Each Country Will Make “National Pledge” to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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Artwork outside the 20th UN Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru / 3 News, New Zealand

Last week, negotiators from nearly 200 countries built further momentum towards a global deal to limit climate change. At a United Nations conference in Lima, Peru, each nation agreed to enact domestic laws to reduce emissions and submit their plans detailing their cuts by March 2015, in advance of the major summit on climate change in Paris in just a year. These plans will be treated as non-binding “national pledges” that can form the basis for a new global accord. The goal of the Paris summit, which will be attended by many heads of state, is a legally-binding agreement to limit temperature rise by 2 degrees Celsius, but it’s unclear whether global leaders can achieve this level of commitment, given a number of attempts have failed in the past decade.

According to The New York Times, the Lima meeting’s new bottom-up approach may work well in comparison with the top-down approaches that have been attempted and failed in the past. The bottom-up approach harnesses “global peer pressure” to force countries to up their game and set more aggressive emissions reduction targets. “The hope, negotiators said, is that as the numbers and commitments of each country are publicized, compared, and discussed, countries will be shamed by the spotlight into proposing and enacting stronger plans.”

BBC News outlines the primary features of the agreement. Developed and developing countries now have a “common but differentiated responsibility” to address climate change. This loaded phrase attempts to accommodate the demands of the U.S. and other European countries who want every country — rich or poor — to step up and commit to fighting climate change, with the demands of China, India, and other developing countries, which argue that the developed world should take a greater share of responsibility for the climate crisis as they’ve been emitting more emissions over time and have more resources to deal with the challenges of mitigation and adaptation. As part of the agreement, developed countries will provide financial support to “vulnerable” developing countries, up to $100 billion a year by 2020.

As a next step, countries will submit national pledges by the end of March, 2015 that “go beyond their current undertakings.” Countries now have fewer excuses to not push the boundaries of climate action, given the historic climate change agreement between China and the U.S. in early November was perceived as upping the ante. The U.S. agreed to cut 2005 carbon emission levels by 25-28 percent by 2020, double the place President Obama had previously set, and China agreed its emissions would peak by 2030 and it would also increase the share of renewable energy to 20 percent by then as well. Europe has already pledged to cut its emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

Still, many climate watchers argue that national pledges don’t go far enough, as they fall short of a binding agreement that can limit temperatures increases to 2 degrees Celsius, which scientists have repeatedly stated is the crucial wall to prevent irreversible shifts in the planet’s complex climate system. The argument goes: Just as many developed countries have committed to giving developing countries billions to help them adapt to climate change and then have failed to deliver, these same countries may come up with grand pledges that fall short. The Telegraph (UK) writes: “In truth, as Mary Robinson – the former President of Ireland who now serves as the UN’s Special Envoy for Climate Change put it, the talks made just enough headway ‘to keep the multilateral process alive, but not enough progress to give confidence that the world is ready to adopt an equitable and ambitious legally-binding climate agreement in Paris next year.'”

To do that, more of the world’s leaders will need to personally invest in the process, earlier than they did five years ago in Copenhagen, which failed to yield a binding agreement. “Lima has underscored what we already knew: that the official negotiators – and even environment and energy ministers – are just not capable of cracking the issues on the table. These are just too big, and they simply do not have enough clout, even where they have the will. Only heads of government have the authority to do it. They came close to saving the day in Copenhagen, five years ago, and will need to engage again – and much earlier in the process – if dangerous climate change is to be averted.”

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