After more than fifteen years dragging their feet, countries have finally come to terms with the fact that climate change is everyone’s problem and everyone has a responsibility to address it. But the ‘Lima Call for Climate Action’ does not go nearly far enough fast enough; public engagement and global peer pressure are urgent as we head into 2015 and COP 21 in Paris.

Unfortunately, since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, climate negotiations have floundered. This is often attributed to disagreements between developed and developing nations regarding the concept of CBDR in reducing emissions. While positions are complex, it ultimately boils down to the fact that developing nations emphasize the “differentiated” whereas developed nations emphasize the “common”; developing countries suspect no one really wants them to leapfrog their way to developed country status while developed countries are afraid of reduction targets that will force their economies into a stand-still.

LET THE CIRCUS BEGIN...


The mood was decidedly optimistic at the outset of negotiations in Lima, after the historic joint announcement made by China and the US, the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters, the initial resource mobilization of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), and because of the momentum gained after the release of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report.

Negotiations got off to a slow start as the first couple of days were entirely bogged down by concerns over procedure and transparency. However, once the issue of showing draft text proposals on the screen projectors was decided in the favor of developing countries, the negotiations got underway in earnest.

The main sticking points in the negotiations included adaptation, transparency and finance. Adaptation was clearly a much higher concern for developing countries than for developed, who were advocating that their emission reduction pledges (called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) in UN jargon) be mitigation-only. Developing countries were quick to point out that that there is currently no evaluation of the existing adaptation architecture or its implementation.

Though there was broad support for transparency, what the concept meant varied from Party to Party. Developed countries advocated a mitigation-based approach where transparency relates to common reporting and accounting mechanisms. Developing countries were reluctant to commit to meticulous accounting procedures without a clear indication of what kind of financial support would be provided to them in order to implement them. Developing countries continued to call for scaling up climate finance as well as setting interim targets to reach the $100 billion/year goal set for 2020. They expressed concern that pledges do not always materialize and lamented the lack of an agreed definition of climate finance in general.

SO WHAT DID PERU ACCOMPLISH?

Following lengthy negotiations on the draft decision, which went two days over schedule, COP 20 adopted the Lima Call for Climate Action, which lays the groundwork for COP21 in Paris in December 2015 by progressing the draft negotiation text and adopting a decision on submitting and reviewing INDCs and enhancing pre-2020 ambition.

Participants and observers hoped that the optimism present at the outset of the negotiations would cause a fundamental shift in terms of mutual trust and long-held negotiating positions. This did not appear to be the case as transparency and finance remained primary concerns, keeping with tradition. Nevertheless, many delegates attributed the US-China announcement as playing a major role in reaching agreement on the Lima Call for Climate Action deal. More concrete indications of the impact of this deal were to be found as well; the principle of CBDR is defined in the Lima deal including the phrase “in light of different national circumstances” – taken almost verbatim from the US-China announcement.

The Lima Call for Climate Action is the first time all nations have agreed to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. The deal also represents a real shift away from the longstanding division of the world into developed and developing nations that, until now, has been used to create and allocate emission reduction obligations. The Lima deal may leave global society wanting on many fronts, but its break-away from the binary – not to mention outdated – classification of countries into either ‘developed’ or ‘developing’ should be recognized for what it is: progress.

That being said, the Lima deal does not go nearly far enough, fast enough. Countries are currently permitted to create their own emission reduction plans according to their specific national circumstances. But even if countries make pledges comparable to those already made by the EU, U.S. and China, global emissions in 2030 are still on track to lead us to more (way more) than 2°C warming – the point at which scientists say the planet will tip into dangerous and irreversible effects.

To make matters worse, the less mitigation we undertake, the greater need we will have for adaptation. Despite a hard fight, developing nations failed to secure a concrete reference to adaptation in the Lima deal (nor did they manage to secure commitments to new financial assistance, though there was an undeniable success in the Green Climate Fund reaching it’s target of mobilizing US$10 billion), instead, the deal invites Parties to “consider including” an adaptation component in their national plans.

PROSPECTS IN 2015

I’ll admit it. It’s depressing that it took this long to reach a potential global deal on climate change. It’s easy to be a critic of the Peru deal; there is so much that remains to be determined and so many gaps that remain to be filled. But I hope that we can accept and celebrate the progress that has been made – there is no turning back to the binary developing-developed system. Everyone has a responsibility to address climate change and everyone knows it. At the same time, global peer pressure played a substantial role in 2014 on the road to the Peru deal and we need to keep the pressure on as we head into Paris next year.

If we are to have any hope of remaining within the 2°C goal, all countries need to scale up their commitments considerably by 2050 and we need to phase out GHG emissions altogether by the end of the century at the latest. It is both unrealistic and unreasonable to expect any nation to determine an entire policy framework for such a long time scale – so any agreement next year in Paris should specify a consistent timeline on which countries strengthen their commitments while simultaneously specifying a long-term, zero-emission goal.

Peru could be the first step towards increasing ambition and securing momentum. But public engagement is the only way we will be able to get where we need to be by the time we need to be there. 2014 was a good year for the climate fight; indeed the climate movement has never been stronger. Let’s make 2015 even better by pressuring our world leaders even harder to reach the global climate deal that should have been reached so long ago!