Next stop, Lima: building momentum for a new global agreement on climate change

This story originally appeared on Wilson Center’s New Security Beat.

This fall, a series of significant events signaled what many see as a shift in momentum toward meaningful collective action on climate change.

In September, hundreds of thousands gathered on the streets of New York City during a meeting of the United Nations to demand action from the General Assembly. In October, the European Union announced an ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. And in November, the United States and China jointly announced an agreement on their own goals: the U.S. to reduce emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025, and China to peak its emissions growth no later than 2030, while vastly ramping up renewable energy production.

Following swiftly on the heels of these announcements, the Obama Administration pledged $3 billion to the new Green Climate Fund (GCF), a global fund intended to be the key institution for reducing emissions and building resilience to climate change in developing countries. At a recent pledging conference in Germany, the GCF accumulated additional pledges from developed and developing countries totaling nearly $10 billion.

The combination of popular support, ambitious targets for emissions reductions, and pledges of finance needed for climate-resilient development will follow leaders as they travel to Lima, Peru, this week to work out the next critical instalment of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Negotiators will have their work cut out for them, but there is growing hope that the Lima meeting, otherwise known as COP-20 (it is the 20th Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC), will advance dialogue toward an ambitious global climate change agreement that is expected to be finalized next year at COP-21 in Paris.


A bottom-up approach

The UNFCCC process may seem labyrinthine and frustrating at times, but there has been meaningful progress. At the 2011 UNFCCC negotiations in Durban, South Africa, countries agreed on a new and different framework for negotiation. Unlike the model of the Kyoto Protocol, the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” set in motion a process for all countries (not just the developed ones) to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and to come to agreement on the levels of cuts by 2015.

Rather than a top-down process in which countries would be assigned emissions reduction targets, countries will determine themselves what they are capable of achieving and publicly announce those intentions in advance of the 2015 agreement. Some, such as the European Union, United States, and China, have already outlined their targets (known in negotiating parlance as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs). Others are expected to provide details in Lima or shortly thereafter. The goal is to have most INDCs on the table by March 2015, so that there is time for review and further negotiation before the final deal is struck in December.

But much remains to be determined on how countries should prepare and communicate their INDCs. Countries have agreed that INDCs should be made in the context of national priorities, circumstances, and capabilities, but the precise content of the contributions has not yet been decided. In Lima, it is expected that negotiators will come to agreement on the “upfront information” that needs to be included in INDCs – questions about the sectors of the economy that are included, the sources of greenhouse gases that are covered, the projected end-date of action plans, and how to provide assurances of transparency and accountability.

Furthermore, negotiators will need to articulate a process for assessing and revising INDCs over time. If the ambition of accumulated contributions from all countries isn’t enough to reduce global emissions to meet the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius, there will need to be clear steps in place for closing this important emissions gap.


Beyond mitigation?

With recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the World Bank shedding more light on climate change’s impacts on vulnerable communities and its increasing burden on development efforts, interest is growing in the idea that in addition to climate change mitigation, adaptation should be included in the 2015 agreement. What shape this might take is likely to be hotly debated in Lima.

Some, such as the African Group, have suggested a stand-alone goal addressing adaptation in the text of the agreement; others promote the idea that INDCs could be broadened beyond a county’s commitment to reduce emissions to all aspects of national contributions, including adaptation actions and finance to support both mitigation and adaptation in less developed countries.

Possibilities also extend to more closely linking the negotiation process to the development of National Adaptation Plans. These plans are intended to identify and address medium- and long-term adaptation needs in developing countries, and while the process is supported by the UNFCCC, it is not currently linked directly to negotiation outcomes.


A race to the top

The negotiations in Lima are a critical next-to-last step on the path to the 2015 climate change agreement, and with the momentum carrying into this week, expectations are running high. Nevertheless, the definition of “success” in Lima is as varied as the diverse stakeholders engaged in the process.

Given the new negotiating paradigm that values the bottom-up construction of an agreement, there will likely be a wide range of values and priorities to be reflected in what each country brings to the table. The focus on national priorities in establishing the agreement may open the door to a broader interpretation of what is considered climate action – including measures to advance gender equality, as advocated by the Global Gender and Climate Alliance, or for stronger alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are also set to be finalized in 2015.

It could also pave the way for renewed dialogue on the role population dynamics in climate change and how related interventions, such as meeting the reproductive health needs of women, could be integrated into holistic responses. Discussion of these linkages has faded somewhat since the 2009 negotiations in Copenhagen, but interest may grow once again given the greater attention paid by the last IPCC report and calls from advocates for more integration, especially in the context of the SDGs.

What we can expect from Lima is broad and robust participation from countries and civil society, and a clear roadmap that should lead to the 2015 agreement in Paris. What we can hope for is a “race to the top” – a continuation of momentum to bring even greater commitments for mitigation, adaptation, and the finance needed to secure our climate future.

Kathleen Mogelgaard is a writer and analyst on population and the environment, and a consultant for the Environmental Change and Security Program.

Sources: Climate and Development Knowledge Network, European Commission, Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development, Global Gender and Climate Alliance, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, The New York Times, The Telegraph, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, World Bank, World Resources Institute.

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