2015, Governments of the World must reconnect with climate reality

The annual UN Climate Conference, held in Lima end of last year, was critically important as it aimed to pave the way for reaching a new post-2020 climate international agreement in Paris by December 2015 and for the first time it aimed to include all countries in the efforts to fight climate change. Whilst on December 14, after two weeks of intense negotiations, a new plan was accepted by all countries, it did not provide the impetus and direction needed to put on the right track the 195 countries to agree on such agreement.

Although governments avoided annihilation of two years of negotiations, the Lima talks have been clouded by missed opportunities: a missed opportunity to build trust among parties, with now even more division along north-south lines; missed opportunities on finance since developed countries were not willing to discuss pre or beyond 2020; and a missed opportunity around ambition, which simply fell off the radar completely and won´t prevent a rise of global warming to more than the disastrous threshold of 1.5C.

The main tensions centered on sharing the burden of emission cuts and on how the world’s biggest emitters would support poor countries adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and address the losses and damages caused by extreme weather events. However, it was agreed that all countries ¨able to do so¨ should submit contributions to the new agreement during the first quarter of 2015 and these Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) will form the foundation for climate action after 2020 when the new agreement is set to come into effect.

2015 will therefore be an intensive and crucial year for international climate politics

As the international scientific community showed it in its 5th report last November, a serious intensification of mitigation actions before 2020 is essential to keep the global temperature rise below the agreed level of 2°C. This intensification was one of the key demands from most of the climate-vulnerable countries. But, while the need for urgent actions is mentioned in the agreement’s text, no additional concrete measures were adopted.

Despite the announcement of the ratification of the second period of the Kyoto Protocol mid-December by the EU and its success in convincing Ukraine to join the protocol, EU Member States still have to significantly increase their targets, fully implement domestic energy efficiency laws and stop public support to the fossil fuel industry. Other big emitters must also take similar measures, in particular the USA and China who should adopt more ambitious mitigation targets than their business-as-usual accord found three months ago and put in place more sustainable models of production and consumption.

Climate Finance will also be this year a crucial issue to secure an agreement as developed countries, which are historically and currently responsible for the disturbance of our climate, must help developing countries to mitigate their emissions, to ensure a low carbon development, to adapt to effects of climate change, as well as to repair the losses and damages which they are already facing. The Green Climate Fund received only 3% of what was promised in 2009 (10.2 billion US $ for the next three years), the Adaptation Fund is still lacking capacities and the mechanism for Loss & Damage agreed in Warsaw in 2013 seems to be ignored by rich countries.

One of the main unresolved issues in Lima, and the most contentious one for 2015, is how to share the efforts of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Although all countries will be engaged in reducing their emissions, the methodology to assess whether these contributions are fair and ambitious is not decided yet. The rich vs developing country differentiation is no longer clear-cut. Emerging economies such as China, South Africa, Saudi Arabia or India are following a high energy intensive development model and are new big emitters. For this reason, Brazil proposed to address that new global configuration by distributing countries into three rather than two categories but no consensus has yet been reached.

The current text, Lima Call for Climate Action, retains the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” that has so far absolved developing countries of any obligation to cut emissions. However a small legally geeky assemblage, “in light of different national circumstances”, was added at the last minute predicting that a consensus on differentiation between countries might be reached, putting to an end the old World dichotomy of 1992.

EU role is fundamental to steer a coalition of “progressive” countries

In 2015 the EU will have an important role to play in the negotiations to reach a meaningful and efficiently ambitious agreement. As EU claims to be a climate leader and warns the rest of the world of the urgency of actions, its Member States, including the Central and Eastern European countries, must face their individual and collective responsibilities.

One way to counter-balance the inertia force of the big emitters, is to establish trustworthy and fair relations with the least developed countries in Africa, Latin America and State-Islands and give what they need: a clear road-map to deliver the $100 billion per year promised in 2009 by engaging public money and by taking an active part in developing innovative financial sources (ETS profit share, the Financial Transaction Tax, etc.); a separate chapter for Loss & Damage in the agreement, not to be confused with Adaptation; and a significant increase of the decarbonisation of their economies before 2020, by improving its targets in the 2020 climate and energy package.

With France to host the UN climate talks this year, Germany adopting new plans to meet its 2020 targets and with the UK government making clear to civil society that it agrees with the need for urgent action, the EU must ensure that concerns of individual member states are addressed to clear the way for progress at international level.

2015 will be decisive and a better negotiating process will have to happen from the start for countries to regain confidence and ownership of the process. Political leaders have put off the most difficult decisions for later and there is too much at stake to allow blocking tactics to thwart the delivery of this most urgently needed ambitious and fair global agreement on climate change.

The next episode of international climate politics will take place in Geneva from 08 till 13 February, where all countries will transform the Lima Call for Climate Action into a proper draft agreement text to be negotiated until Paris.

UNFCCC Time-line 2015