The UN’s Lima COP20 conference stands up very well in its final days against those who doubt or scorn international efforts to reduce climate impacts. It’s not just a lot of hot air. The congruence of international climate experts and decisionmakers is allowing organizations public and private, worldwide, to focus on exploring new solutions and filling critical information gaps.
It looks to this observer as if most everyone here in Lima—and that’s representatives of close to 100% of the nations of the world—realizes that in sharing climate action, we can also share prosperity, at no one’s expense and to everyone’s benefit. Other commenters have described the movement as a new political will. Developing countries are beginning to achieve a higher level of trust in the “rich” nations of the world. The developed countries, which cause the most global pollution, have mostly come through with emissions and financing pledges that seem more just, fair, equitable, and attainable than the vaguer commitments of the past.
Real progress, to be precise. Antagonism dissipates, and accountability and transparency appear to be gaining ground. Here, much credit is due to President Obama and President Xi for breaking the US-China deadlock. Even Australia, a nation that stands to lose in the long run by keeping its coal, oil, and gas (and uranium?) in the ground, and where the party in power resists acknowledging anthropogenic climate change and cuts its once-vaunted environmental programs, has now tithed to the Green Climate Fund. Those who hinder the consensus are finding themselves isolated and kept out of significant political and financial dealing. Some details are still in question, though: amount of pledges by 2030 ($100 billion? $150 billion?), involvement of G7, G20, and other international groups, ability to adapt to current and new challenges, and even the GCF’s value vs. that of higher CO2 cuts.
Moneyed interests and finance ministers of developed and developing countries have begun to see opportunity and potentially smart long-term investments in climate mitigation and adaptation. Rapid technological developments—such as the dizzying progress of solar energy—feed into this trend. It seems that except as a bridge fuel for nations like India and China, coal is becoming a dead issue; likewise carbon capture and storage, which needs much more proof of efficacy and long-term stability, much lower and less subsidized financing, and probably much more time than we currently have available.
Clearly specifying goals, stimulating green entrepreneurship, accelerating investment shifts, and building better financial mechanisms to move forward with energy transformation all seem desiriable catalysts. Then too, there’s divestment, which has been taking hold in the academic, NGO, and some corporate sectors and is favored by some nationals attending here. Countries will develop Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions before the Paris talks to address some of these factors.
Still up in the air: the details of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (what form, end date, review times?). Andy Revkin of The New York Times has noted the goal of “common, but differentiated” pledges. More specifics about developing smart cities, relative advantages of different renewable technologies and options within geographic regions, and energy efficiency would help countries work out appropriate action plans. Reports and strategies that have recently flowed toward the UNFCCC may help in the work.
There’s also been talk about newer and more subtle loss and damage mechanisms, which may include both economic and noneconomic losses and might be achievable by technological interventions rather than cold cash. Island states and less developed countries clearly have the most to lose in the short run. The movement is to plan for risks, build in resilience, set development on a sustainable track from the start, reduce vulnerability, incentivize fuller, faster responses, and provide financial support where it’s necessary. Nobody wants to see our precious and superb island getaways become a thing of the past.
International commitments and mitigation review methods and times remain important, especially in the short term (three months? six months?) leading up to Paris. It’s important not to lock in current pollution trends or, intentionally or not, favor present solutions over viable new ones. Of course, viability is one person’s meat and another person’s poison, but consensus brings the meal closer to positive nutrition. We also need to continue encouraging involvement from civil society and reward mixed-energy businesses for the steps they take to green themselves, rather than castigating them for resisting a fast switchover. But as always with corporate nonpersons, human vigilance is key.
The questions of developing national goals, their time frame (2025? 2030?), and the mitigation-only vs. mitigation/adaptation/finance remain to be answered. As far as a global goal, net-zero emissions have become more important here in Lima, especially as the recent IPCC Fifth Assessment report showed them to be attainable. But will this be 100% net zero emissions by 2050, or by 2100, or “net zero as early as possible in the second half of the century”? Or (as with the two-degree goal), remaining amorphous but still pointing in a clear and hopefully achievable direction?
There’s a lot more to discuss that we have no room for here: forestry/deforestation, ocean acidification, warming, technology transfer, novel uses of instruments like cell phones (not just for rich-nation messaging any more), the effect of climate change on traditional gender roles, the interplay between youth and climate futures…. Also, the goal of climate change efforts seems to be shifting from mitigation toward the larger view of adaptation. Nations like the United States, where denial of climate change has caused divisive political behavior, should recognize that being stuck in the mitigation-only perspective will hold back efforts to enable saner energy and a less threatening way of life.
It’s becoming clearer which nations are currently on rogue paths, and which (I believe them to be many more) are showing diligence and progressing with our common needs and goals. It also appears that tolerance for bad behavior has narrowed. The wide condemnation of desecrating the Nazca hummingbird is symbolic here. If the Lima COP20 emerges with clearer measures for sustainable development, climate risk management, and disaster reduction, the Paris talks may only be needed to cement the legalities and codify a global will.
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