Lima Call for Climate Action: No errors of emission

The Lima Conference of Parties (CoP20) held in December 2014 came up with a 'Lima Call for Climate Action', which came soon after the release of the Synthesis Report (SYR) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which forms the final product of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). The AR5 is by far the most comprehensive assessment of all aspects of climate change, which guided the negotiators at CoP20.

The SYR has clearly established that human influence on the climate system is clear and recent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are the highest in history. GHG emissions have led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitric oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.

Their effects, together with those of other anthropogenic drivers, are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. The term 'extremely likely' used in this context represents a probability of over 95%.

The positive intent expressed in the discussions at Lima was essentially the result of widespread awareness of the findings of the AR5. The Energy and Resources Institute's (Teri) annual global summit to be held in February in New Delhi proposes to build on CoP20 and will discuss the kind of agreement we need in CoP21 in greater detail and involve some world leaders who will build substantially on the momentum from Lima towards CoP21 in Paris.

The Lima Call for Climate Action essentially relies on various parties communicating their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) in order to facilitate clarity, transparency and understanding. These INDCs are expected to lie within a framework that is fairly broad and flexible to allow each country to define what it can do to contribute to the GHG reduction.

These INDCs are expected to be provided by the first quarter of 2015, and several meetings are planned subsequently by which they will receive further attention. Then by November 1, an SYR is required to be prepared on the aggregate effect of the INDCs communicated by parties by October 1.

In the AR5, the IPCC has come up with a very strong piece of scientific assessment quantifying the fact that to keep temperature increase by the end of the century below 20C - an aspirational goal laid down in previous CoPs - the world will have to remain within a total budget available for CO2 emissions at the beginning of industrialisation at 2,900 Gigatonne (Gt) of CO2.

The AR5 estimated that 1,900 Gt CO2 has already been emitted by 2011. So if the limit of a 20C increase in temperature is to be adhered to, then by the end of 2011 the world had a remaining budget of 1,000 Gt CO2 for further emissions. The proposed aggregation required to be completed by November 1 will need to be seen against this remaining budget of less than 1,000 Gt CO2.

There is tension over how countries are going to share various parts of this budget to ensure that developing countries are able to alleviate poverty and achieve levels of growth. Developed countries, on the other hand, would like to defend their position on the basis that a very sharp reduction of emissions would lead to a rapid decline in their economic conditions.

Developing countries also contend that if they have to reduce or limit emissions, they will require payment of any incremental cost by the developed countries. It is for this reason that a Green Climate Fund has been established to assist developing countries with both adaptation to the impacts of climate change and mitigation of GHGs. In Lima, the total commitment to this fund exceeded $10 billion. However, the developing countries expect the fund to reach a level of $100 billion by 2020.

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the Lima Call for Climate Action rests essentially on voluntary commitments in the form of INDCs. To ensure that the CO2 budget estimated by the IPCC is not violated, the aggregate INDCs would need to be reviewed on a regular basis.

It is also important for the public at large worldwide to be made fully aware of the findings of the AR5, so that public pressure is the main motivator of emissions reduction. This, too, can only happen if a regular review of the INDCs is ensured against the IPCC budget of total permissible CO2 emissions.