This week sees the start of another UN climate change conference but you’d be forgiven for having missed it. Since the anti-climax of the 2009 summit in Copenhagen, the annual conferences of parties (COPs) to the UN framework convention on climate change – as they are known in UN jargon – have tended to come and go without much fanfare.
This year’s meeting, hosted by Peru in Lima, also follows a succession of other climate change events this autumn, first Ban Ki-Moon’s one-day climate summit in New York, then the EU’s agreement to cut emissions by 40% by 2030 and joint announcement by China and the US on their mitigation plans, and finally more warm words from the G20 meeting in Australia.
But there’s another reason Lima isn’t seen as a big deal too and that’s because all these events are collectively building towards what is generally hoped will be the next major landmark in the international fight against climate change (and in a good way this time) – the 2015 COP in Paris. This is meant to create “protocol, legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force” to apply from 2020.
As the deadline by which countries have to submit their post-2020 emissions reduction commitments isn’t until the spring, Lima is going to focus on the legal structure of the 2015 deal and other side issues rather than detailed national commitments.
Even so it won’t be all happy smiles. Tuesday’s news was that the EU had stressed in a press conference that it wants countries’ commitments to be legally binding. The US on the other hand envisages a more flexible basket of top-down and bottom-up approaches which would be easier to sign off domestically than an internationally binding deal.
Also controversial is the EU’s call for an international assessment before Paris of whether countries pledges are enough to achieve the UN’s wider climate goal of keeping average warming below 2 degrees.
At the same time, India – traditionally one of the more intransient negotiators and possibly rattled by China breaking with other emerging nations – may be shifting from an argument based on countries’ historical contributions to climate change to an approach focusing on the carbon embedded in the goods they consume.
Looking further ahead, there seems to be some optimism in the EU that a deal can be achieved in Paris (although you’d hardly expect otherwise). There’s a sense we’ll get some kind of deal, even if it’s not perfect, and that it can then be ratcheted up.
However, there’s still a chance the EU is deluding itself and will end up pushed into a corner as it was in Copenhagen (then too it had shiny new emissions targets to offer), or that developing countries will try and squeeze more out of it. From this perspective, the new US-China announcement is not promising.
Lima might be low profile, but it’s also a good opportunity for the EU take a strong stand and to try and win something more than a bundle of good but unambitious intentions tied up with a pretty bow. That wouldn’t help the climate and it would leave UK firms going much further than many of their competitors for the foreseeable future.