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Debate on emissions to heat up week 2 of Lima climate talks

Times of India, Delhi, 8th December, 2014

Sunita Narain

Debate on emissions to heat up week 2 of Lima climate talks

 The most important agenda is to determine how the world will cut emissions to stay below the 2°C increase guardrail. 

 LIMA: Its week 2 at the climate talks being held in Lima, Peru. Ministers began arriving today and more huddles are expected to break the deadlock over climate change. The most important agenda is to determine how the world will cut emissions to stay below the 2°C increase guardrail. Scientists have determined that this is the highest increase in temperature that the world should risk. Already, 2014 is expected to be the warmest year on record; already the world is seeing extreme weather events which are devastating livelihoods and economies. 

So, gathering in Peru for the 20th Conference of Parties (COP 20) negotiators know that the world is running out of time. Their job is to work out the details of the post 2020 agreement that should be ready for signature in Paris at COP21. The problem is that the world has not only run out of time, it as also run out of space. In 1992, when the global climate change convention was signed, it was agreed that the already rich countries, which had released carbon dioxide and other gases for their growth, would cut emissions and make space for the rest of the world to grow. However, it was also agreed that the developing world would get access to funds and technology so that they could grow differently so that they avoid emissions - as carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. But this never happened. Also the rich did not reduce; countries like China grew and took up space. Now there is little to distribute to all.

Just consider these numbers. Between 1850 - the start of the industrial revolution to 2100 - the world can emit some 3000 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to stay below 2°C (that also with a probability of 66%). By 2012 it had emitted 2000 billion tonnes so now there is little to go around. How will the past be accounted for; the future budget distributed? This is the question the big polluters want to avoid being asked.

This makes negotiations tough. The already rich want no responsibility for their historical emissions. They want no differentiation between them and the rest. A few years ago, in a major concession to the big polluters like US, the world agreed that instead of setting targets for each country to reduce based on their contribution to the problem, all countries would say how much they can cut and by when. They would 'pledge' and the world would 'review' if this reduction actually happened. These voluntary targets are called the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) - all countries must submit these by mid-2015 in time for Paris.

But now the real number game begins to appropriate space. If the commitments set out in the US-China deal are accepted as the INDC of these countries, it would mean that the world's remaining carbon budget is spent by 2030. By 2030, as much as some 900 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide will be emitted; China will take up 30 per cent; US 10% and EU 6.5% of this remaining budget. In this case, nothing is left for the rest of the developing world, who would need economic and ecological space to grow.

Peru will see tough negotiations. The question is if the country's INDC should be based on differentiation - how much they should cut based on equity? What will happen if the sum of the INDCs - all countries intended targets - do not add up to keeping the world below 2°C? Will the world decide on a formula for equitable burden sharing then? Will the new post 2020 climate agreement accept that developing countries need finance and technology to meet their mitigation targets? Will developing countries, already impacted by extreme and variable weather events and intensification of cyclones be given funds for adaptation; will it be accepted that loss and damage - caused to economies and livelihoods because of these changes - be computed and compensated? Hot days ahead.