LIMA, Peru — The 20th annual Conference of the Parties was held in Lima, Peru December of 2014 and the UN’s 194 members met to discuss a global strategy for addressing climate change. 2014’s talks were notable, not because they were a huge success, but because divisions between rich and poor countries came to a head.
There has long been disagreement between developed and developing countries over who should bear the burdens of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Developed countries in Europe and North America largely relied upon cheap fossil fuels and a lack of emissions regulations to develop quickly following the Industrial Revolution. Now that the environmental costs of burning fossil fuels are fully known, wealthier, developed countries are urging developing countries to develop in a more sustainable manner. However, many developed countries worry that emissions regulations would stunt economic growth.
“We are in a differentiated world. That is the reality,” Malaysian negotiator Gurdial Singh Nijar told delegates in Lima. “Many of you colonized us, so we started from a completely different point.”
Developed countries have far more resources available for reducing emissions, as well as developing cleaner technologies. Indeed, the EU is committed to a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gases below 1990 levels by 2030, and is already half-way there.
But the United States has been slow to commit to a specific emission-reduction target, instead demanding that developing countries like China agree to limit emissions as well. This is not a trivial demand; China continues to grow exponentially, and is currently the largest global emitter of CO2. The U.S. and the EU are the second and third emitters, respectively.
In a landmark agreement in November 2014, the U.S. and China came to an agreement. Among other things, the U.S. committed to reducing CO2 emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China, in turn, agreed that the country’s emissions will peak by 2030, and thereafter will not increase.
For the first time, the world’s two largest emitters of CO2 made tangible, measurable commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In the wake of this deal, there was optimism going into the Lima talks. Many thought that the U.S.-China deal could serve as a template for binding agreements between developed and developing countries that are so badly needed.
The Lima Climate Talks were not as successful as hoped, but an agreement was reached. The agreement ultimately preserves the idea that richer nations must lead the way in making greenhouse gas emissions cuts.
The Lima document states that countries will have “common but differentiated responsibilities,” acknowledging that a majority of emissions originate in developing countries, yet developed countries have more opportunity and resources to implement emissions reductions.
Moving forward, each country is expected to prepare a plan to reduce emissions for next year’s talks in Paris. The agreement in Lima suggests that developing countries and island nations are under “special circumstances” in regard to climate change, and their customized plans to address emissions should reflect this.
Developing countries are also promised that a “loss and damage” scheme will be established to help poorer countries cope with the financial implications of rising temperatures. This clause is important because it formally recognizes that poorer countries are more vulnerable to climate change, and less able to cope with natural disaster.
Ultimately, much of the COP 20 outcome will be determined in the next year, as developed and developing countries interpret for themselves their differentiated responsibilities.
– Claire Karban