As the climate change conference in Lima, Peru, winds down, the participants are nowhere near the goal they have set: setting the framework of an agreement to bring down the average global temperature by 2 degrees Celsius by slashing global carbon emissions. The accord will be presented for ratification at a climate change summit in Paris in December next year. If approved, the pact will take effect in 2020.
The talks’ organizers are considering extending the conference. But there seems to be little hope that the lingering deadlock between rich and developing countries over key issues would finally be broken.
Some observers are concerned that in the rush to cobble together an agreement, the negotiators might settle for a compromise or watered-down document.
“The latest text which countries are working on has been stripped down to its bare bones to accommodate the whims of the lowest common denominator,” went one complaint.
But it is Alden Meyer, an analyst from the Union of Concerned Scientists, who described the latest working draft most vividly. “Some key elements fell to the cutting room floor and are not in the text at all,” Meyer said.
That leaves the negotiators with a narrow set of options that could “go from weak or minimal, to barely acceptable, to OK,” he said.
A stripped-down agreement is highly unacceptable because the stakes are too high. As it is, no comprehensive action has been mounted to curb carbon emissions, despite repeated warnings that if no drastic steps are taken now, the consequences will be irreversible. Climate experts paint a scenario of rising sea levels dooming coastal communities, dramatic weather shifts wreaking havoc on farm production, superstorms cutting a bigger swathe of death and destruction.
The Agence France Presse points out four sticking points that have mired the Lima talks.
The first is scope: “Should pledges be limited to curbs on carbon emissions, or should they include commitments on finance, transfer of clean technology and support for poor countries to adapt to climate change?”
The second is ensuring transparency: “What kind of information should countries provide in their pledges to ensure transparency and build trust?”
The third is oversight: “Should pledges simply be posted on the website of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)? Or should they also be reviewed to see if the total approaches the target of limiting global warming to under two degrees Celsius?”
The last is maintaining momentum: “How can nations encourage and monitor action on climate before the Paris agreement takes effect in 2020?”
The first is particularly sticky, and is where the gap between the affluent and developing countries is at its widest. The rich nations want the economically weaker states to share the cost of cutting emissions. The poorer nations insist that the wealthy countries must assume a bigger share in cleaning up the environment because they are largely to blame for raising pollution levels in the first place.
The longer we wait for a meaningful pact to emerge, the more difficult it becomes to enforce carbon emission cuts. Pope Francis is worried enough to write a letter to Peru’s Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, saying the “time to find global solutions is running out.”
The Pope stressed that there was a “moral imperative to act” because global warming “affects all of humanity, in particular the poorest, and future generations.”
We share the pontiff’s concern, and hark back to the UN Climate Change summit held in New York earlier this year. One of the protesters demanding more resolute action against global warming held up a poster that read, “There is no Planet B.”