Lima Climate Summit ends with frustrating, vital compromise

Warming temperatures have already devastated thousands of species, including walrus.Normally, you hate to hear people describe their disaster prevention plans as “modest,” “shaky,” or “incremental”—but when it comes to international climate negotiations, “modest” is a high water mark.

For the past two weeks, representatives from 194 countries gathered in Lima, Peru to hammer out an agreement that would limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and prevent our global climate from spiraling even further towards catastrophe.

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On Saturday, the exhausted delegates finally announced that they had reached an accord that calls on all nations to reduce their carbon pollution. Each country is responsible for developing domestic GHG reduction plans, instead of just the rich, industrialized states that have been doing much of the heavy lifting—and polluting—for the last two decades.

Despite this general feeling of relief that something was accomplished in Lima, the plan still has holes you could drive a bus through.

  • First, it is non-binding: countries will not be held legally accountable if they fail to develop a plan or pass domestic policies.
  • Second, it has weak language on how the effectiveness of these national plans will be measured.
  • And third, pledges to the Green Climate Fund, which would help poor nations respond to climate impacts (like rising sea levels, desertification, and harsher hurricanes) remain pathetically low.

In many ways, though, those gaps were expected at this point in the process. A bigger milestone is just around the corner: Next up on the United Nations GHG agenda are the 2015 Paris negotiations, which may be our last chance to cobble together a binding, meaningful treaty before the damage is irreversible.

As it stands, warming temperatures have already devastated thousands of species—from corals and walrus to pine trees, toads, pika, and migratory birds—and human communities. If we don’t dramatically reduce our carbon emissions, the scientific community has made it clear that this is just the tip of the iceberg, which (not incidentally) are calving off polar sheets at record rates.

Coupled with the recent US-China climate agreement, there is a general feeling that success in Paris is within reach.

It gets exhausting to hear (and trust me, to write) that we didn’t get there quite yet, but we’re one step closer to an agreement to limit emissions and slow climate change. But incremental progress, as frustrating as it is, is still progress, and even though negotiators slammed into several of the hurdles that have littered previous conferences, Lima was not a failure.

It will take a tremendous amount of political will and hard choices, but President Obama has made this issue a cornerstone of his agenda.

--PL

US VOTING RESIDENTS: You can make your voice heard by calling your member of Congress and telling them to support action on climate!

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