Climate action letdown at Lima

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ACCORDING to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), this year is on track to be one of the hottest years on record. Their estimate was based on sea surface temperatures until October which indicated that the global average was around 0.57 degrees Centigrade higher than the average of 14 degrees Centigrade for the 1961-1990 reference period. For land, this is 0.86 degrees higher than the average for the same period. The global sea and land surface temperatures were also measured to be 0.09 degrees Centigrade higher than the past 10 years.

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If the higher temperature trend will continue for this last quarter of the year, which it usually does, then 2014 will become the record holder of being the hottest year on record putting it ahead of 2010, 2005 and 1998. According to WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud, the measurements also puts fourteen of the fifteen hottest years on record in the 21st century showing no standstill on global warming.

The WMO also notes that high sea temperatures are one of the major contributors to exceptionally heavy rainfall and floods in many countries and the extreme drought in others. The high sea temperatures can contribute to the generation of stronger tropical cyclones.

One of the underlying factors in this increase in surface temperatures is the continually increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The WMO has measured record atmospheric levels for carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide in 2013. For CO2, the average global levels amounted to 396.0 parts per million (ppm) with some areas breaching the 400 ppm levels. According to the WMO, the increase corresponds to around 45% of the total CO2 emissions from human activities with the remaining fraction absorbed by oceans and the surrounding biosphere. CO2 levels have reached around 142% of the pre-industrial average while methane has reached more than two and a half times of the pre-industrial level.

This reality was not enough to push the negotiators in the 20th Conference of Parties (COP) in Lima to craft radical cuts in emission targets. What we got instead is a letdown of a document that allows governments to put off pledges to set individual emission pledges to the next meeting in December 2015 (COP 21) in Paris instead of actual action targets now. There was no decision on how legally binding these targets are for countries.

It also weakens the principle of common but differentiated responsibility that previously separated the targets between the developed countries, the so-called Annex I countries, and developing countries in terms of addressing climate change.

There were a few positive points in the agreement such as the $10 billion target for the initial contributions to the Green Climate Fund and the expanded geographic scope. But even these funding targets were not clear on how to reach the $100 billion target for financing climate adaptation and mitigation.

The document was mainly driven by political convenience rather than climate urgency and this pragmatism resulted in what is now known as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs) of each country. These INDCs should include clear emissions mitigation statements of nations that may include points such as base year reference, time frame, coverage and methodologies for estimation and accounting of emissions. The deadlines of these statements should be submitted by March 2015 but countries are allowed to make late submissions by June.

The US and China jumped the gun ahead of the Lima talks by unveiling their own plans to curb emissions. The US has set a 26% target below 2005 levels by year 2025. China, on the other hand, had agreed to set its CO2 emissions by setting around 20% of its energy use by 2030 to non-fossil fuel sources. Both countries agreed to develop advanced carbon capture projects, reduce usage of hydroflurocarbons (HFCs), and to promote trade in green goods. These targets followed the 40% target of the European Union of cutting carbon emissions by 2030 as compared to its 1990 levels.

The effect of these big industrialized countries and blocs pegging their targets outside of the Lima talks is to undermine the need for a binding international agreement. The targets of the US, EU and China are but their own announcements— and can be subject to internal revision along the way.

What we need is to bind these large emitting countries to a clear, science-based, emissions target as well as commitments to help developing countries not only to reach their own mitigation targets but more so of preparing vulnerable countries like ours to adapt to the threat of climate change effects.

Political pragmatism loses its value when faced with disasters resulting from typhoons, droughts and flooding that are aggravated by the changing climate. Governments of developing countries like ours should also go beyond disaster relief and mitigation but should insist to have a stronger voice in pushing for concrete climate actions in the international arena. If they just follow the lead of our trading partners, as they are doing right now, then it is up to our people—especially our vulnerable communities—to organize and find ways to be heard more in the climate debate so that future negotiations will not result in a letdown like that in Lima.

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