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Climate Change – The Lima Hangover

By ucftmgr, on 13 January 2015

sustainable world (c) istockphoto

sustainable world (c) istockphoto

The 20th Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate change opened in Lima on 1st December and finally closed at 1.30am on the morning of Sunday 15th.  As ever the case with complex global negotiations, the late finalisation reflected hard-fought struggles to reach agreement – in this case, establishing the final roadmap for the Paris COP21 in December 2015 on which hinge hopes for an effective new global treaty on tackling climate change.

Most commentators greeted the Lima outcome positively, somewhere on the spectrum between relief and enthusiasm. Some of those usually inclined to scepticism about international negotiations were marked in their praise. It may have helped that the organisation was smooth (no mean feat with more than 10,000 people attending), the venue unusually convenient for negotiators and observers alike, and the weather fine. A good atmosphere helps. Lima was marked above all by a sense of optimism, energy and – dare I say it – inclusiveness, which has been largely lacking ever since the collapse of the Copenhagen summit in 2009.

I was attending under the auspices of the international research network Climate Strategies, which had organised four side events, and for a meeting of the Editorial Board of the Climate Policy journal. The side events were comparatively well attended – never a given – and will have helped to put UCL-ISR “on the map”.

The core interest, of course, was with the negotiations. The agenda, as always, was broad.  The finance discussions were mildly lifted by the announcement that contributions had reached the $10bn goal for the next few years and the sense that the machinery of the Green Climate Fund is now fully in operation. But it was of course muted by eternal disagreements over exactly how the money should be spent – including the balance between mitigation and adaptation – and the ominous shadow of the goal to reach $100bn/year by 2020, and even more entrenched views about the relative contributions of public and private sector.

Another important tension in the negotiations is over “loss and damage”.  It is widely accepted that however much effort is put into adaptation, climate change will result in loss and damages – indeed, by most reckonings, already has.  Developing countries have successfully insisted that the question of what to do about it – including who is responsible, with its undertones of liability and compensation is on the agenda.  Developed countries have been desperate to try and not talk about the issue and to keep it off the agenda.  They did not succeed at the previous COP and the Lima outcome confirms that the issue will simply not go away: it will remain a running sore unless and until some kind of way forward is found.

But at the heart of the final deal was agreement on the process and terms for all countries to submit ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ during the first half of next year. The Lima outcome sets out the framework for these “INDCs”, confirming that they may include a wide raft of issues beyond purely setting out mitigation ambition to 2025 or 2030.  INDCs become the new central tool for the global process, and the new key jargon.  Do not underestimate the significance: it amounts to a significant shift from the original Convention, which placed the emphasis on industrialised country leadership, to a fully global process. Not surprisingly, one of the major wrangles that kept the lawyers busy was the wording of whether the whole process is “under” or “guided by” the Convention.

But the reality is that all countries are expected to set out what they propose to contribute to the global effort. The guidelines are limited; the scope is broad; and the process of evaluation remains contentious.  But anyone with experience will recognise that it sets the Parties on a one-way street.  It is also of some significance that Lima also reasserted its support in principle for the goal to limit global temperature rise to 2 deg.C

And therein of course will lie the hangover. The celebrations that Lima sets a good basis for the Paris COP are understandable, but it may all look very different in a few months. By June, we should for the first time have a global set of national offerings. And that will make it plain that the ‘bottom-up’ intentions do not remotely match the ‘top-down’ ambition.  Indeed, it will be apparent that they point in opposite directions.  We already have the first few big ones: the EU 40% target for 2030 agreed in October was followed swiftly by the US-China announcement. In that, the US stated it would cut by around 25% (from its peak in 2005) and China agreed to cap its rising emissions by 2030.  In effect, that is a deal for emissions somewhat over 10 tonnes CO2 / capita – in sharp contrast to the implications of a “2 deg.C” goal, which implies close to 2 tCO2/cap by 2050.

Stand by for a nasty hangover as the world is faced by the concrete evidence that the global aggregation of national “intentions” are – one could say – on a different planet from the one that defines the agreed global ambition.


Prof Michael Grubb is Professor of International Energy and Climate Change Policy at UCL ISR as well as Senior Advisor on Sustainable Energy Policy to the UK Energy Regulator Ofgem

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