Negotiators Strike Last-Minute Deal To Reduce Carbon Emissions

CREDIT: AP Photo/Juan Karita

Sam Kutesa, Ugandan Minister of Foreign Affairs and current president of the United Nations General Assembly, speaks during a press conference at the Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014.

International negotiators reached a climate deal Sunday that will set the stage for a major global agreement during next year’s climate talks in Paris, but which some say doesn’t go far enough in limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

The deal, agreed upon by delegates from more than 190 countries, commits all nations to greenhouse gas reductions, and will in the coming months create the basis for a global climate agreement to be adopted during next year’s UN climate talks. As part of the deal, countries will submit plans over the next six months that outline how they will limit their carbon emissions. The plans will be published online by the United Nations and will collectively form the agreement that countries will sign during next year’s talks.

The agreement takes countries’ differing financial statuses into account, stating that that all countries have “common but differentiated responsibilities” to tackle climate change — language that acknowledges that richer countries have more resources to deal with climate change than poorer countries. However, the deal also contains the phrase “in light of different national circumstances,” which acts as an attempt to recognize that splitting countries into “developed” and “developing” categories isn’t effective anymore when it comes to climate change negotiations. Countries such as India and China could still be considered “developing,” but they’re also responsible for a large share of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The deal also urges richer countries to financially support poorer countries’ efforts on climate change, especially countries that are “particularly vulnerable” to the impacts of climate change, such as island nations. Many countries underscored their commitment to helping developing nations deal with climate change over the past few weeks: the Green Climate Fund, which was set up to help poorer countries adapt to and mitigate climate change, hit its $10 billion goal during the talks in Lima. The deal also includes language on “loss and damage,” giving small, vulnerable nations hope that financial assistance for the damages caused by rising seas and major storms would be made available in the 2015 agreements.

But some environmental groups aren’t happy about the deal, which includes a passage that states that the least developed countries “may” — instead of “shall” — include their strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their submitted reduction plans; language that had weakened from an earlier draft of the deal to the final draft. Representatives from both the World Wildlife Fund and the Union of Concerned Scientists said that the final deal was more watered down than they would have liked.

Jamie Henn, strategy and communications director of environmental group, said in a statement that the Lima deal showed that there remains a “disconnect” between international negotiators and climate activists.

“Negotiators failed to build on the momentum coming into these talks,” he said, referencing September’s climate march in New York and other protests over climate change in the last year. “With the impacts of climate change already being felt in vulnerable communities around the world, the need for immediate action could not be more clear, and yet rich countries are still dragging their feet on everything from finance to emissions reductions.”

Not all environmental groups were completely unhappy with the deal, however. The Sierra Club was more tempered in its repsonse, saying that the Paris talks would be “the place for the world’s leaders to catch up” to Americans’ calls for climate action. And the NRDC emphasized the progress that the deal could bring to international climate negotiations, if countries get serious about cutting their emissions.

“Countries around the world now fully understand that early next year they must commit to ambitious reductions in climate pollution and bold measures to slow global warming,” Jake Schmidt, NRDC’s International Program Director, said in a statement. “The progress from Lima must result in pledges for real action by the time the world convenes in Paris. Only together can we avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and for the sake of our children and future generations we must.”