Do outcomes from Lima advance us on the road to a low-carbon society?

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So, as has now become the norm at these annual climate summits, Lima ran over by almost two days and managed a last-minute, late-night agreement in the early hours of Sunday morning after being deadlocked in an impasse. While weary delegates began their trips home with some relief, how does the Lima Call for Climate Action look in the cold light of day? How much closer does it get us to an ambitious international treaty to be agreed in Paris this time next year?

While, as NGOs have been tweeting since the conference close, the agreed four-page text is a disappointment, postponing substantive agreements until Paris, a closer read offers some substantial grounds for hope. Depending on how it is used, the Lima Call for Climate Action offers an ambitious framework for advancing on all the major issues that will be needed for a treaty that finally begins to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on the scale urgently needed.

Despite determined action by developed countries to narrow the agreement to emissions targets (what is called mitigation), developing countries were finally successful in ensuring that such crucial issues to them as building their resilience against climate disasters (what is called adaptation), funding by developed countries to help achieve this, transfer of technology by developed countries and the crucial loss and damage mechanism that is so important to help small island states cope with the possibly fatal impact of rising sea levels, all made their way into the final text. And, importantly, their inclusion ensures that they will be reflected in the final treaty to be agreed in Paris next year which, it is also agreed, will have 'legal force'.

The outcome also maintains the important principle of 'common but differentiated responsibilities' that has been a central element of global environmental politics since the Rio summit in 1992. This is the recognition that developed countries have been mostly responsible for the problem of GHG emissions and therefore bear greater responsibility for resolving it. The US in particular has sought over the years to deny this, arguing that large developing countries such as China and India must do more to reduce emissions; efforts to water down this key principle in Lima failed and the document agreed this morning states that the commitment to reaching 'an ambitious agreement in 2015' will reflect this principle. 

So what was agreed finally in Lima? All countries are to send their emissions targets (what are called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat in Bonn ideally by the end of next March. A draft negotiating text of the Paris treaty will be prepared 'before May 2015'. By November 1st 2015, the UNFCCC will issue a synthesis report 'on the aggregate effect' of what has been pledged. This is a very important breakthrough, offering some transparency on how far the pledges will get us towards keeping global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. 

Indeed, in the Lima document all the world's countries note 'with grave concern the significant gap' between the aggregate effect of what has been pledged so far and the possibility of keeping warming to below 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees Celsius. This is an important recognition in such a document that pledges will need to be much more ambitious. Furthermore, the Lima document explicitly states that each country's pledges 'will represent a progression' beyond what they have already pledged. In addition, least developed countries and small island developing states 'may' communicate their strategies and actions for low-carbon development.

Finally, the Lima Call pledges to 'enhance ambition in the pre-2020 period in order to ensure the highest possible mitigation efforts' under the UNFCCC process. It pledges greater efforts to enhance our technical knowledge on how to achieve the ambitions targets necessary and to share this knowledge with developing countries. It also pledges to provide opportunities for the effective engagement of 'relevant international organisations, civil society, indigenous peoples, women, youth, academic institutions, the private sector and subnational authorities'.

Therefore, while we can be disappointed that the text contains no concrete targets and that nothing has been agreed in terms of climate financing by developed countries nor their contribution to the loss and damage mechanism to help countries deal with climate disasters (especially low-lying small island states), the significance of the  framework laid out in this brief document, as well as the sense of ambition and urgency that is evident throughout, should not be underestimated.  

Finally, Ireland did not cover itself in glory at Lima. Having been singled out as one of the few developed countries that had not pledged a contribution to the Green Climate Fund together with Belgium and Austria, not only did these latter two make their pledges but Peru and Colombia also stepped up to the mark. Furthermore, the speech delivered by Alex White, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, showed a complacency and lack of realism about Ireland's commitment that was frankly embarrassing. It was given just days after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had reported on Ireland's emissions showing emerging problems in the agriculture, transport, housing and waste sectors that belie the Minister's optimistic words. 

So, overall, we can say that there has been some important progress but that the really important work remains to be done. At least Lima has provided a framework for doing it; much will depend on the pressure of civil society to help ensure that it gets done. We are now into the endgame for humanity.



Eoin Campbell
- 2014-12-14 at 04:23pm

Great article Peadar, thanks for the comprehensive update!
Paul Leech
- 2014-12-14 at 06:37pm

A sobering concise précis, Peadar -thanks - disappointing outcome, at several crucial levels, but not entirely without some residual hope - but unfortunately my sense is that we are almost out of time for this kind of procrastination ..........
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