lima climate deal a good deal ?

yes & no . . . vox writer brad plumer adds it all up – what the world’s national environment reps meeting in peru this month were able to prep for next year’s big paris climate summit.

yes, we’re talking at last, given what’s at stake.
no, hardly on the same page, taken who’s pounding.

lima climate deal: every single country now plans to tackle emissions. sort of.

Updated by Brad Plumer on December 14, 2014, 12:10 p.m. ET@bradplumer /

coal-fired cottam power station in retford, nottinghamshire, uk

coal-fired cottam power station in retford, nottinghamshire, uk.


What the new UN climate deal does (and doesn’t do)

1. UNDER A NEW UN DEAL on climate change agreed to in Lima, Peru, every single country has agreed to submit a plan next year for addressing their greenhouse-gas emissions.

2. That’s a first. Past climate deals only targeted the emissions of wealthier nations and exempted fast-growing countries like China and India.

3. But there are huge caveats. The plans will all be voluntary — countries can promise to cut as much or as little as they want. And there’s no rigorous outside review. (The US wanted one, but this was opposed by China and India.)

4. Experts warn this deal isn’t enough to prevent significant global warming: the world IS STILL ON PACE for temperature increases of 3°C (5.4°F) or more by 2100. Which means how to adapt to warming has become an equally large part of these talks — especially for poor nations.

Lima Climate Action High Level Session, taken December 11, 2014. (Ministerio del Ambiente/Flickr)

At this year’s UN climate conference in Lima, Peru, representatives from 196 countries AGREED TO A DEAL that could eventually commit every nation to slow the growth of its greenhouse-gas emissions.

Over the next six months, each nation will be required to submit a plan for how it will address future emissions. These plans will form the basis of a MAJOR NEW CLIMATE AGREEMENT to be negotiated in Paris at the end of 2015 and take effect by 2020.

The actual content of each country’s plan, however, is entirely voluntary. In principle, countries are supposed to pledge to do more on climate than they’ve already been doing. But there are no rules about how emissions actually get restrained or what the timetable should be. (See items #10 and #14 HERE

Some countries have already put forward pledges:

The Obama administration HAS PLEDGED that US greenhouse-gas emissions will be 26 to 28 percent lower in 2025 than they were in 2005.

The European Union plans to reduce its emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

CHINA ALSO INTENDS TO STOP its emissions from rising past 2030 or so — and plans to ramp up its share of renewable energy.

You’ll notice that not all pledges are equal. This is by design. As part of a US-China DEAL STRUCK BEFORE THIS CONFERENCE , the United States agreed to cut its emissions immediately, whereas China’s emissions wouldn’t peak until 2030. The idea here was that China is poorer and should get more leeway to grow.

That principle was enshrined in this latest UN deal, which notes that national pledges should take into account “different national circumstances.” A country like India — where 400 million people still lack electricity — shouldn’t have to cut as quickly or as deeply as Germany. Countries are merely encouraged to explain how their pledges are both “fair” and “ambitious.”

This new accord is a conceptual break from the past. The last climate treaty, the 1997 KYOTO PROTOCOL , required only wealthy nations to cut emissions. Developing countries like China and India were exempt. There was some logic to that at the time. But nowadays, developing countries make up the majority of global carbon emissions — and excluding them doesn’t make sense:

global carbon project

global carbon project

So this new deal will take a different approach. Each and every country will have to pitch in to help constrain global emissions — although it’s up to them to determine how much.

The Lima deal still has a lot of question marks

There’s still a lot that’s very hazy about this climate agreement. For one, these national climate pledges are UNLIKELY TO PROVE LEGALLY BINDING in any way. That’s something that Europe had been pushing for, but was opposed by both China and the US. (it’s unlikely that Congress would ever ratify a formal treaty).

That means countries can propose whatever climate action they feel like. World leaders that submit weak plans (or fail to follow through on their pledges) won’t face any sanctions or punishments. Progress will mainly depend on peer pressure between countries.

Even monitoring the plans themselves could prove difficult. During the Lima conference, the United States tried to insist on a minimum standard for what emissions pledges must look like. It also pushed for rigorous outside review of all national plans after they were submitted. But these items were strongly opposed by China, India, and others. (India was reportedly ready to scuttle the whole deal if these items were included.)

Instead, THE FINAL LIMA DEAL simply says that countries “may include” detailed information on how and when they intend to cut emissions. (Or they may not!) There will be no formal assessment of each country’s plans. All that will happen is that, in November 2015, the UN will tally up all the national pledges and estimate how they stack up to the broader goal of preventing morethan 2°C of global warming. Otherwise, there’s little monitoring or verification.

The Lima agreement also encourages countries to come up with ways to help poorer nations adapt to the impacts of global warming, like sea-level rise or droughts. But this, too, is vague. The US and Europe have long opposed any deals that would require wealthier nations to compensate poorer countries for “loss and damages” caused by global warming (say, low-lying islands that vanish under the rising seas). So this will continue to be a point of contention.

In the meantime, wealthier nations have pledged to provide (voluntary) climate aid. Under a separate deal, nations AGREED TO RAISE $100 BILLION PER YEAR from public and private sources to help poorer countries adapt and adjust to a hotter planet. It’s still unclear where this money willcome from, however.


The deal isn’t enough to prevent significant global warming

global carbon project

global carbon project

Back in 2009, the world’s leaders agreed on how to define “dangerous” global warming. Basically, they said, we shouldn’t let global average temperatures rise more than 2°C (or 3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. Otherwise, the risks from rising temperatures, extreme weather, and sea-level rise would be too great. (Here’s a MORE IN-DEPTH LOOK at how this target came about.)

Right now, however, the world is on pace to blow past that 2°C limit. And it seems unlikely that this Lima goal will avoid this fate. ONE RECENT ANALYSIS by MIT researchers looked at what was realistic to expect from countries in terms of short-term emissions pledges. (This was based on “national communications, discussions with observers of conditions in various countries, and — by necessity — a good deal of guesswork.”) Their conclusion? The 2015 pledges would fall well short of the cuts needed to stay below 2°C of global warming.

At the conference in Lima, Secretary of State John Kerry put it bluntly in a speech: “We’re still on a course leading to tragedy.”

Other onlookers have been somewhat more sanguine. Even if the latest talks won’t be enough to meet that 2°C goal, they note, building forward momentum on climate action is worthwhile in its own right. Over at Dot Earth, ANDREW REVKIN HAS MADE THE CASE that this newer, “softer” approach to climate negotiations may prove more effective than previous approaches that tried to impose hard emissions limits on countries.

Similarly, Robert Stavins, a Harvard economist who studies global climate talks, PUT IT THIS WAY : “What is mostimportant is long-term action. Each agreement is no more than one step to be followed by others. And most important now for ultimate success later is a sound foundation, which is what the Lima accord provides.”

IN AN AUGUST ESSAY , Michael Liebreich, head of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, noted that conditions are more favorable for climate action than they have been in the past. Many low-carbon energy sources — like wind, solar, and electric cars — are advancing faster than expected. (Others, however, like nuclear power and carbon capture for coal plants, have stalled out.) Clean-energy financing has grown to more than $250 billion per year. A climate deal could, at the very least, help nudge those trends forward.

Ultimately, however, slowing down global warming WILL REQUIRE A MASSIVE SHIFT in how the world uses energy — requiring huge changes in how we fuel our cars, power our homes, heat our buildings. At best, this deal is only a very modest step in that direction.

Further reading


HERE’S WHAT THE WORLD WOULD LOOK LIKE if we took global warming seriously.

Past UN climate talks have failed. WILL THIS ONE BE ANY DIFFERENT ?

A GRAPHICAL LOOK at the deep divisions between rich and poor countries on climate change.

eaarth . . .

. . . Making a life on a tough new planet

"read it ... nothing could be more important" --Barbara Kingsolver

thanks barbara
coming from you that means something
farming like you write
with verve, all you got

and you, bill
writing as you act
i bumped into you only recently at planetary
your going-on-half-century alerts now filling in

just the 101 for someone playing catch-up on climate change
well said too, kind of read i can’t put down
you take us by the hand, shake us to our boots
then steer us to a place we can get to

where to begin . . . ?
nowhere better than where you do
from the top: what is this place we’ve fashioned?
across our blink of earth history

whatever it is sure ain’t anything like it was
best rename the planet on which we now find ourselves
to not confuse it with where we grew up
that different, yes

like what i came across just yesterday about homo sapiens himself
thanks to australian science writer JULIAN CRIBB
not much left of sapiens given what we’ve done here
better to call him something else ( cribb won’t say )

to not disassociate entirely, how about homo transitus?
as in, on-our-way/definitely-not-there-yet
it wouldn’t take much to go farther
you don’t go there bill; i won’t either

but that doesn’t keep you from the facts
the sheer math as you call it
things lurking at the periphery of consciousness
when added all up now astound

you get right to it in four sections
starting with that shocking inventory
of a new world, pulling no punches
the damage is done, this climate’s already changed

or as you put it we’re like the guy
who smoked for forty years then had a stroke
he doesn’t smoke anymore
but the left side of his body doesn’t work either

so how to make the necessary transition to this new place
in the time we’ve let go by?
more shock awaits in section two, high tide
definitely not a matter of more of the same

need to dampen our intuitive sense
that the future will resemble the past
our standard issue optimism
that the future will be ever easier

eaarth is an uphill planet now
gravity pulls stronger
more friction than we’re used to
have to work harder to get where you’re going

you cite the club of rome’s landmark study of 1972
limits to growth: it circled the world back then
more important those unheeded dire warnings
have largely come to pass

so then the end to civilization as we know it?
per jerrod diamond’s nifty observations of collapse
those poor mayans, anasazis, easter islanders?
hopefully not: section three, backing off

comes down to a matter of growing up you say
getting over this race-horse fixation of ours
how about a long hard look at something sturdier
say a belgian workhorse

so let’s turn a deaf ear to massive, global, hi-growth
tune into something human, local, steady
we’ve let our energy & food systems grow “too big to fail”
just as we did our banks

the answer is the same
smaller, closer to home
you take us through our own history
and much local geography

notably your own vermont
right down to the friendly local farmer’s market
fastest growing part of our food economy
where we humans have always shopped

where we acquire gossip and good cheer along with our calories
even -imagine!- to circulating a fully local currency
all, a mighty long way from the 5,000-mile straw
thru which we suck hydrocarbons from the persian gulf

your last section outlines practical steps ahead
pointedly titled lightly, carefully, gracefully
about mastering the essentials of our survival
in food, energy, and the internet

you show us right down to the furrow
how that can work
energy too needs to go local
once we conserve how we use it

as for the internet
here’s our deus ex machina
appearing just in time
to make our next evolution bearable

and then there’s your
most widespread day of political action
in the planet’s history
as you quote cnn

not content with words
you are moving us
as this poor mother moves you
bill, i can hear her thank you for both

HOT . . .


Mark Hertsgaard and the Climate Cranks from Mark Hertsgaard on Vimeo.

As I near the end of this book, I still find it hard to reconcile the joy that is Chiara with the climate disasters that loom before her. The older she gets, the closer those disasters come. The relentless momentum of the climate system assures as much, and the glacial pace of the human response to date only adds to my foreboding. I look at Chiara, at her cheerful countenance, her mischievous eyes, her blond locks, and there is a disconnect. Despite all the research I’ve done on climate change, I still can’t fully take in that this innocent creature, and millions more like her around the world, will have to suffer because grownups insisted on making foolish choices. In my father’s heart, I think there must be a way to stop this movie before it gets to what Chiara would call “the scary part.” But my journalist’s brain knows the truth: at this point, there’s no avoiding the scary part; our only hope is to prepare for it as best we can.           ( p 212 )

and so it is, mark, that you step aside from day-to-day journalism to address something that bothers you deeply, at the level of your little daughter’s future, focused & personal. and so, with HOT, i too am finally brought face to face with a subject that doesn’t go away, that refuses to accept its all but officially sanctioned lot of last place issue-of-the-day.

my first full-length treatment of the subject: truly a wide-eye opener! as expected of any journalist able to fill the bill, a rare enough accomplishment these days, the work’s packed with vital facts and thoughtful insights while all along progressing smoothly, an accessible read easy on the eye. you neither minimize an intricate subject nor in any way inflate your understanding of it. i’m happy to admit that yours, mark, has been one savored text for this barely initiated earthling undertaking at last his pre-req, climate change 101.

i’m especially grateful for your clear distinction up-front of proposed solutions -those mitigating the effects of climate change vs those addressing our adapting to a climate and environment already, irreversibly changed. and how at this late date we need to get on with realizing both of them.

there’s so much i’d like to say about your book, mark, so many places you go, so many people you talk to, such models you uncover, what some in particular are doing across the country to prepare their communities for planetary catastrophe, so many points that need to be made. but then they’re for you to make to future readers, not me, not here. can i leave them with these choice quotes, the way you do ? . . .

“We have one question for the political leaders of the world,” Kumi Naidoo, the international executive director of Greenpeace International, said at the huge climate rally held in Copenhagen halfway through the summit. “If you can find not millions, not billions, but trillions of dollars to bail out the banks, the bankers, and their bonuses, how is it that your cannot find the money to bail out the planet, the poor, and our children?” ( p 287 )

“Being a good ancestor,” said ( San Francisco based NGO Global Exchange co-founder, Kevin ) Danaher, “means getting involved in all aspects of building a greener world: political engagement, grassroots economics, personal change.” I would add that it also means starting right away. We don’t know everything necessary to avoid the unmanageable and manage the unavoidable of climate change, but we don’t have to. As Ron Sims commented about his own efforts in King County, our job is to begin, do the best we can, and trust others to carry on after our work is done. This was the guiding principle of the Renaissance geniuses who designed the Duomo, Danaher pointed out. They deliberately built the cathedral with a hole in the ceiling awaiting the construction of a dome that was not yet technologically feasible. “The confidence of the Renaissance era was so great that they knew someone would come up with a way to engineer the dome, and the architect Philippo Brunelleschi did it,” marveled Danaher, who added, “Regarding our environmental situation on this little blue marble, I believe a certain percentage of humanity will survive the coming collapse, and it will be the local, sustainable green economy that will be the base of that survival. If we can get the foundations ( of that economy ) right, future generations will figure out how to put the dome in place.”              ( p 291 )