A New Era in the Global Climate Regime

Global Centre Stage

In November 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphatically warned of ‘severe, pervasive and irreversible (climate) impacts’ in the Climate Change Synthesis Report. Referring to this report, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.” The Lima Call for Climate Action mirrors this urgency and establishes the foundation of new dynamics to fast track climate resilience across the world, believes Dr Kavita Rattan

The prognosis about the planet's climate is not optimistic. The increasing frequency of aberrant weather patterns serve as a red flag for the vulnerability of natural and human systems to global climate change. Scientific assessments using key indicators such as extreme weather events, temperatures, details of ice cover, sea level rise and concentration of greenhouse gases have unequivocally demonstrated human influence on the climate system. A snapshot of data compiled by various agencies indicates that 13 of the 14 warmest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century. Each of the last three decades has been warmer than the previous one, with 2001-2010 being the warmest decade on record.

Gloomy Forecasts

A report published in October 2014 by the US Oceanic and Atmospheric administration (NOAA) analysing global temperatures has concluded that 2014, designated the ‘Year of Climate Action’, has been the hottest year since global records began in 1880, with enhanced warming observed over both land and oceans. A provisional statement on the ‘Status of the Global Climate in 2014’ by the World Meteorological Organisation has revealed that the global average air temperature over land and sea surface for January-October 2014 was about 0.57°C (1.03 °F) above the average of 14°C (57.2 °F) for the 1961-1990 reference period, and 0.09°C (0.16 °F) above average for the past 10 years (2004-2013). The observations on global warming correlate with higher frequency of extreme weather events that have exerted dramatic impacts on a global scale (Refer enclosure).

A bleak publication by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in November 2014, The Climate Change Synthesis Report, has emphatically warned of ‘severe, pervasive and irreversible (climate) impacts’. The report, published as a guideline document for policymakers engaged in endeavours to deliver a new global treaty on climate by the end of 2015, cautions that reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is crucial if global warming is to be limited to 2oC, the internationally agreed threshold for dangerous climate change. However, far from declining, GHG emissions growth between 2000 and 2010 has been the highest in the last three decades and was approximately 44 tones in 2014, a 2.5 percent increase from the previous year. The IPCC report reiterates earlier findings about the human impact on climate and consequent warming effects evidenced across the globe – including acidification of the oceans; melting ice caps and poorer crop yields in many areas. The report advises that without concerted action, warming will continue to increase and may reach 5oC above preindustrial levels by end of the century, causing catastrophic impacts worldwide.

Impact on Crop Yield and Food Security

Multiple climate risk studies, including the IPCC report, have reconfirmed the increased susceptibility of developing nations in comparison to developed countries to climate change. Also, while it has been widely acknowledged that natural systems are currently bearing the brunt of anthropogenic disruption of climate, it is predicted that very soon adverse impacts will also be evident on humans. A changing climate threatens unique systems such as Arctic sea ice and coral reefs, where risks are said to increase to ‘very high’ with a 2oC rise in temperature. Warmer climate will cause migration of animals and other species towards higher ground or the poles and many fish species, a critical link in the food chain, will alter their habitats. Projections of global warming impacts on humans forewarn of serious consequences as the century progresses with food security becoming a significant concern due to a predicted decrease of over 25 percent in crop yields for maize, rice and wheat by 2050. Beyond 2050, the impacts due to boom-and-bust cycles are expected to accelerate, affecting crop yield and food security in many regions.

Lima Call for Climate Action

It is against this grim backdrop that negotiators from 196 countries came together in Peru to create a framework for a new climate agreement in Paris in 2015 that will enter into force in 2020. The 20th session of the Conference of the Parties and the 10th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP20/CMP 10) from December 1-14 was hosted by the Government of Peru at Lima, Peru. The Lima conference had two major objectives: first, to arrive at an outline text for the 2015 Paris agreement and second, to finalise the rules for countries to forward their national commitments, called ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ (INDCs) to combat climate change. The talks that commenced with a great deal of optimism stemming from the recent emissions deal between US and China, faced fierce arguments and a near breakdown of negotiations because of divergent views on the historic North-South debate. The developing countries have always emphasised that developed nations have failed to accept responsibility for climate change and difficulties in the Lima negotiations arose mainly on the mechanism to spread the burden of pledges to cut carbon emissions (INDCs). Developing countries wanted these contributions to include plans for climate change adaptation in addition to the reduction in emissions and also a provision of financial support by the developed nations. Developed countries, on the other hand, wanted all nations to provide standardised information on their emissions targets and plans to ensure transparency and comparability.

The Lima agreement named 'The Lima Call for Climate Action’, adopted after intense arguments and rejection of an earlier draft by developing countries, represents a fundamental change in the global climate regime, and though the outcome document text was ‘not perfect’, maintained Peru’s Environment Minister, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who chaired the summit, ‘it included the positions of the parties.’

Most importantly, the Lima accord, for the first time, relegated to history the binary division of the world into rich and poor countries created by the UN convention on climate change in 1992 (Annex 1 and Non-Annex 1, in UN parlance), wherein it was the responsibility of only the richer countries and not the poorer ones to take on carbon-cutting commitments. Though developing countries resolutely defended this distinction, the agreement defines a new classification of nations that reflects current global complexity where the bulk of GHG emissions originate in developing countries. The document, however, retains the notion that richer nations have to spearhead practices to curtail emissions and pledges the establishment of a 'loss and damage' mechanism to assist vulnerable countries to cope with the financial ramifications of rising temperatures. The document also renews the importance of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’, but adds an important rider: ‘in light of different national circumstances.'

Conference of Many 'Firsts'

The Lima Climate Conference achieved a range of other important outcomes and ‘firsts’ in the history of the international climate process. Significant among these were pledges made by both developed and developing countries prior to and during COP20 that enhanced the capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund above the initial $10 billion target. Additionally, higher levels of transparency and confidence-building were attained due to the efforts by several industrialised countries in response to questions about their emissions targets under a new process called a Multilateral Assessment.

The Lima agreement heralds a new era in the global climate regime and can serve as a turning point for the international community to scale-up efforts to tackle climate change. Sustained climate action to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades can diminish climate risks in the 21st century and beyond, and effective mechanisms for adaptation and mitigation can build climate resilient pathways for sustainable development. With more than 65 percent of our carbon budget compatible with a 2oC goal already utilised, the window for climate action is rapidly closing. The Lima Call for Climate Action mirrors this urgency and establishes the foundation for new dynamics to fast track climate resilience across the world.

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Dr Kavita Rattan

Dr Kavita Rattan is Founder and President of Green Vigil, a non-profit organisation of professionals and students working in the domain of Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development.

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