10 questions for delegates heading to UN climate talks in Lima

UN envoys hope to craft a draft version of a global climate deal in Peru next week – here’s what they will have to consider

(Pic: UNFCCC/Flickr)

(Pic: UNFCCC/Flickr)

By Ed King

Hopes that a UN climate change agreement could be signed in 2015 have peaked in recent weeks, with new promises from the US, EU and China to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

But as a new report from the World Bank warns today, the hopes of limiting warming to below 2C are fading. With it, say scientists, the risks of floods, droughts and other extreme weather events rise.

This time next week envoys from nearly 200 countries will be in the Peru for the start of negotiations aimed at developing a global deal, set to be agreed in Paris next December.

Below are ten questions delegates will need to consider during the talks.

The 2C pathway
Talks on a global deal are split into two parts, pre 2020 and post 2020. The former is critical if governments want to avoid dangerous levels of warming, but has been studiously ignored by many countries. Recent GHG pledges from the EU, US and China are all targeted 2025 and beyond. But the UN Environment Programme’s recent emissions gap report made clear that if there is no increase in action this decade, avoiding 2C may be impossible. What more can leading emitters do to rein in their pollution?

Missing trillions
Huge sums of money are needed to help developing countries make a transition to a low carbon economy, and prepare for the worst that global warming could throw at them. Costs will vary country by country, and some are more prepared than others. The recent offer of $9.3 billion to the UN-backed Green Climate Fund will help the politics, but far more is needed. It’s also less than the $10 billion a year provided by developed countries between 2010-2012. In 2009 the Global South was promised $100 billion a year by 2020 from public and private sources. Where will the extra money come from?

New York summit pledges
This was a meeting of huge promises, but they now need to be followed up and brought together. According to UN officials at Ban Ki-moon’s climate meeting in September, around $200 billion from governments, financial institutions and foundations was directed towards the low carbon economy. The World Bank indicated that 73 countries and over 1000 companies were pricing carbon, while the Compact of Mayors saw 2000 cities commit to cut emissions and enhance resilience to climate impacts. How can these efforts from business, cities and civil society be integrated into the UN process?

Latin leadership
South American countries have kept a fairly low profile at UN summits. That’s odd because the likes of Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica and Colombia have important stories to tell about how they are investing in the green economy. Together they can also offer a counterbalance to the US, China and EU, historic leadership blocs that may feel after their recent announcements they have little to offer in terms of finance or emission cuts at the talks. And will a summit held in Peru encourage its huge neighbour Brazil to support an ambitious agenda set by the Lima hosts, and edge towards announcing its own carbon cuts in 2015?

Loss and damage
Climate compensation is a toxic concept to many, but deemed critical by the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). A collapse of talks in Warsaw was narrowly averted by some clever language, but Lima will force this back onto the agenda. Scientists say nearly 1.5C of warming is locked into the atmosphere, with rising sea levels threatening the territorial integrity of many Pacific islands. One solution could be a network of insurance schemes covering future events – but there is growing pressure for this to be sorted by Paris. Will the compensation flow?

The US-China climate agreement was hailed as a breakthrough for the negotiations for committing the world’s two largest carbon polluters to cuts. Politically ambitious but scientifically weak, the G2’s move presents a challenge for other countries in the process. Do they continue to push Washington and Beijing for more or focus on other countries? The EU’s new Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete may surprise, but he doesn’t seem like the sort of character who will publicly challenge other parties like his predecessor, the tenacious Connie Hedegaard. Who else will step up and challenge the status quo?

One answer could be Vladmir Putin. The Kremlin is notoriously unpredictable in the UN climate arena, and has huge oil and gas reserves to protect. The UN climate talks started after the Cold War had concluded, but given the Ukraine crisis that added dynamic looks set to be added to the mix. Once Moscow was part of the Umbrella Group of countries – including Ukraine and the US. That looks unlikely to continue, leaving it diplomatically isolated. Lead US negotiator Todd Stern recently spoke of his concern over Russia’s positioning. Which Russia will turn up?

Legal nature
Will the proposed 2015 climate deal be legally binding? It’s a question everyone seems to have an opinion on, but a resolution appears elusive. The US says it can’t accept any agreement that looks like an international treaty, as it will have to go through Congress, which is unlikely to ratify it, especially on current form. The position of the EU and other developing countries is that only a binding legal deal will inspire confidence in the system. Diplomats talk of parts of any agreement taking a legal nature, such as accounting, measuring and reporting emissions. But what does a “legal outcome” as stipulated in the 2011 UN climate deal in Durban really mean?

How can the UN ensure than any final agreement is fair? That those who caused the problem in the first place do the most to clear it up? It probably can’t – but that’s not to stop many trying. The concept of equity cuts to the heart of these negotiations, especially as it’s the world’s poorest who stand in line to suffer most. Civil society wants more work on an Equity Reference Framework (ERF) to assess what load countries should take. It’s a concept backed by India and Brazil – not so by many developed countries who see it as political suicide. This article explains why. Who decides what’s fair?

Technology transfer
Climate change will never be slowed if valuable low carbon technologies are not shared with developing countries. That was the warning from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which recommended policies to help diffuse, transfer and finance the movement of wind, solar, marine and other forms of clean energy to the developing world. If and when anyone manages to harness carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in a cost effective fashion this will need to be transferred to countries like India and China. Without it their coal power plants could tip the plant over 2C. There’s huge money involved in R&D here, but who will blink first?

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