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Climate Update: Are We Making Progress?

Posted by Sara Gutterman

Dec 11, 2014 2:36:39 PM

There has been surprisingly scant news this week about the COP20 climate meetings that are taking place in Lima, but the fragments of intelligence passed along to me by colleagues in attendance indicate that hopes remain high that negotiators are making progress towards a global climate action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As intended, the recent agreement between the U.S. and China, whereby the U.S. committed to cut emissions by 28% by 2025 and China pledged to reach peak emissions by 2030, is compelling other countries to set similar targets.

India, the world’s third largest carbon emitter, is under mounting scrutiny. To date, India has committed to reduce emissions 20-25% per unit of GDP below 2005 levels by 2020. However, experts criticize that this level of action isn’t aggressive enough. And, with China’s absolute commitment target to peak its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (the first of its kind by an “emerging” economy), India is feeling mounting pressure to announce a climate strategy and clear emission reductions targets.

In response, it is expected that India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, will pledge to boost the nation’s solar power capacity five-fold to 100 gigawatts by 2030, introducing tariffs for solar power that would help increase the country’s solar energy share from 6% to 15%. It has also been reported that Modi is exploring an emissions peak for his country by 2035.

While a high panel has been appointed to advise the Modi government on integrated power sector reform and three top think-tanks in India have been commissioned to analyze GHG emissions trajectories, experts don’t expect a breakthrough declaration from India this week.

Despite the lack of headline news and general fanfare, the Lima meetings are of paramount importance to climate action. “We need to leave Lima on Friday with a draft that reflects a broad consensus on what we hope to achieve in Paris in 2015 and the process for getting there,” said Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group. “All countries must reaffirm that they are on track to deliver significant commitments by March 2015 that will be the drivers of a global deal and allow us to surge ahead with a low carbon future. These ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ (INDCs) should include not only emission reduction targets, but also a comprehensive policy framework that sends a clear signal to business and investors that cutting emissions is at the heart of all governments’ policy. Together, these contributions must show that the outcome in Paris will unequivocally mark the beginning of the end of the high carbon economy.”

Climate action advocates are watching the Lima meetings with cautious optimism. Awareness about the need for urgent action is higher than ever, as evidenced by community mobilization events like the People’s Climate March a few months ago during the UN Climate Summit in New York, which galvanized millions of people across the globe to demonstrate in favor of climate action.

As further proof, a recent survey conducted by Munich Re indicated that 83% of Americans believe that climate change is occurring and 63% are concerned about the changes in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes.

While progress is certainly being made in Lima—highlights include an unexpected $165 million pledge by Australia to the Green Climate Fund (developed to assist vulnerable countries that are hardest hit by climate change); an announcement by Peru that it will incorporate gender into its climate change policy (the first country in Latin America to do so), ensuring women’s involvement in high-level environmental decisions; and reports from China that some of its cities will reach peak emissions as early as next year—there is no news of a climate agreement yet.

Which begs the elephant-in-the-room question: what happens if the negotiators in Lima aren’t able to reach a deal?

Fortunately, a recent scientific study unveiled this week in Lima projected that the world is on track to warm by 3 degrees Celsius by the end of this century—the smallest temperature increase this particular annual study has ever projected. Which means that while we’re on course to experience more warming than is desirable (climate experts submit that anything more than a 2 degree temperature will affect our current quality of life), we may not have to suffer our worst fears.

I suppose that’s good news, but it doesn’t take the pressure off of countries, communities, businesses, and individuals to do everything we possibly can to curb emissions and reverse the detrimental impact that we’ve had on the planet.

What news and updates have you heard about the COP meetings? Write to me at sara.gutterman@greenbuildermedia.com or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

For more information about green building and sustainable living, visit Green Builder Media at www.greenbuildermedia.com, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter for regular updates and breaking news.

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