if the world was to reach the goal of keeping temperature increases below 2°C over pre-industrial levels.

The expectation now is that the US-China climate change deal will change the negotiating dynamics at this UN climate change meeting in Lima. `governments from the developed world and the large emerging economies contributing the most to climate change should now by busily determining their own post 2020 GHG targets and using this meeting in Lima to make progress on the range of other issues under discussion.

US-China climate accord a breakthrough for Paris 2015?

According to Charles Frank, the recent climate change accord between US and China raised hopes that agreement on emission targets could be reached in the Paris negotiations in December 2015. While clearly a breakthrough, the Chinese commitment is weak. It makes 2030 the year of maximum greenhouse gas emissions, but places no limit on growth between now and then. Over the last decade, greenhouse gas emissions by China have been growing at nearly 10%/y. If they grow half as fast between now and 2030, or an average of 5%/y, they will have more than doubled from approximately 10 billion to approximately 24 billion tpy. China’s per capita emissions will then be approximately 70% greater than those in the US.

A credible global climate agreement required some commitment from India as well as China. Yet India could reasonably argue that its target date for peak emission should be much later than 2030. India’s per capita GDP is less than half of that of China’s on a purchasing power parity basis. India could argue that its target year should be extended beyond 2030 until such time as its per capita GDP is expected to be the same as China’s in 2030. For sake of illustration, if the per capita of both China and India grow at 6%/y, China’s per capita GDP would reach approximately US$32 000, while India would not reach that level until 2043.

The Copenhagen negotiations established a target maximum 2.0°C increase in average global temperatures by 2100. Under the best of circumstances, this target will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to meet. Most scenarios designed to reach this target require complete decarbonisation of electricity production and in many instances zero or even negative global annual emissions, achieved by combining biomass fuels for electricity production with carbon capture and sequestration. Without some limits on growth of emissions between now and some future peak emissions year, the 2.0°C degree target will be much more difficult than it is already.

Adapted from a report by Emma McAleavey.

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