Lima Climate Change Conference: cause for cautious optimism

After a series of  challenging negotiations, the Lima Climate Change Conference concluded amidst cries from both attendees and observers that the agreement was “weak and ineffectual”.  Konstantinos Chatzigeorgiou argues that the backlash against the conference was an overreaction. 

Despite the criticism, this conference was only meant to be laying the groundwork for the upcoming Paris meeting in 2015. As such, the progress of many countries in reducing carbon emissions as well as the possibility of reaching another unanimous agreement should give us cause for cautious optimism as we count down to Paris 2015.

Making Progress?

One of the many reports presented in the conference illustrated a gloomy picture regarding the climate change performance per nation.  The report examined the level and development of emissions, energy efficiency, and the use of renewable sources of energy in 61 countries to assign ranks to the different countries.

In an ironic, yet substantial gesture, the report’s first three ranks remain open. Apparently, no country “is yet on track to prevent dangerous climate change”. Even countries such as Denmark with its “exceptional” policy evaluation and the United Kingdom’s with its 15% decrease in emissions are simply not doing enough.

© Oxfam International/Creative Commons License

© Oxfam International/Creative Commons License

Despite the generally worrisome conclusions, some of the report’s findings offer glimpses of hope. For instance, China, the world’s biggest CO2 emitter, improved its overall performance with a heavy investment in renewable energies and a departure from carbon intensive infrastructure development. However, the country still ranks poorly, lagging behind Bulgaria, Belarus and Indonesia.

The USA also showed a decrease in energy-related CO2 emissions which is a positive trend in itself. Furthermore, the country aspires to capitalise on this trend by further regulating climate policies. Nevertheless, these developments could be attributed to the extensive use of shale gas. Interestingly, Canada and Australia have fared poorly ranking 57 and 58 respectively, thus being the lowest of the developed countries in the climate change performance index.

Talks also revolved around other crucial issues such as deforestation. This phenomenon, largely caused by increased demand of agricultural products, threatens to undermine environmental objectives by altering rainfall patterns.  Therefore, the need to offer political and financial support to farmers, who in turn will invest in sustainable land, was expressed. It was also suggested that failure to do so will radically decrease the chance in limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

Reducing the effects of deforestation is no easy task, but some advances were noted. A Rainforest Alliance delegation presented its certification work in Lima, such as some of the first deforestation-free cattle ranches in Brazil and Colombia, commercial reforestation in Ecuador and the sustainable harvest of forest products in Peru.

Reaching Agreements

Negotiations were not always smooth. As Matt McGrath of BBC comments, talks “had almost collapsed because of the wide gaps between the positions held by rich and poor nations.” Eventually, however, unanimous agreement was reached.

© The Irish Labour Party/Creative Commons License

© The Irish Labour Party/Creative Commons License

Ultimately, a 43-page draft was prepared, paving the way for a conclusive 5-page document which summarizes the convention’s outcome. The agreement requires “developed country Parties to provide and mobilize enhanced financial support for developing country Parties for ambitious mitigation and adaptation actions” and demands all Parties to “communicate their intended nationally determined contributions” before the upcoming Paris conference.

While these papers do not seem to imply a radical breakthrough, some commentators note that the devil is in the details. Michael Jacobs, writing for The Guardian, claims that even though there are still no definite commitments, the Lima convention has managed to “end the longstanding division of the world into only two kinds of countries, developed and developing.”

Prior to Lima, developing countries’ obligations were voluntary. By requiring all countries to take action, it is implied that the world will not remain divided when fighting climate change. This is particularly important when considering that some of the world’s biggest emitters like Brazil, India, and China were practically given a free pass previously.

While it is not clear what each country’s intended nationally determined contributions will be, it is apparent that compromises will have to be made by everyone. In short, while the Lima talks have not cleared the fog on climate change policies, future measures are going to involve the whole world and not only a small number of developed nations.

In the end, while the outcome of the Lima talks leaves much to be desired, some breakthroughs were achieved. Reports indicate the severity of the situation, while the scope of the agreement allows a certain amount of leniency when combating climate change. Next year’s meeting in Paris will reveal whether environmental considerations can and will overwrite political and economic ones.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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