A Global Response To Global Warming

by Dish Staff


Brad Plumer unpacks the UN climate deal stuck in Lima, Peru:

Over the next six months, each nation will be required to submit a plan for how it will address future emissions. These plans will form the basis of a major new climate agreement to be negotiated in Paris at the end of 2015 and take effect by 2020.

The actual content of each country’s plan, however, is entirely voluntary. In principle, countries are supposed to pledge to do more on climate than they’ve already been doing. But there are no rules about how emissions actually get restrained or what the timetable should be.

Rebecca Leber looks at how the agreement was watered-down:

To ensure more than 190 countries were on-board, particularly the developing world, negotiators weakened much of the requirements for individual countries in the final 30 hours.

Lima set out to establish a minimum guidelines for what information countries must disclose about cutting carbon pollution. The seemingly small detail is important because it lets countries compare apples to apples, and potentially push for more cuts. Except now the review process won’t be as vigorous as it could be, thanks to a single word change. Now, most of the information for these plans will be voluntary, rather than mandatory, because the text says countries “may” include detailed information, rather than “shall.”

In the end, some of the toughest decisions were simply postponed until Paris.

Eric Holthaus declares that the “U.N. process isn’t where the action is on climate anymore”:

Progressive cities, transformative industries, and mass protests have the best chance of providing the tipping point that’s needed. These talks are a distraction from the kind of urgent, on-the-ground work that needs to happen in order to steer the world’s economy toward a carbon-free path and prepare for the impacts of increasingly extreme weather.

But Erik Voeten sees the accord as significant:

While new numerical commitments may work for smaller, more cohesive groupings of countries, such as the European Union, the global approach has since shifted to a different strategy, which is based on the realization that the main push for climate-friendly policies must come from within countries. The purpose of international agreements and institutions is to help those domestic groups that favor emission curbs, not to set central standards that the international community can’t enforce. This fits the insights from political scientists that the effect of many treaties depends on domestic politics.

So how does the Lima agreement help domestic groups that favor carbon reductions? A first, and very important, feature is that it brings the issue on the agenda in every U.N. member state. Every country has agreed to develop a national action plan, although the language on what exactly needs to be in that plan was watered down during the negotiations. Still, anyone who has ever participated in or studied an activist movement knows that getting an issue on the agenda is a major hallmark.

Some environmental groups are unhappy:

The target of the United Nations-hosted climate process is to limit the rise in global temperatures to under 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But the architecture of the emerging plan rests on a series of nationally decided commitments that are unlikely to ensure the steep emissions cuts that experts say are needed to meet that target. Environmental watchdogs said the Lima deal would not achieve the stated aim. “The outcome here does little to break the world from a path to 3 degrees warming or higher,” Oxfam said in a statement.

Robert Stavins responds to such criticisms. He argues that “these well-intentioned advocates mistakenly focus on the short-term change in emissions among participating countries  … when it is the long-term change in global emissions that matters”:

They ignore the geographic scope of participation, and do not recognize that — given the stock nature of the problem — what is most important is long-term action.  Each agreement is no more than one step to be followed by others.  And most important now for ultimate success later is a sound foundation, which is what the Lima decision can provide.

(Photo: Environmental well wishes are seen written on a wall on December 13, 2014 in Lima, as work continued on the final draft of a UN climate agreement. By Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images)