Representatives from 200 countries will gather next week in Lima, Peru, for talks on a new United Nations climate treaty.
The meeting will set the stage for Paris talks in 2015, when nations will try to reach a binding agreement that would include all countries. Jennifer Morgan, global director of the climate program at the World Resources Institute, called it "a global agreement for decades to come that would bring countries back to the table to strengthen their commitment to solving the problem.”
The new treaty would replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expired in 2012.
Scientists say the world is on its way toward a temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a tipping point that experts warn would trigger extreme weather and rising seas. Climate-changing emissions from fossil fuels are to blame, they say.
Signs of progress
The Lima talks are about getting those emissions in check. Morgan points to growing momentum to get that done.
— In September, the United Nations held a climate summit to engage heads of state and industry leaders, and about 700,000 people crowded streets in New York City and elsewhere for the People’s Climate March.
— In October, European heads of state said their countries were prepared to reduce emissions by at least 40 percent.
— In November, there was a bilateral agreement between the United States and China to lower emissions. It was “a pretty historic announcement of what they are willing to do on their numbers and their willingness to work together,” Morgan said.
In that agreement, the U.S. committed to reducing emissions between 26 percent and 28 percent by 2025. And for the first time, China put a timetable on its actions, saying emissions would peak by 2030. If that is to happen, Morgan, China must begin making massive cuts now.
“It’s not like they are going to wait 16 years," she said. "They actually have to shut down coal-fired power plants. They have to build up renewable energy. They have to be much more efficient in order to turn that curve.”
The deal puts China in a leadership role for the first time.
Other countries are expected to put their reduced emissions commitments on the table by March. Morgan said the U.S.-China announcement is a strategic move that could energize other nations to do more.
“If you look at developed countries, it is fair to say that Australia or Canada haven’t indicated when they are going to table their offer," she said. "Well, if China can offer something, certainly they can offer something, too. And in developing countries, I think a country like India or Brazil now are challenged to table their offers as well.”
Binding commitments vital
Morgan said it is critical to close the gap between what is needed on emissions reduction and what countries are expected to pledge. She said each nation would make reductions in its own way through national policies and laws, but only a global pact with binding commitments can exert pressure to get the job done.
“It’s in the interest of every country to actually have a global approach, so they can be sure that what they are doing is being mirrored by others," she said. "You don’t get that through bilateral deals. You don’t get all of the emissions in place and you don’t take care of the most vulnerable countries around the world adequately. So you need to do this global.
“It’s challenging. It’s messy. But it’s fundamental to move forward.”
Morgan hopes that the Lima meeting will end with a text for a new treaty, one that will guide negotiators and lead governments to act.