Frustrated climate campaigners have claimed that the world was on course for an unsustainable four-degree rise in temperatures, as two weeks of negotiations for a climate change agreement headed for an unsatisfying conclusion.
The proposals, still under discussion on Saturday, a day after the talks were scheduled to end, were too weak to keep global warming to the agreed limit of two degrees above preindustrial levels, setting the world on course to a climate disaster, according to developing countries at the summit.
“We are on a path to three or four degrees with this outcome,” said Tasneem Essop, international climate strategist for WWF.
She said the final draft text, a five-page document put forward for approval on Saturday, offered little assurance of cutting emissions fast enough and deeply enough to curb warming. “We are really unhappy about the weakening of the text. This gives us no level of comfort that we will be able to close the emissions gap to get emissions to peak before 2020,” she said. Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development, put it even more succinctly: “It sucks. It is taking us backwards.”
The disappointment with the progress of the Lima negotiations was widespread – and hugely at odds with the mood of optimism that prevailed at the opening of the talks following a historic deal between the US and China to curb carbon pollution. The deal between the world’s two biggest carbon polluters – followed just days later by a US pledge to contribute $3bn to a fund to help poor countries deal with climate change – had created a sense of momentum at the opening of the talks.
By Saturday, with exhausted negotiators forced to cancel flights and continue the talks into extra time, those upbeat sentiments were gone. “None of us is really happy,” a figure in Switzerland’s delegation told the negotiating session. “At this moment, we have to make sure we are not striving towards the lowest common denominator.”
The Malaysian delegate said the proposed deal would not hold the major polluters to account. The Democratic Republic of the Congo representative said: “This crosses all our red lines.” Sudan flatly said the proposals were unacceptable.
The talks at Lima had been charged with producing the blueprint for a climate change agreement due to be finalised in Paris at the end of next year. “Let me be frank. There are parts of this text that make me very uncomfortable and parts that are very thin,” said Tony deBrum, foreign minister of the Marshall Islands.
It was initially hoped the agreement would push the world’s large economies into making ambitious commitments to cut carbon pollution while also contributing funds and technology to protect the world’s poorest countries from climate change.
But those hopes were frustrated by the divide over whether rising economies should be under similar obligation to cut emissions as America and Europe. India – though quickly emerging as one of the world’s biggest carbon polluters – says it should not be held to similar standards as the US and EU.
By the time the final draft text appeared, it had been stripped of language that would have required the emissions cuts offered by countries to keep warming below the two-degree target. It was even unclear whether those targets would be subjected to a serious review. In an even bigger blow to small island countries, the draft made no mention of industrialised countries’ responsibility towards the small island states which are under threat of being drowned by rising seas. The accountability gap was a big disappointment for the US and the EU – which had pushed for a strong review process of such commitments – as well as the small islands.
The proposals also takes the pressure off industrialised countries to make good on promises to provide up to $100bn a year in climate finance to poor countries by 2020. “We are shocked that some of our colleagues would want to avoid a process to hold their proposed targets up to the light,” DeBrum said. “There should be nothing to hide.”
Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College London, said: “Though the weak text emerging from Lima is extremely disappointing, there are still 12 months for the negotiators to up their game before the critical Paris COP [UN climate talks]. Essential to this is for the negotiators to understand that the world’s public expect a global legally binding treaty. Not because it is enforceable, as we know they are not, but it shows commitment to a safe, better and hopefully more equitable world.”