December 1, 2014

Lima Meeting Could Be a Turning Point for U.N. Climate Negotiations

The 20th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is taking place from December 1-12 in Lima, Peru. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), this meeting can and should be a turning point for the negotiations towards a comprehensive agreement next year in Paris.

“The recent joint announcement on emissions reductions by the United States and China, together with pledges of support to the Green Climate Fund, should inject some much-needed momentum into the Lima meeting,” said UCS Director of Strategy and Policy Alden Meyer, who has been involved in international climate negotiations for more than 25 years. “A number of countries have argued that they shouldn’t have to act until the U.S. and China do; they no longer have this excuse for inaction. My hope is that these countries will now step up and indicate what they are prepared to do as part of next year’s climate agreement in Paris.”

The science on the extent of climate change has never been stronger: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) final summary report released last month underscores the fact that policymakers must do more if they want to meet their pledge to limit warming to no more than two degrees Celsius.

“The science is clear: the world must reduce carbon pollution now to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” said Angela Anderson, director of UCS’s Climate and Energy Program. “This has been a record setting year, with extreme heat and artic cold spells, widespread drought and flooding and destructive forest fires. Some of these climate changes are now inevitable. But these disruptions pale in comparison to the catastrophic events that will result if we continue to pollute at the rate we are now and global average temperature rises in excess of 4 degrees.”

The Durban negotiations in December 2011 launched two negotiating tracks. The first track calls for a more comprehensive climate agreement to be negotiated and signed by the Paris climate summit in late 2015 and to take effect in 2020. The second track calls for countries to pursue more aggressive emissions limitation strategies between now and 2020. Negotiators in Lima must keep both of these tracks moving forward.

“The single most significant thing countries can do in Lima is pledge to take bold climate action,” said Anderson. “More joint announcements like the U.S.-China deal are the kinds of steps needed to restore our confidence in world leaders’ ability to tackle this generation’s biggest challenge.”

Will the U.S. lead in Lima?

In the last month, the U.S. announced its emissions and finance commitments – moves clearly designed to demonstrate its desire to lead in Lima. But will it be enough?

The U.S. – China joint announcement was significant politically and substantively. Politically, the agreement of the ‘G-2,’ as China and the U.S. are sometimes called, was the greatest diplomatic success of the Obama administration on climate. Substantively, the U.S. committed to an emissions target even more ambitious than the 2008 climate legislation that failed in Congress, since the new commitment will be met solely through domestic reductions, rather than utilizing international offsets. There is no doubt, however, that negotiators will be leery of the U.S.’s ability to meet the commitment.

President Obama’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), the administration’s plan to address climate change, will be held up as the roadmap to meeting the U.S. commitment. The Clean Power Plan is the centerpiece of the CAP and will be the primary driver of U.S. emissions reductions. Currently, power plants in the United States are allowed to release unlimited amounts of harmful carbon pollution into the atmosphere. Yet, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for the first time, is developing new rules that will reduce emissions from power plants by about 30 percent by 2030. The rules are scheduled to be finalized by June 2015.

A recent UCS analysis shows how the EPA could increase the total emissions reductions achieved by the Clean Power Plan from 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 to approximately 40 percent, by increasing the contribution from renewable energy. UCS’ modifications to the renewable energy targets in the draft rule build on the EPA’s approach while utilizing the latest available market data, demonstrated rates of growth in renewable energy, and existing state commitments to deploy renewables. This approach would nearly double the amount of cost-effective renewable energy—from 12 percent of total 2030 U.S. electric sales to 23 percent.

“If the United States wants to meet the 26 – 28 percent emissions reductions that the government recently announced, the EPA must strengthen the power plants standards,” said Rachel Cleetus, senior climate economist at UCS. “UCS has recommended specific and practical ways the power plant standard can accelerate the deployment of renewable energy and result in greater emissions reductions – as much as 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Finalizing the rule at this level of emission reduction would make it much more likely that the U.S. would meet the 2025 goal in its announcement with China.”

The U.S. negotiators will certainly be bringing more to the table in Lima than ever before. They will be in a position to challenge other nations to make their pledges public in Lima or early in the year – actions that could speak even louder than the negotiating text they hope to approve.

Lima goals

There are three primary goals for the Lima meeting. First, negotiators must determine what information must be included as part of countries’ emissions reductions targets, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and they must come to an agreement on how the international community will formally assess the INDCs. Second, they need to agree on the elements of the post-2020 agreement to be finalized in Paris at the end of next year. Lastly, they must come out of Lima with greater clarity on how funding to help mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries will be ramped up both before and after 2020.

“To make a 2015 deal in Paris possible, ministers in Lima must confirm the process and timetable for countries to put forward meaningful emission reduction proposals, and they must agree to conduct a full and meaningful review of those proposals against the overall level of ambition needed to meet the temperature limitation goal,” said Meyer. “They must also make progress on climate finance, adaptation, and technology cooperation issues in Lima. Kicking the can down the road on these issues is not an option.”

Financing the solution

At the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, President Obama and other developed country leaders set a goal of ramping up climate finance to $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries increase the use of clean technologies, reduce deforestation, and cope with the rapidly mounting impacts of climate change. By next year’s climate summit in Paris, there needs to be a clear roadmap for how this commitment will be met. There also needs to be agreement as to how climate finance will be scaled up after 2020.

The U.S. recently stepped up its financial contribution, with a $3 billion commitment to the Global Climate Fund. While questions are certainly being raised about whether this commitment will be honored by the incoming president in 2016 due to the outcome of the recent midterm elections, many are optimistic about the U.S.’s pledge.

“This fund is conceived of the same principles that governed the Climate Investment Fund, which I helped to establish as Treasury Secretary,” said Henry Paulson, Jr., former Treasury Secretary under President Bush. “It sought to leverage market forces to incentivize the development and deployment of new clean technologies in China and other developing nations, which will create American jobs and help us deal with the massive risks of climate change. Believing this was in our national interest – both economically and environmentally – President Bush received bipartisan support for his $2 billion commitment to that fund in 2008 – and I urge our lawmakers to support this parallel effort through the Green Climate Fund.”

Holding polluters accountable for climate damage

Another hot-button issue in Lima will be how to help developing countries that are exceptionally vulnerable to a changing climate deal with those impacts, particularly from extreme weather events and sea level rise. Even if emissions were to plummet tomorrow and adaptation strategies were fully implemented, these impacts will continue to mount, particularly for small island states and least developed countries. Negotiators in Lima need to assess how this issue of “loss and damage” will be addressed in the post-2020 agreement.

“The U.S. and other developed countries are leery of their potential liability for substantial climate-related damages resulting in large part from their past emissions,” said Meyer. “But the Alliance of Small Island States and other developing countries are demanding a specific plan of action to mobilize greater funding and capacity to help them deal with the devastating impacts of climate change, and this issue must be squarely addressed in Lima.”

While the negotiations will focus on the responsibility of nations, UCS will be raising questions about the responsibilities of fossil fuel companies. New data will be released December 8 on the origin of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The data raises questions about how industrial carbon producers should change their business plans, policy positions and public communications in light of the climate damages their products have caused.

Reducing emissions from deforestation

Coming out of last year’s climate summit in Warsaw, the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation plus pro-forest activities (REDD+) program was a bright spot in an otherwise cloudy meeting. REDD+ helps developing countries reduce emissions from tropical deforestation, which is responsible for about 10 percent of global warming pollution. The program funnels funds to developing countries that reduce their deforestation rates. The Warsaw talks settled three major issues: technical requirements, funding, and payment allocation. With these decisions formally adopted, REDD+ now has a complete definition of what the program is, how it works, and how participants will be paid.

REDD+ has been tested in Brazil over the past six years, with funding from Norway, and the results are outstanding. The most recent data shows that deforestation dropped 18 percent last year, to a level that is 75 percent below the average over the 1996-2005 decade.

“REDD+ is an excellent example of the potential of the U.N. climate process. Parties worked together and negotiated a program that will effectively reduce emissions, while meeting important social and environmental safeguards,” said Jason Funk, senior climate scientist. “REDD+ is already having an impact in saving forests, benefitting communities, and reducing emissions. Lima will be our first real opportunity to capitalize on the success of REDD+ and begin to look more broadly at how we can reduce emissions from the land sector.”

Technology sharing to reduce emissions and enhance adaptation

“The U.S. power plant rule and international efforts to enhance clean energy technologies are two sides of the same coin,” said Cleetus. “While the U.S. focuses on the Clean Power Plan, the global community, with U.S. support, can sharply curb global warming emissions by deploying clean energy technologies to communities across the globe now.”

The technology mechanism, established at the Cancun climate meeting in 2010, encourages countries to share technology and know-how to reduce emissions and to cope with the impacts of climate change. Last December, the Climate Technology Center Network (CTCN) announced that it would start taking requests for technology assistance from developing countries; one year later, the CTCN has approximately $32 million in donor contributions and has provided technology assistance to more than 20 countries. However, there is an urgent need to scale up this work.

“The agreement in Lima must anchor the existing work on technology assistance and provide a clear pathway to scale it up, with a balanced focus on adaptation and mitigation technologies and giving priority to the needs of the least developed countries,” said Cleetus. “Recent independent reports show that the rapidly falling costs of renewable energy make it feasible and affordable to significantly cut energy-related emissions. The challenge now is accelerating the global transition to a clean energy economy.”

However, negotiators in Lima must work on resolving schisms between developed and developing countries on an intellectual property rights regime that encourages innovation yet doesn’t stifle the rapid diffusion of affordable clean technology. They also must address the need for an adequate, predictable funding source for scaling up renewable energy, energy efficiency and resilience measures.

“The failure to fully fund the technology mechanism continues to be a missed opportunity, especially as scientists continue to press countries to make deep cuts in emissions now,” said Cleetus.

Reducing climate emissions from agriculture

“Controlling emissions from the agriculture sector is a vital element in the fight against climate change,” said Doug Boucher, director of UCS’s Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative. “Climate change is threatening food production for the world’s most vulnerable countries, and these are often the same places where food insecurity is a serious problem."

Agriculture accounts for almost 15 percent of all global emissions, and global warming pollution from agriculture is expected to rise as global diets shift towards high-emissions foods such as beef. Despite the size of this sector’s emissions, discussions about agriculture were only added to the agenda in 2011, so progress in this sector is not as advanced as other sectors. Conversations are also hindered because some large developing countries fear that committing to reduce agriculture emissions might result in trade or production restrictions.

In Lima, negotiators should discuss how countries can support farmers who are sustainably producing agricultural goods and to ensure climate change does not threaten their livelihoods. Controlling emissions from this sector is vital, and doing so in a way that bolsters agriculture’s natural defenses will help small farmers in developing countries adjust to a changing climate.