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From Lima to Paris: The UN Climate Change Conference Paves the Way for a Sustainable Future

Mitigating climate change and its consequences is one of the most popular global agenda items. 2014 climate change mitigation landmarks include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon organizing the UN Climate Summit , held during Climate Week NYC ; the EU announcing the reduction by at least 40% of its carbon emissions by 2030; and the United States and China signing a bilateral agreement to reduce their respective carbon emissions.

Another major landmark was the 2014 United Nations Climate Change Conference, an annual event established during the mid-1990s. It aids the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UN FCCC ) in establishing a platform for openly discussing the Kyoto Protocol and negotiating its implementation. Also known as the Conferences of Parties ( COP ), the event paves the way for the topic of climate change to be brought into the forefront of global politics. December's COP20 conference, held in Lima, Peru, aimed to make leaders settle on a global climate agreement that will help reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to limit the rise in global temperature.

World leaders have become more involved in climate change mitigation. According to a 2013 report published by the World Bank, experts have agreed that an increase of 2° Celsius in global temperature is all that the planet can afford, and that anything beyond this is potentially harmful to the world’s population. This report, along with others that followed, was used as an information resource during the Lima conference.

While global attention was focused on December’s conference in Lima, many are already looking forward to this year’s conference in Paris. The framework that was created and agreed to in Lima will set the tone for this year’s final resolutions. Each participating country will add its plan on or before March 2015 so that it can be finalized for the December 2015 signing in Paris.

The Lima conference had two concrete goals:

  • 1. To agree on a sensible and workable draft for the 2015 Paris agreement.
  • 2. To agree on the rules for how each country will set their own GHG emissions reduction targets for 2015, called the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) of each country.

The attendees of the Lima conference were tasked with finalizing negotiations and laying the groundwork for the Paris conference to result in a new protocol, one that will replace the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, which all UN member states will sign, ratify and adhere to. Since the COP20 was the last full meeting before the final agreement is signed in Paris, world leaders had to come up with a solid stance on climate change to guarantee the success of the 2015 treaty.

The Global Concern Regarding Climate Change

There has been continued dialogue on climate change among world leaders during the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference. Discussions have primarily focused on the importance of mitigating climate change impacts and working together to make the world more climate-resilient.

In a speech during the COP20 High-Level Segment, Ban Ki-moon discussed the growing importance of taking immediate action towards climate change, reminding the attendees that climate change mitigation is an important foundation of sustainable development and that investment must be aligned with global mitigation goals.

Climate change has brought undeniable changes to global ecosystems and natural resources. Mitigating climate change will greatly influence the future of individuals, communities, countries and the global population. 2014’s COP20 highlighted this reality further, showing how crucial it is for both governments and the private sector to monitor the ever-changing effects and rising costs of climate change. A study conducted by the World Bank shows that the cost to adapt to climate change impacts is around $70-100 billion annually. Furthermore, the International Energy Agency notes that at least $1 trillion dollars of new investment each year will be needed to fund climate change mitigation strategies. This is an expensive fiscal cost that governments cannot meet by themselves.

The World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim reiterated the importance of finance as a critical component of a comprehensive climate agreement in Paris next year. His speech for the COP20 conference at the Council on Foreign Relations suggested that countries should use their regulatory capacity to get carbon prices right, incentivize clean investment, and use the full range of policy instruments available to them in order to experience greater investment flows.

In today’s climate-driven economy, neither the private nor public sector can afford the economic losses and business disruptions due to unforeseen climate change risks. According to the American Climate Prospectus , future GHG levels will set the pace of global economic and population growth, technological developments and policy decisions. In order to build a climate-resilient future, the business sector must lower their GHG emissions and invest in sustainable development and climate change mitigation. A 2014 report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC) shows that the world is already subject to adverse impacts of climate change as it continues to endanger livelihoods, health, ecosystems, economies and societies.

Climate change affects everyone. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirms that droughts, heat stress, and floods due to the changing climate have a significant impact on food production. The affected areas will experience a substantial reduction on crop yields and livestock productivity. Climate change also puts pressure on water resources, which will cause an imbalance in the global water supply and demand as the world’s potable water resources slowly decline.

The changing climate also has adverse effects on population health, with extreme weather events increasing the transmission rates of infectious diseases through the consumption of unclean water and contaminated food. The UN IPCC report notes that there are potential humanitarian risks that climate change poses for the world’s vulnerable populations. For instance, the report associates climate change with rising food prices and political instability in Asia and Africa after the food price inflation of 2008.

The COP20 Lima Conference Challenges

The road towards a sustainable, climate-resilient future will have setbacks. During the 12-day COP20, 196 countries convened and negotiations became complicated as two world powers argued over whether or not the framework to be agreed upon should be legally binding. The European Union (EU) was in favor of making it legally binding while the United States opposed the suggestion. Elina Bardam, head of the EU delegation at the conference, believes that legally binding mitigation targets are the only way to achieve the necessary long-term goals in order to transition to a low carbon future. Todd Stern, President Obama’s lead climate negotiator, opposed this on the grounds that “many countries, including major ones, won’t be willing to make their mitigation commitment legally binding at the international level, and once some balk, the premise of a legal form applicable to all unravels.”

As the Lima conference ended on December 12, it appeared that negotiators conceded to have every country propose its own emissions cuts. The terms of the Lima draft stated that every country that signs the Paris treaty will publicly commit to put forward its own emissions reduction plan. Since each country will have its own benchmark, the global treaty will contain 196 separate emissions pledges. A New York Times article noted that not binding nations on having a single benchmark for GHG emissions reductions was the main shortcoming of the Lima draft. Yvo de Boer, former executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, even observed that many people are resigned to the likelihood that the Paris treaty will not reduce the GHG levels to meet the 2-degree target.

Meanwhile, several companies from the energy sector seem hesitant to fully commit to COP20 resolutions because of what it could mean for their businesses. It has been suggested that some corporations only show support for climate change mitigation to create a positive image for their organization, even as they continue to fund efforts to block substantive climate reforms. Some suspect that corporate lobbyists and business representatives were at the conference only for public relations purposes.

A Republic Report article called this the “Jekyll and Hyde Approach to Climate Change,” where organizations appear to support climate reforms while working to block policies to achieve these goals at the same time. The article cited Shell Oil as an example, a company that attended an EU event during the COP20. Marnie Funk, the vice president of communications at Shell, declared that her company was committed to climate reforms and that they were “comfortable with a cap and trade approach.” However, a Bloomberg Businessweek report recently revealed that Shell Oil is one of the donors to a campaign in California lobbying against the state’s landmark climate law, AB32. When questioned about Shell’s commitment to support the cap and trade approach while attacking cap and trade in California, Funk downplayed the inconsistency by stating that Shell was simply asking for a two-year delay of AB32 regulations.

The Road to a Sustainable Future: The COP20 Lima Climate Deal Agreement

As the 12-day COP20 reached its culmination in Lima, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, remarked that the conference was indeed very challenging. Nevertheless, she praised its outcome since “a range of key decisions and action-agendas were launched, including how to best scale up and finance adaptation.”

Ban Ki-moon also praised the outcome of COP20 as the delegates agreed on the framework for a more conclusive agreement on Paris. The Secretary-General commended the delegates for making important advances in the preparation of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), the commitments countries are expected to make in order to keep the average global temperature rise below 2° Celsius.

The Lima climate deal also managed to agree on a $100 billion goal, in public and private funds, for the Green Climate Fund, an initiative designed to direct funding from developed nations to developing countries that are most vulnerable to climate change.

While there are hurdles ahead, the conference’s goal was achieved, as the Lima Call for Climate Action paves the way for the adoption of a meaningful climate agreement in Paris. The COP21 in Paris (December 2015) is set to provide a global agreement to cut GHG emissions. The agreement will start in 2020 and last until 2030. French officials already gave the deal a working title , the Paris Alliance. The name suggests that members of the United Nations will work together to support climate change mitigation rather than comply with a single top-down mandated treaty.

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