When it comes to climate change, a faster-than-anticipated rate of global warming meant that 2014 was not a great year for planet earth. The 20th session of the United Nations conference on climate change, (the COP20), took place from 1 to 14 December in Lima, Peru. The conference concluded with the publication of a text called the “Lima call for climate action”.
The text finalised in Lima will be the subject of further negotiation over the course of this year. The objective is for it to be signed at the 21st conference of the United Nations on the climate (a.k.a COP21 (Conference of the Parties) – to be held in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015). It would then replace the Kyoto protocol in 2020. To have a real effect on greenhouse gas emissions, any agreement will have to deal with awkward issues such as how the burden of cutting emissions will be shared.
Meanwhile the World Meteorological Organisation declared the year 2014 as the warmest since records began in 1850. This news demonstrates that the measures taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by human behavior following the Kyoto protocol have simply not been enough.
The 5th report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Climate), published last year, described how the pace of global warming is accelerating and called for a rapid reaction. Under these circumstances it was disappointing that more was not accomplished in Lima in December 2014.
The US-China joint announcement on climate change: a strong signal to the world
There were some positive developments in 2014, such as the climate summit in New York, organised under the auspices of the United Nations. It was the first time since 2009 and the failure of the Copenhagen conference (COP15), that nation states, and in particular the United States, engaged in public discussions on climate change.
A second, very important and encouraging event in 2014, was the agreement between China and the United States in November 2014. The two countries announced unilateral measures to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Significantly, China agreed to slow and then stop its emissions by 2030 while the United States agreed to reduce emissions by up to 28% by 2025.
One of the reasons for the failure at Copenhagen in 2009 was the inability of the United States and China to agree so this bilateral agreement is a strong signal that climate change is on the agenda in both Beijing and Washington.
Climate conferences: a difficult negotiation
It is however easier for two countries to negotiate than for 195 countries, particularly as the decisions taken engage leaders vis-à-vis their populations. When China, struggling to cope with air that has become unbreathable in large cities, decides to impose measures to improve the quality of imported coal, it is a national decision in response to public health and social problems, that is implemented through bilateral trade agreements.
A global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is therefore based largely on bilateral negotiations. This is what should happen throughout 2015 so as to prepare the ground for an agreement in Paris in December.