THE GUARDIAN – Dec. 15, 2014
Poorer countries likely to reject agreement in Paris next year if onus falls on them rather than those largely responsible for global warming
By John Vidal
At one point on Saturday night it looked quite likely that the Lima climate talks would collapse in disarray. Instead of the harmony expected between China and the US following their pre-talks pact, the world’s two largest economies were squaring off; workmen were dismantling the venue; old faultlines between rich and poor countries were opening up again and some countries’ delegations were rushing to catch their planes.
Countries may technically still be on track to negotiate a final agreement in Paris next year, but the gaps between them are growing rather than closing and the stakes are getting higher every month.
In the end, after a marathon 32-hour session where everyone stared into the abyss of total failure, a modicum of compromise prevailed. Some deft changes of emphasis in the revised text and the inclusion of key words such as “loss” and “damage” proved just enough for diplomats to bodge a last-minute compromise. There were cheers and tears as the most modest of agreements was reached. The Peruvian president of the UN climate change convention, or COP20, could say without irony: “With this text, we all win without exception.”
Not so. Countries may technically still be on track to negotiate a final agreement in Paris next year, but the gaps between them are growing rather than closing and the stakes are getting higher every month.
We have now reached the point where everyone can see clearly that whatever ambition there once was to respect science and try to hold temperatures to an overall 2C rise has been ditched. We also know that developing countries will not get anything like the money they need to adapt their economies and infrastructure to climate change and that those countries that have been historically responsible for getting the world into its current climate mess will be able to do much what they like.
As it stands, 21 years of tortuous negotiations may have actually taken developing countries backwards on tackling climate change. From an imperfect but legally binding UN treaty struck in 1992, in which industrialized countries accepted responsibility and agreed to make modest but specific cuts over a defined period, we now have the prospect of a less than legally binding global deal where everyone is obliged to do something but where the poor may have to do the most and the rich will be free to do little.
In 1992, rich countries were obliged to lead and to help the poor, but we now have a situation where those who had little or no historical responsibility for climate change are likely to cut emissions the most.
This travesty of global climate justice, say many developing countries, is largely the fault of the US, which, backed by Britain and others industrialized countries like Canada and Australia, has helped build up distrust in developing countries by continually trying to deregulate the international climate change regime by weakening the rules, shifting responsibility to the south and making derisory offers of financial help.
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, made an impassioned speech in Lima warning that the world was “on a course leading to tragedy”, but inside the conference halls the US negotiators were not giving an inch during the negotiations, and the emissions cuts that the US proposed would put the world on a path for a global temperature increase well beyond the already dangerous 2C.
Countries now have little time to resolve fundamental issues, and success in Paris is not at all certain. All countries will be asked to submit their plans for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, known as intended nationally determined contributions, to the UN by 31 March. The UN will then crunch the figures and a few weeks before the talks open we will know just how far away countries are to limiting temperature increase to below 1.5C or 2C.
As it stands, we may be on track for 4C of warming. But with more than 100 countries supporting the ambitious goal of phasing out all man-made carbon emissions by 2050, Paris will see a massive showdown.
From now on, the stakes only get higher. Led by China, Africa and the least developed countries see weak and unjust climate targets from rich industrialized countries and, over the next year, they will exert as much pressure as they can to establish a fair and equitable way to share out what is left of the global carbon budget. But as Lima showed, they are now working together and are unlikely to sign up to what they think is a meaningless deal.
The other problem ducked in Lima was finance. Developing nations wanted rich countries to set a clear timetable to scale up the funds available to help them adapt. But the final text merely “requested” that rich countries “enhance the available quantitative and qualitative elements of a pathway” towards 2020.
Because the industrialized countries have already promised to secure $100bn a year after 2020, developing countries will want cast-iron assurances about how this will be achieved. Given that rich countries have so far pledged only about $10bn to run over the next five years, the gap may be too great and the likelihood of failure in Paris is high.
Unless the rich countries take care in the negotiations, at some point it will become clear to developing countries that no deal may prove better than any deal.
The Guardian UK, one of Britain’s top daily newspapers, provides coverage of international environmental issues. Earth Island Journal is a member of the Guardian’s Environment News Network.
THE GUARDIAN – Dec. 15, 2014