Latest Round of UN Climate Talks Greeted with Optimism

Amid soot-covered stalks of last year's corn, a farmer prepares for spring near a power plant in China's Shanxi Province. (PHOTO CREDIT: Robb Kendrick, National Geographic Creative)
Amid soot-covered stalks of last year’s corn, a farmer prepares for spring near a power plant in China’s Shanxi Province. (PHOTO CREDIT: Robb Kendrick, National Geographic Creative)

Buoyed by new climate pledges from the United States, China, and Europe, diplomats from 195 countries will begin meeting in Lima, Peru, on Monday to draft a new accord to curb global warming.

Organized by the United Nations, the conference aims to lay the groundwork for an agreement to be finalized by December 2015, when world leaders will meet in Paris. Called COP 20, the 12-day gathering marks the 20th time countries will have met to discuss climate change since 1992. The agreement is hoped to be a successor to 1997’s Kyoto Protocol, which expired in 2012 but was never adopted by the U.S. or China, and so had limited impact.

President Barack Obama and other top leaders are not expected to attend the Lima talks but are sending environment officials and climate negotiators.

David Waskow of the World Resources Institute says he hopes the delegates will be able to “build on the good momentum we’ve seen over the past few weeks.” Waskow, who directs the think tank’s climate initiative, adds that he is optimistic that “an effective agreement” will be reached by the end of 2015.

What’s driving that momentum? On November 12, the U.S. and China, the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases, announced an agreement to slash their emissions. In October the European Union pledged to reduce its emissions 40 percent by 2030, compared with 1990 levels. And the UN’s Green Climate Fund, which helps developing countries address climate change, is on track to meet its ten-billion-dollar initial target.

“We’re in far better shape a year ahead of Paris than at any stage leading up to Copenhagen,” where world leaders tried but failed to reach a climate deal in 2009, says Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a nonprofit Virginia-based group formerly known as the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Now, he says, he sees greater “confidence and realism” about what can be accomplished through the UN and “less drama and vitriol than in previous rounds.”

Refinement of Climate Policy
Pete Ogden of the Center for American Progress, a think tank with close ties to the Obama Administration, agrees. He says he doesn’t expect any “fundamental breakthroughs” in Lima, but rather important refinement of ongoing international talks.

Ogden says those discussions have shifted since 2009. Instead of a top-down treaty that mandates the amount of greenhouse gases each country can emit—which has proved unpopular—negotiators are now developing a framework in which each country makes voluntary commitments.

The Peru summit will help countries hammer out those commitments, which are slated to be finalized in Paris next December. Ogden says the recent announcements by the U.S., China, and Europe signal some of what people can expect.

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SOURCE: National Geographic
Brian Clark Howard

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