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Finding hope in Lima

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

According to Timmon Roberts of the Brookings Institution, the ending of the climate negotiations at last week Lima was remarkably positive, given that as late as the morning before many challenges still seemed to be insurmountable. The final draft agreement may not be strong, but it does point the way towards a deal that will be decided this time next year in Paris.

The final Lima agreement expressed alarm over the likely temperature rise beyond safe levels if we do not sharply advance ambition on this issue. The agreement is new because now all nations will submit reports on their ‘Intended National Determined Contributions’, or INDCs. In the past, only the historically wealthy OECD nations had responsibilities to reduce emissions. These INDCs will cover many issues, such as reducing emissions, but also they can report how a country will adapt to climate impacts, and what they could do if they had more funding and technical support.

There are many weak areas of text, according to Roberts. Perhaps the most important is the lack of any certain public funding support for developing nations to reduce their emissions and to prepare for future climate related disasters. One of the many pieces that should have been in the text but was not, was how that funding would be generated, and who will deliver it. There is nothing binding in the document covering the ‘loss and damage’ mechanism so desperately desired by developing countries. Most crucially, the whole process is now about voluntary pledges by nations, not any rational sharing of the remaining ‘atmospheric space’ available before climate is seriously damaged.

So the UN climate glass can be seen as half empty or half full as the Lima year comes to a close. The final draft agreement may not be strong, but it does point the way towards a deal that will be decided this time next year in Paris. That deal will set the course to a set of reporting nations on what they will do by 2020 to slow global warming.

The focus can now shift back to the national capitals, as major economies will need to release their INDC plans on climate by March 2015. The rest of the world has a deadline of 1 October. By 1 November a report will be back from the UN about what the INDC plans collectively add up to. That leaves just a few weeks of crunch time to prepare for the big negotiations in Paris next December.

December 2015 is the deadline for an agreement that will have targets for emissions levels that countries are pledging to meet by 2020. Contrary to many people’s understanding, this five year lag does not mean that nations can do nothing for those five years. To the contrary, nations will have to be on their pathway to lowering their emissions over those years so they can hit their target by then.

The ending at Lima was remarkably positive, given that just the morning before, a lead negotiator was imploring parties to not throw the whole thing out but to suggest small surgical changes, not to ‘turn a circumcision into an amputation’. The lead US negotiator Todd Stern warned then that if the group failed, the future of the UN process was at stake and “We will regret if we let the perfect be the enemy of the good in Lima”.

In the end, not much was achieved at Lima, and nearly all the tough issues had been kicked down the road to the 2015 Paris round. Piles of fascinating and thorny issues lie in a ‘parking lot’ compilation document called ‘Elements of an Agreement’ which was never negotiated at Lima.

Still, Roberts holds that the glass is half full, both because the ending was more positive than was feared, but also because it literally has to be: the process is moving forward, and much will become clear as nations finalise plans this year. There will need to be careful scrutiny of national plans, and pressure from civil society and scientists to make sure that nations are doing all they can, and all they must, to stop from damaging future prospects. There is a place for all in making sure this happens.

Adapted from a report by Emma McAleavey.

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