(2014-12-14)The U.S. and other wealthy countries persuaded their developing-nation peers to advance a framework that for the first time would spread the burden of economically painful emission cuts across all nations.
The compromise reached at early Sunday at climate talks in Lima—part of negotiations aimed at reaching a final, comprehensive climate pact next year in Paris—would require every country to submit plans for cutting their carbon footprints in the coming months. The final deal being negotiated would be a departure from earlier agreements that put the responsibility of such cuts only on highly industrialized countries.
But 13 days of United Nations-organized talks also showed that a North-South divide remains over which countries should shoulder most of the costs of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. A public rift opened on the final day of talks, threatening to derail progress and highlighting the challenges that broader negotiations will face next year before the final conference begins in November in Paris.
“In the negotiating room, countries had a very tough time shifting gears,” said Elliot Diringer, executive vice president at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a nonpartisan think tank. “They got through Lima by largely skirting the issue for now. It’s hard to see that flying in Paris.”
Most of the thorny issues, such as how to finance poorer countries’ reductions and preparations for extreme climatic events, were left for later meetings. That omission will increase the diplomatic heavy-lifting required to reach a final agreement in 2015.
The talks were designed to put countries on track to limit global average temperature gains to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels over coming decades, a goal previously set by world leaders. Environmentalists warn that the framework that is emerging won’t put countries on track to meet that goal in Paris.
Before the latest agreement, major economies—the U.S., European Union and other countries—threw out the old idea of a treaty with uniform emissions cuts and backed a system where all countries submit their own proposals to trim carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases linked to climate change.
In November, President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping jointly announced their pledges to cut carbon emissions after 2020, when an existing international climate deal expires. The move was aimed at prodding other countries to commit to ambitious targets and showing that Washington would move in concert with a giant emerging market that is now the world’s biggest carbon dioxide emitter.
Like many countries, though, the U.S. faces strong domestic political opposition to cutting emissions in ways that could weigh on the economy. Republican lawmakers have vowed to stop the Obama administration’s regulations on power plants, a key part of the American offering in the global climate talks.
After the high-level phase of the Lima talks got off to a slow start last week, Secretary of State John Kerry made a surprise visit, urging countries on Thursday not to get bogged down in “debates over who should do what.”
“I am confident we can rise above the debates that have dragged us down,” Mr. Kerry told attendees. “It’s everyone’s responsibility.”
Early Saturday, after the gathering was supposed to conclude, the leaders of the talks unveiled new language defining how all countries should develop and advance their emissions plans.
Hours later, several groups of developing countries—including some African countries and left-leaning Latin American governments—publicly rejected the text. They were backed by China, arguably the most important country at the negotiating table.
Their concerns centered on the age-old dispute of which countries are responsible for curbing carbon in the atmosphere and, more important, which ones will finance poorer countries’ cuts and adaptation toward an altered climate.
“We have two visions of reality in the world that are very different,” said Venezuela’s representative in the talks.
“Let us not make the poor to pay,” Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said.
Backed by the U.S. and New Zealand, Singapore warned the countries voicing objections that opening up the text to edits could lead to a disastrous “amputation” of the organ in question.
“Failing to approve the decision before us will be seen as a major breakdown,” said Todd Stern, the State Department’s special climate envoy. “We have no time for lengthy new negotiations.”
In the end, the U.S. and other countries added language late Saturday that emphasized countries’ “different national circumstances” and “common but differentiated responsibilities.”
With several additional edits, the plan won approval from the nearly 200 countries present early Sunday.
Some observers said the language approved Sunday won’t ensure that all nations develop ambitious emissions plans that can stand up to outside review and meet the U.N. goals.
“For most countries, they’re going to be the comfortable goals they know they can meet and maybe exceed,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, a Washington think tank.
Still, participants applauded the latest plan as a way to sign up a broader group of countries to limit emissions for decades in the future, when today’s emerging markets are expected to have enlarged economies with greater energy needs. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol put the burden for curbing emissions solely on developed economies.
“The No. 1 requirement is participants, not depth of cuts,” said Tim Groser, New Zealand’s trade and climate minister, in an interview. “We’re not going to get rid of oil in the next 50 years, for God’s sake.”