The UN Climate Change Conference (known as COP20) in Lima, Peru limped to a conclusion early Sunday morning with a weak agreement that condemns the planet to increased global warming.
The summit was supposed to set up the framework for a new global climate agreement next year, but it failed to live up to its billing. Instead, the key proposal underpinning the “Lima Call for Climate Action” allows countries to set their own targets.
The risks of that type of bottom-up, “anything goes” stance were revealed by last month’s U.S.-China climate deal. Widely hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough, it fell a long way short of the emissions cuts that climate scientists say are needed, especially when equity between nations and the U.S. role in outsourcing its emissions to other countries are taken into account.
Based on current projections, including plans that the U.S., China, and the EU have already announced, the aggregate of national emissions targets is expected to point towards 4° Celcius global warming, which would have a catastrophic impact in terms of floods, droughts, sea level rises and more extreme weather.
That scenario contradicts the goal of preventing dangerous climate change, which all 194 countries present in Lima agreed when they signed onto the UN Climate Convention. When John Kerry told COP20 that the world is “on a course leading to tragedy”, what he forgot to add is that the US is at the helm and steering us onto the rocks.
The weak outcome in Lima came after over two weeks of fraught negotiations, which over-ran by a day and a half. The main disputes, in common with previous climate talks, concerned the respective roles of rich and poor countries.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is clear that rich countries, including the USA, should take the lead in climate action. They were the first to industrialize, doing the most to cause climate change and becoming wealthy in the process, which leaves them best place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions domestically and cope with the effects of the climate change that is already happening.
To level this playing field, rich countries are supposed to transfer money to help poor countries cope with climate change, and to support them in taking a cleaner path to development. To that end, the 2009 UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen (COP15) saw rich countries promise that they would collectively mobilize $100 billion per year in climate finance by 2020. That’s an arbitrary, political figure that is unrelated to equity and dwarfed by most estimates of what’s needed, which run to hundreds of billions per year. But it was, at least, a firm promise.
We’re now at the halfway point to the date when the funds promised in Copenhagen are supposed to flow, but the level of funding is currently being leveled down rather than ratcheted up towards the $100 billion goal. Much was made of $10 billion pledged (over a four year period) to the new Green Climate Fund, but precious little else was forthcoming.
A lost decade
The Lima talks were also supposed to concretize international climate action for the period through to 2020, when a new treaty would kick in. But there were no further commitments to reduce emissions faster, and no process emerged for revising the weak targets that developed countries have set for themselves. That means we face a lost decade since the last attempt to broker an international climate treaty failed in 2009. At the same time, the climate science remains crystal clear about the need for urgent action.
It’s going to be a long and rocky road from here to Paris.