A Welcome Shift at UN Climate Talks in Lima: A Focus on Action Now

Intense storms pounded communities from the Philippines to Northern California to Johannesburg over the past few weeks, threatening millions of people—the poor and vulnerable most of all. At the same time, the UN climate talks were underway in Lima, Peru.

As the sense of urgency heats up around the globe, countries gathered in Lima with a new focus: concrete action. They came with lists of steps they had already taken to cut climate change pollution. And they began to outline what they will do to deepen those cuts in the coming years.

We have our work count out for us in the coming year to agree on the next round of international action—as the final slog in Lima showed. Yet by the end of the meeting, countries around the world fully understood that early next year they must commit to ambitious domestic reductions in climate change pollution and bold measures to slow global warming.

This is a shift. Past climate summits centered on a select group of countries making promises for thirty or fifty years down the road. The number of nations involved in cutting emissions wasn’t large enough to solve the problem and vague pledges with distant timetables changed little on the ground.

The talks in Lima were refreshingly focused on the present day and near term. And they recognized progress at all levels: countries and cities and companies and NGOs outlined their action plans.

In his speech at the conference, for instance, US Secretary of State John Kerry cited the tenfold growth in US solar power and emphasized President Obama’s November commitment to cut carbon pollution by 28 percent by 2025—thus doubling the pace at which the US is reducing carbon emissions.

Secretary Kerry underscored why we can delay no longer. “Rest assured, if we fail, future generations will not and should not forgive those who ignore this moment.”

Lima pointed a way toward honoring our obligation to those generations. Here are some of the key developments:

Ready for Action: Last year experts questioned whether countries would come forward with tough reduction targets for the post-2020 era. Yet over the past several months, all the key nations have worked on their commitments for negotiations in Paris next year. The US/China announcements this fall helped build momentum, but many others have made detailed action plans as well. Key countries are taking action and preparing to do even more.

Tighter Deadlines: One of the big breakthroughs at Lima was the growing recognition that we need to reduce carbon emissions now, not decades away. Nations must move up the deadline for their next round of pollution cuts from 2030 to 2025 in order to start heading toward the targets today. Countries like Chile, Columbia, South Africa, and Brazil came out clearly in support of 2025 targets, so hopefully their proposed efforts will reflect that next year.

Warm Reception for the US: President Obama’s measures to cut climate change pollution at home have turned the US into a leader abroad—a welcome change after years of lagging behind. The challenge now will be to preserve the president’s plans in the face of GOP opposition in Congress.

Not Just about Nations: National governments play a critical role in confronting climate change, but they can’t do it alone. We need action at every level—from village cooperatives to Fortune 500 companies to national governments—in order to tackle the climate threat. Lima honored that multilayered approach by creating a portal for groups making concrete commitments to reduce carbon pollution.

NRDC has been pushing for this kind of approach for several years. By collecting all climate commitments in one place, the international community can do a better job of tracking progress, learning from one another, and ensuring our efforts combine to deliver climate stability. 

The portal created in Lima is named NAZCA, after the famous pre-Incan lines etched into the earth and visible from space. As former Vice President Al Gore said at the launch of the portal, “On the ground you can’t see the full scope, but from the air and space the outlines of the images are crystal clear.” Around the globe, climate action is coming into view. Now we just need to sharpen our focus.