Can Climate Change Talks Finally Break Global Deadlock?

As the 2014 UN Climate Conference begins today in Lima, Peru, those working toward the looming Paris climate change agreement on emission reductions have become increasingly hopeful that a two-decade deadlock could finally be broken, with real progress being made. The main goal of this two week conference is to produce an agreed draft text that can then be adopted in Paris in 2015 – ratifying the commitment of countries around the world to reduce emissions without adversely affecting the economies of developing nations.

The optimism is derived from the early announcements of the three biggest polluters – China, the European Union, and the United States. In November 2014, China and the U.S declared their intention to co-operate with each other in reducing pollution – an agreement that will see China cap its carbon emissions no later than 2030, while simultaneously increasing its zero emission energy to 20 percent. For their part, the U.S will reduce emissions by 26 to 28 percent from its 2005 levels, by 2025. The European Union had already pledged to cut its emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels within the same timescale.

In a statement, the UN’s most senior climate official, Christiana Figueres, explained the importance of these early announcements in terms of making sustainable progress on an international scale.

“It is hugely encouraging that well ahead of next year’s first quarter deadline, countries have already been outlining what they intend to contribute to the Paris agreement. This is a clear sign that countries are determined to find common ground.”

It is hoped that other big polluters, such as Russia, Japan, Brazil, and India, will follow the lead of the big three polluters, and declare their own commitments to progress. India, in particular, is known to be heading into the Lima talks with a very specific plan, and an intention to detail its efforts to increase solar power capacity to 100 GW by 2030. It will, however, stick to its contention that the responsibilities for reduction of emissions should lie entirely with industrialized countries, not those that are developing. As has long been the case, India argues for the preservation of CBDR (Common But Differentiated Responsibilities) when designating countries as either industrialized or developing.

Speaking to the Economic Times, the Environment Minister of India, Prakash Javadekar, clarified the position that India will be taking during the Lima talks.

“There is no change in India’s position. Equity and CBDR are important and must be adhered to. India is taking actions to address climate change on its own and will continue to do so. We plan to do so much more.”

The challenge of the Lima conference will be to fit the pledges and action plans of 190 countries into one cohesive draft agreement — committing each participating nation to steps designed to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, and then make those steps verifiable. While the atmosphere surrounding the conference may be hopeful, potential points of disagreement include whether each action plan should be binding in international law, and what financial contribution countries can make to the currently under-funded Green Climate Fund – intended to help developing countries deal with climate change in practical terms.