Climate

What Needs To Happen To Make Lima A Successful Climate Conference

CREDIT: AP/Juan Karita

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto wipes sweat from his brow during a signing ceremony at the Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014.

LIMA, PERU — As the negotiations near an end in the latest round of climate talks, parties will begin to soften their hard lines to come to an agreement. There are many building blocks in the foundation of the sweeping new climate agreement to be struck next December in Paris, and a number of debates still require settling before representatives from 190 countries head home from Lima, where they’ve been gathered since the beginning of the month.

For the sake of achieving broad participation for the Paris agreement, countries will determine their own climate targets. However, to facilitate transparency — and appraisal of how far the agreement will go toward avoiding dangerous climate change — parties are expected to submit their intended targets well in advance of the Paris agreement.

One of the primary tasks for these negotiations is to decide the nature of the targets and the required upfront information — which could include the base year used, the sectors covered, and the gases covered, for example. However, a number of disagreements have emerged in establishing the parameters of the national goals:

  • Finance. There is a split between developed and developing countries on whether the national targets and upfront information should address finance. The U.S., E.U., Japan, and others have stressed that mitigation should be the focus of the targets. In contrast, parties such as India, China, and Sudan, have argued that provisions for finance are necessary to reassure developing countries that there will be financial support to underlie their mitigation and adaptation efforts. In response, developed countries have suggested that recent contributions to the Green Climate Fund — which surpassed the $10 billion mark this week — should provide assurance and that finance for the post-2020 period belongs in the Paris agreement.
  • Assessment. To help ensure that the agreement will be sufficiently strong to rein in emissions, some parties, such as the European Union and the members of AILAC, a bloc of Latin American and Caribbean countries, would like there to be a process to assess the national targets. China and India, however, are currently opposed to assessment. The United States is not opposed to assessment but has taken a less rigid stance than the E.U., proposing a transparency period rather than an evaluation process.
  • Adaptation. There is also a split over whether the national targets and upfront information should address adaptation. Again, developed countries have stressed that the primary focus should be mitigation. Developing countries, on the other hand, have stressed the urgency of adaptation — and adaptation finance — in the face of events such as Typhoon Hagupit, which caused widespread destruction in the Philippines several days ago.
  • Differentiation. A final disagreement is over how developed and developing countries are represented in the Lima text. Todd Stern, the U.S. climate envoy, is opposed to a rigid division such that different groups of countries would be fixed in different categories of obligations. Instead, all countries should be encouraged to commit to economy-wide emissions reductions and provide climate finance to the most vulnerable if they have the capacity.

The parties are well on track to complete the second of their tasks for this session: to create a document that will serve as a springboard for the Paris agreement. This document is meant to be inclusive and porous. It represents a multiplicity of views and options, and it does not preclude elements from being added over the coming year. The current draft of the document includes many possible objectives, such as a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 40 to 70 percent below 2010 levels by 2050, a global goal on adapting to climate change, and a phaseout of fossil fuel subsidies.

The legal status of the eventual agreement has been — and will remain — under discussion. Many parties, such as the European Union, would prefer the national mitigation targets to be legally binding for the sake of accountability. An agreement with legally binding targets, however, could risk a drop in participation. For example in the U.S., such an agreement would need to be ratified by the Senate, which did not even ratify the original Kyoto-protocol during an era of less acrimonious partisanship.

Later on Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry will arrive in Lima to deliver a speech on the urgency of global climate action. He is expected to emphasize how climate change is far more than an environmental issue, but also a security issue. This will be one more motivator for negotiators in their quest to resolve disagreements and move closer to an agreement that can have a meaningful effect on global emissions.

Gwynne Taraska is a Senior Policy Advisor at the Center for American Progress.