Written by Gregor Erbach
A new international agreement to combat climate change is due to be adopted in December 2015 at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The current climate agreements commit developed countries to take climate action, but not developing countries, some of which have become major emitters of greenhouse gases. After the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference failed to adopt a new agreement, the 2011 Durban conference decided that a new agreement applicable to all countries should be concluded in 2015 and enter into force in 2020.
COP 20, held in December 2014 in Lima, concluded with the adoption of the ‘Lima Call for Climate Action’, a document inviting all Parties (countries) to communicate their intended contributions to post-2020 climate action well before the Paris conference. Besides action to counter global warming, it should also cover adaptation to climate change.
An annex to the ‘Lima Call’ contains elements of a draft negotiating text for the Paris Agreement (revised in February 2015). The text contains many options reflecting the divergent negotiating positions of the various countries and country groups. A new negotiating text for the Paris Agreement (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Agreement’) should be made available by May 2015.
The Lima Conference left a number of important issues unresolved. First of all, the nature of countries’ contributions is not clearly specified, which will make them hard to compare and assess. It is likely that they will not add up to the emissions reductions required to keep global warming below the internationally agreed limit of 2°C. A process for the periodic assessment and strengthening of national efforts will therefore be an important element of the Agreement. Processes for monitoring, reporting and verification of national contributions will also have to be agreed.
Another unresolved issue is the Agreement’s legal form. While some negotiators favour a strong, legally binding agreement, others prefer a bottom-up approach based on voluntary contributions. Finally, issues of fairness and equity need to be addressed, acknowledging that developed countries have a greater historical responsibility for climate change and stronger capabilities for taking action. They can therefore be expected to make a larger contribution to emissions reductions as well as to provide finance for developing countries’ climate action, although the size and extent of these contributions is far from being agreed.
The outcome of the Lima Conference presents EU climate policy with new challenges as regards shaping the Paris Agreement, and once the Paris Conference is over, to building collaborations with partners worldwide.
The probable shift from a legally binding environmental treaty towards a ‘soft’ agreement based on national contributions presents both risks and opportunities. Continued engagement with international partners is needed to achieve the transformations of the economies and energy systems required to make sure that the risks of global warming remain manageable.