Monday, December 15, 2014

COP20 Agreement at the Lima Climate Talks

After being near death, a draft climate framework has been salvaged that keeps hope alive for a final agreement in 2015. The compromise agreement was reached after a two day extension of the COP20 climate meetings in Lima Peru. The 194 nations present managed to agree on a framework for setting national pledges that will be submitted next year at COP21 in Paris.

While some dismissed the outcome as an ineffectual compromise, others hailed the agreement as an important step forward. Once again the UN climate talks were marred by wealthy nation's reluctance to assume the financial burdens of emissions reductions in poorer countries.

Nonetheless the agreement contains support for "vulnerable" developing nations from wealthy countries. Most importantly it continues to seek an "ambitious agreement" in 2015 that reflect the "differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities" of each nation. National targets for emissions reductions are to go beyond their "current undertaking."

In addition to emissions reduction pledges and finance, one of the chief accomplishments of COP20 involves a new classification of nations beyond just rich and poor (or North and South). Originally, UN Annex 1 and Non-Annex 1 said that wealthier nations would take on carbon-cutting commitments while poorer countries would not. Rather than use the UN's outdated Annex 1 and Non-Annex 1 designations, emissions reductions will now be tied to a country's level of development.

To accommodate the common sense notion that poor countries should not be expected to make the same level of emissions reductions as rich countries, the language on national pledges was weakened from "shall" include quantifiable information showing how they intend to meet their emissions targets to "may."

As a concession to developing countries, the Lima draft does not demand emission reduction commitments. Perhaps the greatest problem with the talks emanate from the fact that on many important issues, delegates simply kicked the can down the road. This will make a final agreement in 2015 that much more difficult.

On the upside the negotiating text explicitly mentions the goal of zero fossil fuel emissions by 2050. Thanks to the new ground rules found in the Lima deal there is still a small glimmer of hope that we may be able to secure a final agreement next year in Paris and keep the world within the two degree Celsius upper threshold limit.

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