World Economy

Paris Climate Summit Faces Tougher Job

Paris Climate Summit Faces Tougher JobParis Climate Summit Faces Tougher Job

A Paris summit in 2015 will face a tougher task to agree a UN deal to slow climate change after the hopes of many that cooperation between Washington and Beijing would be a magic key to end global gridlock dissolved in chaotic preparatory talks in Lima.

At best, Paris may be a chance to reform a sprawling system of annual UN talks – more than 11,000 delegates attended the two-week talks in a tent city in Lima – and find ways to boost long-term action to stem rising greenhouse gas emissions, Reuters reported.

After a frantic conclusion two days into overtime on Sunday, about 190 governments agreed only to some modest building blocks of a Paris accord despite high expectations for a positive outcome after the China and the United States, the world’s top two emitters, last month agreed jointly to limit emissions.

But the political momentum of the deal gave way to the familiar divisions and “red lines” that routinely bog down talks, especially on the question of how to differentiate the responsibilities of rich and poor countries.

  Fundamental Shift

“The US-China announcement hinted at a fundamental shift putting developed and developing countries on a more equal footing. It’s no surprise that in Lima a lot of developing countries pushed back,” said Elliot Diringer of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

The United Nations says it is already clear that promises for emissions curbs at a Paris summit in December 2015 will be too weak to get on track for a UN goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) above pre-industrial times.

“We will have a lot of work to do,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said of the task ahead for Paris.

Still, 2015 holds out a hope of reform for the UN system to rein in greenhouse gases blamed for causing heat waves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels.

Paris could mark a shift away from two decades of climate diplomacy toward a more technocratic system that would allow national pledges for action to limit warming to be compared and toughened in coming years.

  Lack Authority

Yvo de Boer, a former UN climate chief, said one problem was that UN negotiators lacked authority. “If the leaders of the Group of 20 got together and said ‘let’s get this done’ the whole thing would be over in 30 minutes,” he told Reuters.

De Boer, who heads the Global Green Growth Institute, which helps developing nations, noted that annual climate talks have ballooned since 1,000 delegates attended a first meeting in 1994.

“Paris could be an opportunity to change that, if it identifies the cornerstones of the work that needs to be done. It could make it into a technical process and not a political process,” he said. So far, however, the signs even of that are not good.

  Legally Binding?

There remains the overarching question of the Paris Agreement’s formal legal status. This remains a sleeper issue for Paris. The Lima talks affirmed parties’ determination to “adopt a protocol, another legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention”.

In other words, the Paris agreement could be a legally binding agreement, including compliance mechanisms, or a lesser decision calling for national measures with legal force. Or a hybrid of the latter two.

The prevailing view is that a strong legally binding agreement will be rejected by the US. Indeed, Paris could still collapse into a weak political agreement (a la Copenhagen) that would represent a failure of the roadmap agreed at climate talks in Durban in 2011.