The need for a comprehensive climate deal

By Amartya Menon

The recently concluded Lima Climate Conference has ended with mixed outcomes. While nations did manage to arrive at an agreement, providing a platform of sorts for the Paris Climate Change Conference next year, the nature of the agreement is of a questionable nature.

Recent weeks saw a steady rise in momentum in the lead up to the conference. The United States and China – the world’s leading emitters of carbon – have agreed to make the transition towards low carbon economies. While the United States promised to double the rate at which it will reduce emissions, China pledged to peak its carbon emissions as early as 2030 and begin reducing coal usage within the next six years. For developing nations whose primary source of energy is coal, this is a massive step to take. This comes on the back of the European Union committing itself to cutting all emissions by 40 percent. What this means is that the nations collectively responsible for half the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide have committed to taking action.

In Brazil, deforestation – the second largest source of carbon dioxide emissions – has reduced by 70 percent. Even coal-dependent South Africa has promised to stop increasing emissions by 2025. Only a week ago, Australia donated AUD $200 million towards a fund worth more than US$10 billion, created with the intention of helping developing nations address climate change.

With this in mind, the Lima conference has been a disappointment of sorts. It set out with two primary goals: first, to create a working framework for the 2015 Paris climate agreement, and second, to delineate rules by which countries would establish their ‘intended nationally determined contributions’ (INDCs). While the first goal was achieved, the second one gave rise to several problems, leading to compromises. In an effort to pass an agreement, less stringent conditions were agreed upon. For example, despite all nations committing to submitting plans for the curbing of emissions, they aren’t obliged to provide details nor is there any form of review to compare nations’ plans. The text only says that nations may provide specifics such as base years and yearly targets, a step backward from the previous draft that said nations ‘shall provide’  such details.

Finance also proved to be a major point of contention. While developing nations wanted their wealthier counterparts to establish a plan that will provide $100 billion in the form of climate aid, the final document only ‘requests’ developed nations to ‘provide and mobilize enhanced financial support.’ Another sticking point of the deal was the longstanding divide between rich and poor nations. Emerging economies such as India insist that the distinction must remain, arguing that the developed countries contribute much more to global warming and that they have the means to deal with it – both monetarily and technologically. The United States on the other hand asserts that it is about time developing nations took responsibility and started playing their part in curbing emissions. Finally, it was agreed that due to differing national circumstances, the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ would be adopted, leaving this particular battle to be fought another day.

What has finally been arrived at is a significantly watered down deal; one that has made just enough progress to keep the multilateral process going. Fundamentally, the more issues that have been left unresolved in Lima, the lesser the chance of a legally-binding, comprehensive climate deal being agreed upon in Paris. This is the most serious ramification of the failings of the Lima Climate Conference.  It has failed to shed any light on what the legal scope of the Paris agreement will be, a task it set out to achieve in the first place.  While there are several meetings to be held between now and Paris, the odds that they will lead to anything significant are slim. Developing nations may see this as a victory, having managed to insert clauses that safeguard their interests, but in the larger scheme of things, little progress has been made towards what is actually needed; an ambitious, comprehensive climate agreement.

Amartya Menon is an intern at the Takshashila Institution.

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