Climate negotiations: If we fail in Lima, we will fail in Paris

Reading time: 7 minutes
28 November 2014

LONDON: In an article for “COP20 - CLIMATE CHANGE The New Climate Economy”, Mark Kenber, CEO, The Climate Group, explains what needs to happen at the upcoming UNFCCC conference in Lima (Peru) in order to reach a new global climate deal in Paris in December 2015.

As we approach the denouement of the current round of climate negotiations in Paris next year, there will without doubt be many ‘make or break’ moments at which the process may stall or, alternatively, be reinvigorated. ‘COP 20’, the 20th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Lima, Peru, tops the list of such moments; if we fail there, we will almost certainly fail in Paris.

Two things have to happen at COP 20. First, we need to leave Lima on December 12th with a draft that reflects a broad consensus on what we hope to achieve in Paris in 2015 and the process for getting there.

Second, and equally important, all countries must reaffirm that they are on track to deliver significant commitments by March 2015 that will be the drivers of a global deal and allow us to surge ahead with a low carbon future. These ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ (INDCs) should include not only emission reduction targets, but also a comprehensive policy framework that sends a clear signal to business and investors that cutting emissions is at the heart of all governments’ policy. Together, these contributions must show that the outcome in Paris will unequivocally mark the beginning of the end of the high carbon economy.

With the recent announcements made by the EU in October, and by China and the US in a joint statement on November 12, three of the five biggest emitters have now made emission reduction commitments, which is very encouraging.

International gatherings on climate change often draw criticism for their inability to produce clear and measurable outcomes, a scar left by the failure to secure a binding agreement at COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009. There is no doubt that COP15 did not meet its stated aims. Yet, the process leading up to it resulted in all the world’s major economies – rich and poor alike – setting targets for 2020 and beyond, targets that, while they reflected their national circumstances and priorities, all aimed to slow the growth of global emissions.

This nation-led approach is one of the most significant recent changes in the international climate negotiations. What started as a mainly top-down process after the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 has shifted over the past 20 years to a more hybrid approach, combining international rule-making with national and sub-national policymaking. The unprecedented mobilisation of civil society, businesses, cities and sub-national governments at the UN Climate Summit and Climate Week NYC in September is testament to this evolution.

A changing landscape

Back in 1992, the science was still being proven, the technologies were expensive to implement and hardly any country had climate policies in place. Today, we wake up to a world where the scientific evidence of the negative impacts of human-induced climate change is irrefutable, as shown by the latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The dramatic emergence of new low carbon technologies and the equally precipitous fall in cost of existing ones means that the potential for low carbon transformation is greater than ever before. And most governments have adopted measures to stabilise carbon emissions.  

“It doesn’t cost us more to deal with climate change; it costs more to ignore it” said US Secretary of State John Kerry on the Opening Day of Climate Week NYC 2014. The Global Commission on the Economy on Climate, chaired by former President of Mexico Felipe Calderon, substantiated this, in the landmark “New Climate Economy” report, stating that “countries at all levels of income now have the opportunity to build lasting economic growth at the same time as reducing the immense risks of climate change.”

A few visionary leaders have heard this message and are already putting low carbon and climate resilience at the heart of their business and policy strategies. Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence that they are reaping economic benefits as a result, they are still a small minority.  The vast majority in both business and government – except those who for ideological reasons refuse to even accept the evidence before their eyes – are still firmly sat on the fence, unwilling to commit and waiting for others to move first.

Global leadership

Our goal at The Climate Group is to shift this majority by giving them the confidence to make ambitious commitments and invest in a new clean industrial revolution. The case for action or the ‘why’ – increased competitiveness, energy security, sustainable growth, and job creation – has already been made. Companies that are putting sustainability and climate change at the heart of their business strategy outperform their peers. A recent report by We Mean Business, the coalition of business organisations for climate action we launched at Climate Week NYC, revealed that forward-looking corporations investing in low carbon technologies are seeing an average internal rate of return (IRR) of 27%.

What we are providing – along with many of our partners – is a clear sense of the ‘how’. And our network of companies and sub-national governments provides numerous good examples.

Along with cities, state and regional governments around the world are moving forward to develop a new generation of innovative climate and energy policies that will shape the future climate policy landscape. For example, Connecticut’s Green Bank attracted US$220 million in new clean energy investment last year (90% in private funds), which helped create over 1,200 new jobs in the state.  This is just one example from The Climate Group States & Regions Alliance, which includes Connecticut and 26 other sub-national governments that together govern 313 million people and represent 11% of global GDP. At the UN Climate Summit in September, we also unveiled the Compact of States and Regions which will provide, for the first time, a clear picture of sub-national governments’ overall contribution to greenhouse gas emission reduction.

We are also enabling business to step up. With RE100, a new campaign we launched to encourage major companies to switch to 100% renewable power, we aim to accelerate the transformation of the energy market. Last year alone renewables accounted for more than 56% of new global power capacity but demand is weak and the benefits of renewable power procurement poorly understood. RE100 will show how it can be done and that it makes financial sense.  

Some have suggested that these and other bottom-up initiatives weaken the international policy process by taking pressure off governments and suggesting that we can muddle through effectively without top-down leadership. I believe quite the opposite to be true. Far from weakening international negotiations, the bottom-up approach reinvigorates it, as long as we recognise what has changed since its inception.

The evolution of climate negotiations

In 1992, China’s greenhouse gas emissions were half that of the US. Today, China emits almost twice as much as the US. Chinese emissions per capita were less than 2 tonnes twenty years ago; now they’re triple that and higher than those in the EU. Some developing countries are now richer than industrialised countries and with far higher emissions, while regional differences within countries mean that some sectors are more able to act than others. Along with increased capacity and the already mentioned fall in the cost of clean energy and other low carbon “solutions”, the scope for action is far greater and far more widespread than before.

This is not to undermine the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”. This principle recognises that all countries are not equal when it comes to climate change and helps protect the most vulnerable nations that are often the least responsible. Countries’ roles in tackling climate change should reflect their ability to deliver and their responsibility for historic and future emissions.

The hybrid approach – a top-down framework providing transparency, comparability and international mechanisms that support emissions reductions together with bottom-up leadership initiatives – enables us to reconcile the need for global action with respect for fairness. This requires a change in the mind-set of policymakers, away from the idea that climate action is a ‘cost to be avoided’ or a ‘burden to be shared’ and towards the reality that ambitious action delivers economic and social opportunities and net benefit. It also means acknowledging that the COPs are no longer the place where all climate policy is determined and that domestic policies are likely to drive any global agreement, rather than the other way around.

A global climate deal with binding emission reduction targets per country is fundamental but, in my view, it’s only one part of the equation. As important are the commitments from countries, states, regions, cities and companies about what needs to happen on the ground to secure the transition to a low carbon world: how do we triple wind energy, quadruple solar power, improve carbon capture and storage technology, halt deforestation, switch to smart agriculture?

All eyes on Lima 

Lima takes place in a propitious context. A couple of months ago in New York, civil society spoke, with a 300,000 strong People’s Climate March; global businesses came to Climate Week NYC Opening Day with major announcements; and an unprecedented 125 world leaders attended the UN Climate Summit. A few weeks later, scientists gave their final word in the sobering synthesis report of the IPCC, presented in Copenhagen.

Building on this momentum, it is now up to national governments to step up to the plate and put in place the much-needed policies to create the confidence and environment that will allow a low carbon future to finally boom. More importantly it will create a virtuous circle, where bottom-up action inspires leaders to make bolder commitments, which in turn provides the enabling environment for more ambitious action on the ground.

Lima will be a crucial step on the road to a global agreement in Paris next year. By recognizing this new dynamic, negotiators can allow this circle to grow.

Mark Kenber, CEO, The Climate Group


Want to read more about COP? Over the next two weeks The Climate Group is releasing pre and post-COP briefings as well as producing COP20 coverage in news and blogs and on Twitter. States & Regions events in Lima can be tracked on hashtag #statesandregions. 

Check out this infographic on understanding COP negotiations in Lima and Paris.

And in case you missed it, here's a brief background to the COP20 in Lima.


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