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A Singaporean climate representative on a screen at the Lima climate conference
Image: AFP/Getty Images/C. Bouroncle

Let down, but no surprise

Irene Quaile
December 14, 2014

The UN climate conference in Peru was a disappointment for many. But the importance of the talks should not be overrated, says DW's climate correspondent, Irene Quaile.

https://p.dw.com/p/1E3ka

The procedure has become quite a routine. Every year, the December talks run into extra time as delegates haggle over a last-minute compromise, which usually satisfies no one. But it was clear from the start that this year's meeting in Lima, Peru, was not going to be the place for major announcements. It was not for nothing that the USA and China chose their own stage - ahead of the conference - to announce that they would act on climate change. It was good for the general mood, but they did not have to commit to any really ambitious goals. And the fact that neither country is keen to allow others to monitor their targets and their progress is hardly out of character.

Countries still have until March 2015 to put their figures and goals on the table for the new world climate agreement, scheduled to be decided at the end of next year in Paris. It would have been naïve to expect major announcements ahead of time in Lima.

Deutsche Welle Irene Quaile-Kersken
DW Climate Correspondent Irene Quaile.Image: DW

The appeal made at the conference by US Secretary of State John Kerry was certainly worthy of note. But developing and emerging nations were hardly likely to rejoice at his call for them to reduce their CO2 emissions. Kerry may well be right. But coming from a country responsible for a large portion of global emissions to date, that appeal was clearly hard to digest.

Time is running out

At the latest since the IPCC report published this year, the world knows what has to be done. If climate change is to be checked at a stage that will avert dramatic consequences, greenhouse gas emissions have to peak by 2020. The majority of our power must be provided by renewable energy sources by 2050, and the world has to more or less abandon fossil fuels by 2100. We are still a long way from all of those targets.

To get there, all countries will have to make a contribution. It is understandable that developing and emerging countries insist on different treatment from the "old" industrialized world. But for a country like China, which has become the top emitter, to insist on being treated as a developing country, is bizarre. The implications for the global climate of the coal boom in India are additional factors that cannot be ignored.

The same performance every year

It is a great pity that the annual performance of last-minute haggling into the weekend and the presentation of a watered-down resolution has distracted from the progress that was made in Lima and the preceding months. The Green Climate Fund has been equipped with more than $10 billion. The biggest climate culprits, China and the USA, did commit to the need for climate action. Clearly, these words must be followed by action. But Lima was not the venue for that. The increase in extreme weather events in both countries as well as China's huge air pollution problem are the best guarantee that these two giants will indeed take action in the coming years.

The figures currently on the table are nowhere near what would be required to protect the world from a dangerous temperature rise of well over the 2-degrees Centigrade target. Lima was never in a position to change that. Anyone whose hopes were too high could only be disappointed. Nevertheless, there is growing international acknowledgement of the fact that there is no alternative to climate action.

Climate conferences can't save the world

These negotiations are important, because the world needs a binding climate agreement. But talks cannot save the world from the dangers of global warming. Efforts to protect the climate do not stop between one December gathering and the next. The rethinking we need has to take place in everyday politics. The transition to renewable energies and a "green" economy are the keys to success.

No matter how much disappointment came out of the Peru meeting: Lima was designed to be an important step on the way to next year's meeting in Paris. The step was smaller than many expected. If these annual meetings are taken as the sole measure of climate protection, the pressure increases - and with it, the risk of failure. Many unpleasant decisions were put off until next year. Paris has to solve all the problems. If expectations of these two-week meetings are too high, they are bound to fail. The governments of the world have to do their homework. If Paris is to be a success, the track has to be laid out beforehand - and not only at UN negotiating sessions.

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