Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Crucial year for tackling climate change

First published in The Korea Herald.

Toward the end of 2014, there was incremental progress in global efforts to tackle the fallout of climate change. It is now expected that all countries will reach a broad consensus when they meet in Paris in November and December this year.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference was held in Lima, Peru, from Dec. 1-12, to negotiate a global climate agreement. This was the 20th yearly session of the Conference of the Parties, or COP 20, to the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCC, and the 10th session of the Meeting of the Parties, or CMP 10, to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

While this was a conference in the annual series, and was hailed as an important first step ― it resulted in a five-page text now officially known as the Lima Call for Climate Action ― toward a full climate change deal, more attention is being directed toward the 2015 UNFCC in Paris.

In Lima, about 190 nations agreed on the building blocks of a new-style global deal to combat climate change amid warnings that a lot tougher action will be needed to limit increases in global temperatures. The proposals call on countries to reveal how they will cut carbon pollution.

Under the deal, governments will submit national plans for reining in greenhouse gas emissions by an informal deadline of March 31, 2015, to form the basis of a global agreement at the Paris summit.

Notably, most of the tough decisions about how to slow climate change were postponed until then.

The text, agreed two days into overtime after two weeks of talks came close to collapsing, because of objections by emerging economies led by China and India, who were concerned that previous drafts imposed too heavy a burden on emerging economies compared to the advanced ones.

The compromise preserved a notion enshrined in a 1992 climate convention that the rich have to lead the way in making cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. It also satisfied rich nations that want the fast-growing emerging economies to rein in emissions.

Some environmental groups, however, were not satisfied and said that the deal was far too weak. They also warned that negotiators had left too many contentious issues unresolved before the deadline for reaching a deal in Paris.

The countries put off decisions about the legal structure of the agreement, and deferred decisions about ensuring a flow of finance to developing countries. The biggest issue left unresolved for Paris is the burden for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

However, that does not take away the fact that the Lima deal, with obligations for all nations, is a shift from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that obliges only the rich to cut emissions.

As per the agreement, national pledges will be added up in a report by Nov. 1, 2015, to assess their aggregate effect on slowing rising temperatures, but there will not be a full-blown review to compare each nation’s level of ambition.

The text also lays out a vast range of options for the Paris accord, including the possibility of aiming for zero net global emissions by 2100 or earlier in a drastic shift from fossil fuels toward renewable energies such as wind and solar power.

If all goes well, China, whose emissions have overtaken those of the U.S., will as part of the agreement formally pledge to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, as will India, Brazil and other emerging economies. But much remains uncertain about the prospects. That is why the year 2015 is very crucial.

There is more hope than ever before that all the countries will be able to iron out their differences. Especially because before the Lima meeting several major economies declared targets to curb emissions. In October, the European Union committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. In November, the U.S. and China jointly announced their reduction targets. The U.S. would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, and China would seek to stop CO2 emissions from rising around 2030.

China has also promised to cap its annual coal consumption through 2020, after which its use of coal is expected to decline. In parallel, more than 20 countries have come forward to financially support the Green Climate Fund, a new multilateral fund that will help developing countries shift to pathways of low-carbon and climate-resilient growth. As of now it has received more than $9.5 billion in commitments.

For many years now, the division between the rich and poor nations have reduced hopes at U.N. climate talks. Going forward, it is hoped that this will be a breakthrough year.

As a recent report, “Paris 2015: getting a global agreement on climate change,” notes, a strong deal will make a significant difference in the ability of individual countries to tackle climate change.

“It will provide a clear signal to business, to guide investment toward low carbon outcomes. It will reduce the competitiveness impacts of national policies, and create a simpler, more predictable framework for companies operating in different countries.”

More importantly, a strong climate deal will also help to meet international development aims, which are at increasing risk from rising global temperatures. Eliminating poverty, improving health and building security are all outcomes linked to tackling climate change.

The joint report by Christian Aid, Green Alliance, Greenpeace, RSPB and WWF states that to ensure meaningful action on climate change, the deal must contain the following elements: ambitious action before and after 2020; a strong legal framework and clear rules; a central role for equity; a long-term approach; public finance for adaptation and the low carbon transition; a framework for action on deforestation and land use; and, clear links to the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

Making this conference a success is therefore essential. Will it be just another conference of big promises and disconcerting results? We have to wait and see how serious the countries are in tackling climate change.