Sunday marked the final day of the 20th United Nations international climate summit, an opportunity for national delegations from 196 countries around the world to convene in Lima, Peru and discuss global impacts of—and solutions to—climate change.
Lima’s convention was the 20th Conference of the Parties (known as COP 20), meaning it is the 20th such international meeting since the Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Significant COPs in history include COP 3 in Kyoto, Japan, where the Kyoto Protocol set emission limits for the more developed countries (which the U.S. never ratified), and COP 15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, which produced the Copenhagen Accord which states that global warming should not exceed 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, since the Copenhagen Accord was not a legally binding agreement, international climate negotiations are now focusing on how to strengthen existing legal climate goals and receive commitments from nations that were not bound to the Kyoto Protocol (the United States, for example). These issues are set to be worked out in negotiations at COP 21 next year in Paris, France. Therefore, the COP negotiations that just wrapped up in Lima were of critical importance to set the stage for potentially legally binding action next year, tentatively dubbed “the Paris Alliance,” which may be the last chance for a binding international agreement before we lock in 3.6 degrees F of global warming or more.
The Lima COP produced a document called the Lima Accord, which lays out the basis of negotiations next year in Paris, as well as the course of events needed between now and then. The Accord is significant because it is the first time that all 196 COP parties have agreed to submit plans on how they intend to reduce global warming pollution, which is truly something to celebrate. As reported in Yale Environment 360, “under the accord reached in Lima, each country will agree to enact domestic laws and regulations to reduce carbon emissions and to submit a plan by March 31 stating their intended emissions reduction targets after 2020. Those pledges and an assessment of their potential impacts will be tallied in a report by Nov. 1, 2015, in advance of the Paris talks in December 2015.”
However, many analysts say that the Lima Accord is too weak to have much of an effect on preventing the warming threshold agreed upon in Copenhagen, since it does not include legally binding requirements and as the New York Times reports “under the terms of the draft, every country will publicly commit to enacting its own plans to reduce emissions — with governments choosing their own targets, guided by their domestic politics, rather than by the amounts that scientists say are necessary.” Others say that the vagueness and non-legally binding nature of the Lima Accord could be a good thing for some countries, such as the United States, where the Senate would likely not ratify a legally-binding agreement.
With this consideration in mind, it is worth considering the importance of the United States’ newly proposed limits on carbon pollution from power plants—the Clean Power Plan. Released in draft form in June of this year as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the rule seeks to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector by an average of 30% by 2030. Our analysis shows that the Southeast has abundant economical energy efficiency and renewable energy resources to meet all of our states’ goals.
In large part because of this proposed rule, this year’s COP was the first time that the United States has ever arrived to UN climate negotiations with a domestic policy in hand. Similarly, the Clean Power Plan helped provide the opportunity for the United States to enter into an historic agreement with China last month to reduce carbon pollution in both nations. This is particularly significant because the U.S. and China are the world’s two biggest polluters and have previously resisted policies to reduce their emissions. This new course provides forward momentum in international negotiations that was previously lacking from these economic powerhouses. Therefore, while the benefits of the Clean Power Plan are abundant domestically, they may prove to be significant internationally as well.
Looking forward, we will continue to cover international climate news in the lead up to COP 21 in Paris, while pressing forward to make sure our domestic policies, such as the Clean Power Plan, give us as much leverage as possible in next year’s discussions.