Countries know they have to be bold and ambitious next year: Lima negotiations set that in motion

Paris COP21 sign.jpg

The international climate negotiations have just wrapped up in Lima, Peru. This meeting was to set key directions for the new international climate agreement in next December in Paris. In Paris countries are to agree on a new international climate agreement that will require much deeper action by all countries.

As I said in my final statement:

“Here’s the good news from the Lima talks: Countries around the world now fully get that early next year they must commit to ambitious reductions in climate pollution and bold measures to slow global warming. Most key countries are laying the groundwork at home for more aggressive commitments to cut their carbon pollution. There is no question about this point anymore. It’s time to set aside half-measures, empty promises and squabbling. The progress from Lima must be translated into real action by the time the world convenes in Paris. Only together can we avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and for the sake of our children and future generations we must.”

Here is what was agreed in Lima, the underlying political current, and how these dynamics set us in motion for a strong agreement in Paris if countries choose to rise to the opportunity.

Early next year countries know they have to come forward with bold and ambitious commitments to further reduce their emissions. One year ago we were fighting over whether or not countries would propose targets early enough to make Paris a success. In the agreement and the corridors it is clear that major emitters are laying the groundwork for a proposed target. Europe, U.S., and China—which account for over 50 percent of the world’s emissions—have set the tone and taken away any uncertainty when they announced new emissions reduction targets. In Lima more signs emerged from big players. We heard about the preparations in countries like Chile, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, and other countries. The agreed decision sets the contours of these proposed targets as countries: reaffirmed the aim to propose their emissions reduction targets early next year, agreed that their targets must be on a trajectory to helping us ensure that we address climate change, and that they are more aggressive than their previous commitments (a “progression beyond the current undertaking”).

I suspect that lots of leaders will be calling their contemporaries to say: “come on President what you are proposing isn’t serious enough.” We’ll need a political push from leaders to ensure that countries propose strong post-2020 climate targets.

Countries know that they can't “fudge the numbers” as everyone will be looking at the guts of their target. There was an important push to ensure that countries provide a basic set of information when they propose their post-2020 targets. This has important climate implications as there is a lot of carbon pollution at stake if a country proposes an unclear commitment. This was one of the main issues here in Lima, so all leaders are on record that they can’t play games with their targets. The Lima decision sets out a minimum set of information that must be included when a country proposes their target next year including:

  • quantifiable information on the reference point or base year (e.g., is it compared to 2005, if it is a reduction from business as usual what is the basis of that number, etc);
  • time frames and/or periods for the commitment (e.g., 2025, 2030);
  • which sectors and greenhouse gas are included (i.e., “scope and coverage”);
  • the “assumptions and methodological approaches” (i.e., if you have a greenhouse gas intensity target what is the assumed gross domestic product, or what assumed business as usual did you use);
  • emissions including land-use emissions and sinks (i.e., greenhouse gas emissions and “removals”); and
  • indication of how the target from the country is in line with the level of cuts necessary to address climate change and how it is “fair and ambitious” (i.e., does it pass the “laugh and science” test).

We need action today and tomorrow, not just two decades from now. The small-island states, African countries, and least developed countries are calling for urgent action to reduce emissions. They are on the front lines of climate change as they are witnessing the impacts of climate change and every year of delay will take a massive toll on their citizens. This is why they were pushing so hard to ensure that all of the attention wasn’t focused on what countries do after 2020. We are leaving Lima with a mixed bag on this issue:

  • The European Union, U.S., and New Zealand underwent the first “multilateral assessment to ask the basic question: “are you on track for your 2020 climate target”. The process put these countries in the spotlight and the key conclusion is that the EU is on track for its target and the U.S. is on a path but has to finalize some elements of the U.S. Climate Action plan (see here for one analysis of the US and EU).
  • Unclear on the need for strong 2025 climate targets, but a growing group of countries including Brazil, key Latin American countries, small-island states, U.S., and South Africa are pushing for 2025 climate targets in the Paris agreement. In Copenhagen countries agreed to targets 10 years in advance (i.e., in 2009 for 2020 climate targets), but now some countries are pushing for targets 15 years later (e.g., 2030 targets agreed in 2015). Hopefully countries will get the message and prepare to finalize strong targets for 2025 in Paris.
  • Lima launched to a new “NAZCA portal” that showcases the groundswell of climate action. Global leaders from national and subnational governments, the private sector, and civil society groups discussed specific steps each can take to scale-up action on climate change. We will need to build upon these growing numbers of actions to ensure that we bend the near-term emissions trend in line with what science demands ns trend in line with what eede of actions to ensure that we bend hte 25 in climate targets.ed  and key countries are calling for.

Providing financial support to developing countries to help further reduce emissions and address adaptation will be a critical component of the international effort.  Coming out of Lima, the new Green Climate Fund (GCF) has received pledges of more than $10 billion in funding. These pledges will help ensure that the GCF isn’t an “empty shell” with a great structure but no resources to begin immediately to help reduce emissions and build more resilience to climate impacts. What further steps countries take to mobilize even great resources through public and private resources will be an important point of contention as we go into Paris. We leave Lima with a very important down payment in the GCF which has been a major ask of key developing countries for years.

We begin next year focused on negotiating the new legal agreement. In Lima, countries began to articulate the outlines of agreement to be reached next December as reflect in the “elements text”. This document is too long and has too many options, but countries can now focus clearly on turning the ideas into a final legal agreement next December. We have our work cut out for us, but the ball is slowly rolling in the right direction.


The agreement in Lima is a mixed bag, but the seeds for Paris agreement have been planted. It is a diverse group of plants and it will need to be watered and cultivated, but with the right gardeners it can grow stronger. World leaders know that they must propose bold and ambitious emissions reduction targets early next year, that they can’t fudge the numbers, and that they must be prepared to defend the aggressiveness of their effort. 

Humanity deserves nothing less than the full leadership of the world’s governments, CEOs, cities, and citizens. Next year will be the moment to show which side of history they want to be on.


Photo: Sign for the Paris COP21 at the Lima Negotiations (NRDC).