The United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Lima, Peru from December 1st 2014 marked the twentieth annual Conference of the Parties (COP 20). The conference included delegates from over 190 countries who came to agree upon a global deal to combat climate change and limit global warming to 2 Degrees Celsius.
Existing prior to the agreement at COP 20 is the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This international environmental treaty aims to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions and ensure they do not rise above dangerous limits. The treaty contains no legally-binding limits for greenhouse gas emissions but it does allow for protocols which can contain such limits. The Kyoto Protocol is as such; it set binding targets for developed countries to reduce their emissions. The protocol expired in 2012 and a new framework will be discussed at the UN climate change talks in Paris, 2015 at COP 21.
The focus of COP 20 was pointed towards the next annual meeting and it was therefore an important building block to aid negotiations in Paris. The goal of COP 21 will be to decide upon a universal and binding agreement on climate change.
Talks in Lima overran by two days due to disagreements and the final outcome of COP 20 ended in a compromise which provides a framework for all countries to commit to reducing emissions.
So, what is included in the final agreement and does it go far enough?
The Lima Call for Climate Action provides a framework for countries to submit pledges to tackle climate change and cut their emissions. These pledges, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) should be submitted by 31st March 2015 by the countries who are ready to do so. In November 2015, the UN climate change body will report back on the INDCs and decide whether they will be enough to limit global warming to the internationally agreed level of 2 Degrees Celsius.
Despite countries being asked to submit INDCs pledging to cut emissions, the language in the agreed final document gives countries little obligation to provide information of how these pledges will be carried out. By altering the request that countries ‘shall’ give information of how they will meet their pledge to ‘may’ include information of targets; the agreement has been made weaker. The request made by the EU for a review of the pledges has also been left out, particularly after objection from China to give detailed accounts of its emissions outputs plan.
The agreement makes less distinction between richer and developing nations and places responsibility on all countries to tackle climate change. The previous 1992 UNFCCC defined countries according to their level of development and placed responsibility with developed nations to make cuts; the participation of developing countries was voluntary. China for example, one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters was, under the 1992 agreement, only bound voluntarily to reduce emissions. The new agreement breaks down this distinction and instead reflects the different responsibilities and capabilities of each nation. This means that it is the responsibility of all countries to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
The financial cost of climate change has also been considered and the agreement made in Lima includes a ‘loss and damage’ scheme. This will provide financial aid for countries who are already threatened by climate change and are vulnerable to its effects.
Donations have also been made to the Green Climate fund to help developing nations adapt. So far, $10 billion has been given including a donation of $200 million from Australia who previous refused to do so.
The agreement made in Lima points to a new way of thinking about the responsibility to tackle climate change and points the beginnings of a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, there is debate over whether the agreement has gone far enough. Critics point to the thinning of the agreement and its weakened language which means countries are no longer obliged to present fully their reductions targets.
Lima created an international framework for the process of emissions reduction but many of the more difficult decisions such as the legal structure of the agreement, have not yet been made. These will be left to the meeting in 2015 at Paris COP 21.