The two-week United Nations climate conference in Peru, which begins Monday, is the final pit stop before Paris in 2015, where negotiators aim to strike a deal obligating, for the first time, all countries to combat climate change.
The Lima talks are expected to deliver a draft text to be negotiated and finalized in Paris next year. Nations aim to chart a course for unprecedented action on reducing carbon emissions, while ensuring that developing nations' goals of economic growth to bring millions out of poverty are not derailed.
After years of shifting blame at such talks, China and the United States boosted the political momentum ahead of the Lima negotiations by announcing a major climate change agreement on Nov. 11.
The U.S. pledged to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2015 and China pledged to begin reducing its emissions by 2030. Separately, the European Union has decided to reduce emissions by at least 40 percent compared with 1990 levels by 2030.
But the emission reduction pledges by all major industrial nations are far short of the 40 to 70 percent cuts from 2010 levels by 2050 recommended by scientists to contain the temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.
Carbon dioxide emissions are set to reach a record high of 40 billion tons in 2014. The largest emitters are China at 29 percent, the United States at 15 percent, the European Union at 10 percent and India at 7.1 percent.
In March, scientists issued their starkest warning about the consequences of climate change if substantial and rapid reductions in carbon emissions are not made to contain the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius: longer heat waves, more intense rains, flooding, water scarcity, ecosystem-destroying acidification of oceans, mass species extinction and food insecurity, which can lead to economic upheavals and violent conflicts.
“Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally,” said the report of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Scientists have warned that rising sea levels pose a threat to the very existence of some atoll nations. In September, Kathy Jetnil-Kijine, a poet from the Marshall Islands, recited a poem about protecting Matafele Peinam, her baby girl, from climate change. “No one’s drowning, baby, no one’s moving, no one’s losing their homeland, no one’s gonna become a climate change refugee,” she told world leaders at the United Nations climate change summit in New York.
The Philippines negotiator Yeb Sano broke down in tears at the United Nations climate change conference in Poland, in November 2013, a few days after his country was hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan, one of the worst storms in recorded history.
“What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness,” he said.
Final pit stop
The talks will have to make progress on several issues, including financing the Green Climate Fund to the tune of $100 billion a year from 2020, the demand by poor countries that rich countries pay for the loss and damage caused by climate change and ending deforestation by 2030. The Green Climate Fund finances programs and policies to promote green technology in developing countries.
“I think that the world knows that we can’t fail like we failed in Copenhagen. I’m completely sure that we are going to have an agreement in Paris by the next year,” Peru’s environment minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal said in October.
The 2009 Copenhagen conference collapsed after a group of powerful countries including the United States, China and India, brokered a weak agreement without involving the majority of the 180 parties participating in the talks. The move eroded the process of building consensus, and negotiations since have been crippled by distrust.
With all parties required to submit their “intended nationally determined contributions” to reduce emissions by March 2015, negotiators in Lima will have to tackle contentious question of what these contributions should include. Some parties interpret the term “contributions” to mean reducing carbon dioxide emissions while others see it as going beyond mitigation targets to include adaptation, finance and technology. The emerging economies, Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC), which met in October, said that their investment in adaptation should be counted as a contribution.
“Overall, the developed country targets are uninspiring, not high enough and certainly not fair, and will mean a shifting of much of the burden on developing,” said Meena Raman, a negotiations expert from the Third World Network, a non-governmental organization based in Geneva advocating for developing countries. “The planet and the poor will suffer as a result of this.”
Benito Mueller, who heads the Oxford Climate Policy, a capacity building initiative for the U.N. climate change negotiations, said that Lima is the last chance to settle architectural issues like the process by which future targets or commitments are established and rules for monitoring compliance with the targets
“It is important that such a process provides some degree of certainty for the near term, but also indicates the direction of these targets in the longer term, with some flexibility to revise the direction so as to take into account what is needed in accordance to scientific evidence,” he said.
Negotiators have also not addressed the controversial issue of whether the contributions will be legally binding. “My guess is it will be punted, even in Paris, and we'll emerge with something vague that tries to make countries sound good without committing them to much,” said Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org global climate movement.
Disagreements between developed countries and emerging economies like China and India over sharing the responsibility of reducing carbon emissions have stalled climate change negotiations for several years. But activists say the real blow to the talks has been the failure of developed countries to commit to mitigation targets that would prevent the global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius.
McKibben described the European Union’s pledge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 as “fairly weak with a lot of compromises.”
“I tend to look at actions more than promises, and the EU’s recent decision to boost the use of tar sands oil seems to me a sad forecast of their actual intent,” he said.
Last month, the European Commission dropped its effort to grade tar sand as highly polluting, allowing Canada to export oil from the tar sands to the EU.
Observers say that developed countries can set a positive tone for the talks by beefing up the Green Climate Fund. So far, donors have pledged $9.3 billion, shy of the minimum target of $10 billion set by the U.N. for this year, and short of the $15 billion demanded by developing nations.
Parting of old allies
As the Paris deadline draws near, developing countries will push to to salvage what remains of the common but differentiated principle, which recognized that developed countries carried the burden of reducing emissions because they were historically responsible for pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
When the emerging economies of Brazil, South Africa, India and China came under pressure to combat climate change, they banded into the BASIC group to advocate their need to develop and fight poverty. Carbon emissions grew by 5.1 percent in India from 2012 to 2013, but it produces 1.9 tons of emissions per person compared to 16.4 tons per emissions in the U.S. and 7.2 tons in China.
The IPCC report did not assign responsibilities for mitigation, but it said, “Mitigation and adaptation raise issues of equity, justice and fairness.”
The old BASIC alliance is unlikely to carry as much weight in Lima in the aftermath of the U.S.-China secretly negotiated deal, which caught India by surprise and is likely to intensify the pressure on Delhi to commit more in Lima.
While China is talking of peaking its emissions, the Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which came to power on a development agent, plans to focus on the issue of adaptation in Lima.
Mueller from the Oxford Climate Policy said the political alliance of the BASIC countries never made economic sense, with Brazil far less stressed by poverty than the economies of South Africa and China, which are still less stressed by poverty than India.
"India is not in the same category as China and what China has done should not be automatically expected from India," said Mueller.