What to Expect at the UN Climate Talks in Peru

Photo credit: Ryan Schuchard / BSR

December 3, 2014
  • Edward Cameron

    Former Managing Director, BSR

Over the next two weeks, thousands of delegates from government, civil society, business, and academia are gathering in Lima, Peru, for the latest round of climate change negotiations held under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). During this so-called Conference of the Parties, or COP20, negotiators hope to continue to lay the foundations for a new international climate agreement, which is due to be finalized in late 2015. Their main goal is to substantially reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

With more than 50 separate issues under negotiation, it can be challenging to understand the key issues and how they relate to business. BSR’s climate team—including Ryan Schuchard, Cammie Erickson, and me—is in Lima, where we will attend various events and meetings and report out via the BSR blog and Twitter.

Here are three issues we’ll be watching over the coming fortnight:

1. Momentum

In recent weeks, climate commitments from key economies have given a welcome stimulus to the long-standing climate negotiations. In October, the European Union adopted a package of measures designed to cut greenhouse gases by at least 40 percent by 2030 in the 28-country block. This was coupled with complementary commitments on renewable energy and energy efficiency. In November, the United States and China struck a landmark deal that commits the U.S. to emissions reductions between 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, and commits China to reach peak emissions before 2030. Given these developments, negotiators are optimistic that the global community is ready to build a lasting framework for decarbonization. We will be looking for signs from other countries that they are ready to respond to this momentum with commitments of their own.

2. Long-Term Vision

In order to hold global mean temperature rises to less than 2°C by the end of this century—and thereby avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change—we need a long-term vision of decarbonization. Negotiators have already submitted text that, if adopted, would move all countries to enhance emissions reductions consistent with carbon neutrality, or “net zero” emissions, by 2050. For years, business has been calling for climate policies that are forward-looking, stable, and long-term. Working with our partners in the We Mean Business coalition, we have argued that the more certainty policymakers provide, the more confidently companies can invest and continue to unleash a wave of innovation in low-carbon technologies: creating new products and services, generating employment, reducing energy consumption, and increasing savings. Preserving this commitment to net zero would be the clearest signal yet that the low-carbon economy is a consistent global priority.

3. Focus on and Ambition Level for Emissions Reductions

Early next year, countries will submit their climate-action plans as formal “contributions” to be captured in the Paris agreement. It is already clear that these contributions will not contain sufficient ambition to close the emissions gap tracked by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in annual reports. In other words, there will still be a shortfall between what countries are willing to do and what science says is needed to stabilize the global climate. We therefore need to think creatively about complementary measures that will integrate higher ambition from the beginning. Some early avenues include:

  • The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), coordinated by UNEP and featuring more than 90 state and non-state partners, including BSR, is encouraging action on short-lived climate pollutants such as methane, hydrofluorocarbons, and black carbon. Studies suggest reduction of these pollutants can help slow global warming by up to 0.5°C between 2010 and 2050, thus contributing to reductions that will help us remain within the 2°C target in the near term. CCAC is one of many initiatives contributing to a workstream of the negotiations that is helping identify policy options and good practices to reduce emissions from high greenhouse-gas sectors during this decade.
  • The Alliance of Small Island States has advocated five-year cycles for assessing actions and strengthening contributions in line with science. This would provide a welcome “ratchet” mechanism to ensure that countries are continuously finding ways to enhance collective action.
  • The World Resources Institute has suggested that the UNFCCC secretariat prepare a synthesis report to assess how proposed national contributions add up against the 2°C goal, as well as a public dialogue reviewing the scale of action. These reports would give business and other stakeholders a platform to push for greater ambition in order to minimize climate risk and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.

These avenues represent a sample of some of the ideas now emerging within the UNFCCC that offer both ambition and an open invitation for private-sector collaboration.

Ultimately, increased ambition requires bold collective action, with each stakeholder, whether country or company, contributing in a meaningful and pragmatic manner. This philosophy is at the heart of BSR’s own Business in a Climate-Constrained World program, which provides a framework for business ambition on climate change through practical steps.

Will COP20 succeed in catalyzing increased and sustained ambition? Our team in Lima will keep you informed with regular updates and a detailed assessment once the conference concludes.

For ongoing updates, follow BSR’s climate team via Twitter: @EdwardJCameron, @ryanschuchard, and @cammieerickson.

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