After two weeks of scheduled negotiations, and thirty hours into overtime for the UNFCCC 20th Conference of Parties (COP) in Lima, Peru, delegates from over 190 nations finally produced the Lima Call to Climate Action deal. The package aims to galvanize nations’ actions on climate change and set terms by which countries will make commitments that will be sealed in a globally binding climate treaty next year in Paris. The meeting also produced a new series of contributions towards the $100 billion climate fund announced earlier.
But recriminations began even before the ink was dry on the agreements. Environmentalists claimed the agreement was “watered down”, “weak” and “inadequate”. Developed nations worried (off the record) that the lack of strong language on how countries will report and have their commitments verified gives large emitters from the developing world a “free pass”. Small island states, who are most at risk from rising seas, are concerned at the lack of faster progress. And big businesses, who want greater clarity on a roadmap towards a price on carbon, are again leaving unsatisfied.
While the agreement can be viewed as a letdown, the only thing that counts with climate change is action. To that end, there are only two relevant questions to ask of the Lima Call. First, will the deal drive action beyond what is presently being done to fight climate change? Or will countries be more likely to shirk on their commitments because they don’t have to submit to strong external verification processes?
The answers to these must be yes and no. Countries which came to the table with climate change actions will contribute to a global pact that will be sealed in Paris.These commitments are no less valid because they may not be monitored as certain parties would have preferred. If a country fails in its commitment, it is unlikely to be because of reporting, but rather because of some other inadequacy, such as funding, technology or political will.
Reporting is not at the center of climate change action, nor should it be. The best reporting isn’t externally imposed; it arises as a result of internal compliance and strength of vision. Reporting guidelines can be globally suggested, but the push to meet these guidelines and making them relevant needs to be domestic, if it is to be sustainable. Developed countries used to monitoring others “for their own good” may not like their lack of supervisory power over other countries in this case. Sovereignty is, after all, more meaningful in a world where developing countries account for an increasing share of global GDP and global influence.
Further on reporting, there are questions about whether the UNFCCC-defined reporting mechanisms are adequate to capture the full range of climate change action. For instance, China’s high speed rail network has obvious benefits to the country’s emissions profile and are a part of a holistic approach to low-carbon economics. And yet, the investments in the network may not qualify as climate change action, depending on who is doing the measuring.
The second question that should be asked of the Lima Call relates to its status as a precursor to next year’s COP meeting in Paris: does it go far enough, and will it raise the bar for the deal for Paris?
The key to answering this question is to understand the iterative nature of the search for climate action and climate answers. The lesson of the failed Copenhagen COP in 2009 was that, in the absence of a grand deal on climate change which laid actions towards long-term goals, we would instead have to work step-by-step.
In other words, each step — while insufficient and inadequate on its own — becomes a building block for the next step and the one after that. On its own, the Lima call may be inadequate because it fails to create a clear path to 2030 and 2050. But as part of a process, the nature of COP negotiations has already changed positively. We only need each step to bring the final goal a little closer within reach and to that extent, the Lima Call may be enough for now.
The Lima Call may make the grade because it puts countries’ commitments on the table, while pulling away from the tired divide which puts developed and developing countries on different sides of the table. Although it acknowledges “common but differentiated responsibilities,” it does not build the entire agreement on this principle.
This is both a welcome break from the past and also very much in line with the China-U.S. Climate deal announced a few weeks ago. Both these agreements are refreshing in that they focus on actions in the context of global collective responsibility, but on the basis that nations have different starting points. If a deal is to be struck in Paris, it will have to be built on the same grounds. Taken within this context, Lima can be seen as a step forward.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fung Global Institute’s editorial policy.