The gavel ending the 2014 UN climate meetings in Lima, Peru, struck early on Sunday morning, and while the meetings provided fresh steps towards an agreement in Paris one year from now, it’s clear there is still much to be done. The Lima agreement includes language about the need to phase out fossil fuels by mid-century, which reflects emerging global calls for a 100 percent transition to renewable energy sources, but ultimately falls far short of agreeing on the concrete actions this would require. Additionally, while the negotiations firmly established that every country, big and small, will submit national climate action pledges well ahead of the Paris meetings with a collective aim of cutting emissions enough to contain global average temperature rise to below 2◦C, governments stepped away from providing a robust way of actually assessing their commitments.
Governments took no meaningful action to scale up climate action in the five years before 2020, the start date for the Paris Agreement. Instead countries are focused only on pledges for action starting after 2020. This essentially means governments will be marking their own homework ahead of the critical Paris meeting – not a spectacularly inviting prospect given some countries, such as Fossil Of The Year winner Australia, have been accused of cooking the books already. Other fossil of the day awards during the conference was awarded to Japan – for spending $1 billion in loans under the UN’s initiative to help poor countries tackle global warming on the construction of power plants fired by coal, the biggest human source of carbon pollution. German Watch provided a detailed ranking of more than 50 countries on their climate commitments in the Climate Change Performance Index. Denmark, Sweden and Morocco are among the world’s best performing countries, whiles on the flip side, Canada, Japan, Australia and Poland are poor performers and sliding backwards.
The talks were also a missed opportunity for governments to move forward on supporting nations that will see loss and damage to their communities resulting from climate impacts like extreme weather. Given that yet another devastating Typhoon slammed into the Philippines during the talks – which made them took over as chair of the Climate Vulnerability Forum – an international partnership of countries highly vulnerable to a warming planet, this shortcoming is seen as especially puzzling. In all, the missed opportunities in Lima mean governments will need to work far harder between now and the Paris meetings to close the gap between what they are doing, what the people want them to do, and what the science requires.
The Lima outcome neither reflects the growing public support for the ongoing transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies nor the urgency to accelerate this transition. The demands and justifications for governments to act are highlighted by extreme events such as typhoon Hagupit, blockbuster reports by the world’s leading climate scientists, shifts in capital away from risky fossil fuels and record breaking public demonstrations this week in Peru and around the world in September. Lima shows that most governments are out of touch with climate reality, but it’s clear that those standing in the way of this action can no longer hide in the face of such overwhelming support to tackle this crisis.
With the big political decisions that can unlock the action and accelerate the transition from dirty to clean energy now delayed till Paris next year, the least developed and most vulnerable nations are, once again, left in the cold. The lack of progress in Lima only makes the need to address adaptation funding and loss and damage mechanisms more vital, as those who bear the brunt of climate change now face even higher risks. Governments acknowledged that they have a May deadline for turning that current list of options for the Paris agreement into a legal negotiating text. This means real work on the Paris agreement must get underway at the next session in February in Geneva. The global climate agreement due in Paris next December needs to align multilateral politics with the realities faced by those who are suffering the inevitable climate impacts resulting from historic emissions.
Lima may appear to have ended in disappointment, but some key concepts – such as the fossil fuel phase out – mean that progress towards a strong deal in Paris is becoming unstoppable. The Green Climate Fund now has $10 billion in public money pledged to it, and if poor countries in Latin America can contribute millions to it fund, all nations and especially the rich ones can too. If China and the US can agree to collaborate on emissions reductions, as they recently did, then so too can the rest of the world. Hundreds of billions of private dollars are now invested in climate action and renewable energy and utilities are dropping coal and going green. Fears of the inevitable carbon bubble bust are shifting investments away from fossil fuels and towards clean sources. Government are falling behind these shift and need to find the political will, stop bickering, and catch up. Some of the global actions that were reported during the COP 20 includes:
- Nearly 250 organizations joined a letter highlighting the huge threat that climate change poses to human rights. The letter aimed to be a strong message to those governments planning a new global climate deal, which must also ensure human right are safeguarded.
- Over 80 civil society organizations have signed a letter to ministers calling for a strong and distinct inclusion of loss and damage in the 2015 agreement.
- 100 Peruvian children delivered a 2.2 million signature petition to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, calling for 100% Clean Energy.