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Climate saviors

Jens Thurau /rkr
December 12, 2014

Getting all the countries into one boat, creating a fair funding deal for poor countries - those are the goals of a new world climate treaty. In Lima, world leaders are trying hard. But the devil is in the details.

Marshall Islands climate windsurfing
Image: picture-alliance/DPPI Media

Politicians, consultants, observers, environmental activists and even journalists agree with each other for once. This year's climate summit in Lima is special. It is completely different to those that have been held in recent years. "There is a good atmosphere in all the talks," says Christoph Bals from the environmental organization German Watch. The reason for the good vibes is the prospect of a new climate treaty, supported by all 195 UN countries. It is scheduled to be signed next year in Paris. "I don't know a single country that rejects this treaty as a matter of principle," says Jochen Flasbarth from Germany's Environment Ministry.

USA and China as the driving force?

Of all countries, it was the two with the highest greenhouse gas emissions who gave reason to be optimistic: China and the USA. A couple of weeks ago, US-president Barack Obama and China’s president Xi Jinping announced new climate goals: The USA aims to reduce its emissions by 27% below 2005 levels by 2025. China promises to produce less CO2 from 2030 onwards. The Chinese goal in particular doesn’t seem to be very ambitious. But according to experts, the important thing is that both these countries, which blocked progress at the climate talks for a long time, are now trying to be proactive.

Barack Obama and Xi Jinping Press conference in Beijing 12.11.2014
Barack Obama and Xi Jinping announce their climate moves.Image: Reuters

And they want a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol from 2020 onwards. In the Kyoto Protocol, 38 industrialized countries promised to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent. Most countries didn't even manage to get close to that. Germany is one of the very few countries that reached its goal. The new treaty is designed to acknowledge the new geopolitical situation, which differs quite a bit from that of 1990. The Kyoto Protocol didn’t oblige emerging nations such as India, Brazil or South Africa to reduce their emissions, whereas now they are expected to do their bit to protect the climate. The same applies to China, which still counted as a developing country 20 years ago.

So is China really joining in? The fact that Beijing wants to become more active increases the pressure to do more. "China and the USA have to make a bigger effort," says Germany’s development minister Gerd Müller, who stopped by in Lima.
"This is not enough. Especially the USA has to catch up with European standards." These standards were criticized lately within the EU, as climate goals have been stagnating for years. But from an international perspective, the Europeans are still role models: their aim, a 40% reduction of greenhouse gas emission between 1990 and 2030, is not viable for the USA . However, the United States did manage to reduce its emissions, which is mainly thanks to a boom in shale gas, which does less harm to the climate than coal.

Gerd Müller
Germany's development minister Gerd Müller expects the USA to take a more proactive role.Image: AFP/Getty Images/R. Hartmann

Green Climate Fund raises hopes

Apart from reducing its emissions from 2030 onwards, Beijing does not want to promise any other action. It is doubtful whether this will be sufficient to convince poorer countries, who have to give their consent to the treaty. They are calling for more funding.

There are reasons for poorer countries to be optimistic, though. The volume of the Green Climate Fund has reached the 10 billion dollar mark, which is not only a financial achievement, but also a symbolic one. This money is to fund climate protection projects in developing countries. Germany put in one billion dollars and hosted the key pledging conference in Berlin some weeks ago - an effort that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon acknowledged in Lima.

The USA and China are not very keen on the idea that their climate action plans should be assessed by experts before they are included in the Paris treaty. The Europeans, however, find this step crucial. There is clearly still some doubt about the USA’s and China’s commitment: can climate sinners turn into climate friends over night? The final hours of the conference in Lima will reveal all.